Emotions often seem to rule daily life. We make decisions based on whether we are happy, angry, sad, bored, or frustrated. We choose activities and hobbies based on the emotions they incite. They drive how we feel much of the time. So, what does the Bible say about emotions and how we can handle them more effectively?
The Psychology of Emotions
Psychologist Robert Plutchik created a “wheel of emotions” that works something like the color wheel. Emotions can be combined to form different feelings, much like the basic colors can be mixed to create other colors.
According to this theory, the more basic emotions act something like building blocks. More complex, sometimes mixed emotions, are blends of the more basic ones. For example, basic emotions such as joy and trust can be combined to create love.
Paul Ekman identified six basic emotions: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise.
There are three key elements of emotion: a subjective experience, physiological response, and behavioral response.
In other words, we have an experience that is unique to us. Our bodies release chemicals in reaction to that experience. Those chemicals make us feel a certain way. We respond to those feeling by acting a certain way. In the simplest of terms, we experience, feel, and act.
Jesus and Emotions
Jesus experienced emotions. He was angry (Matt. 21:12). He was sad (Mark 14:34). He was happy (Matt. 5:12). He was afraid (Luke 22:44). He was disgusted (Matt. 23:13). He was surprised (John 3:10).
Five Biblical Ways to Deal with Difficult Emotions
So, what are some things we can learn from Jesus about how to manage this process?
1. Identify your emotions.
Jesus told his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34). He identified his emotion.
Call it what it is. Much of the time we stay in the hard part of the emotion simply because we refuse to admit we are experiencing it. Denial keeps us in the dark. Call your emotions by name.
It also helps to make it impersonal – “This is anger,” instead of “I’m angry.” Although both are true, the impersonal allows you to feel the emotion as something that is a natural and common part of life.
2. Accept your emotions.
James says, “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise” (James 5:13). In other words, take what you’re are feeling and own it.
Accept that you are experiencing the emotion, that this emotion is something millions of others experience every day, and that it might even be healthy for you to experience the emotion.
3. Realize the impermanence of your emotions.
Describing the seed that falls on thorny ground, Jesus said, “But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away” (Mark 4:17). The seed was choked by its problems because it gave up too quickly.
Jesus said, “Can anyone of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matt. 6:27).
Remind yourself that “This too shall pass.” This is not a call to inaction. It is simply a reminder to keep everything in perspective. Emotions can overwhelm you. It doesn’t have to be permanent.
4. Investigate your emotions.
Jesus gave us a blueprint for the emotional state of the disciple. In his famous Beatitudes (Matt. 5:2-12), he described the character traits that create a state of blessedness – emotional and psychological strength and stability. To be “blessed” is to experience all the emotions in a healthy and God-honoring way.
This is an important clarifying moment. It is a move to objectivity in the midst of the very subjective experience. We all have similar experiences in life, but very different ways of responding to those experiences. Therefore, each objective experience becomes subjective.
You can force the experience back to the objective by asking yourself a few pertinent questions and answering them honestly.
“What triggered me?” and “Why do I feel this way?” are good places to start.
5. Let go of control over your emotions.
Jesus admitted that he was scared. He was afraid of the crucifixion that awaited him. What did he do with that overwhelming fear? He let go of it and gave it to God. He prayed to God, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done” (Matt. 26:42).
Be open to the outcome of your emotions and what follows. You can only do your best to do your part. Leave the rest to God.