Is it okay for born-again Christians to feel bad, really bad?
Is it okay for born-again Christians to be angry?
Do you have a place in your theology for a Christian to be sad or angry or afraid or any other negative emotions?
Are these things that we need to simply repent of?
Or can they be good and right and righteous?
Let’s say, you have a friend. You’ve invested time with her and you know very well this person is very sensitive and you did something you really believe was for her good has just set her off. She’s now accusing you of some unpleasant things, and from your perspective, very false and the relationship is now strained even after all you’ve done. What emotion will you bring to the table if you are in this situation?
How would you feel if your child has ongoing pain and on very expensive medication and you went for laboratory tests hoping the medication has done its job only for the results to come back and it didn’t make any progress in your child’s body?
What about someone that you’ve trusted, a business partner, turns out they’ve been swindling your customers, and now your business’s reputation has not only come under fire but maybe permanently ruined. How would you feel?
What about just feeling down, anxious, or feeling depressed? The weight of your tests and trials just piled up in front of you and your heart is heavy. How would you respond to any of those things? A better question is not how will you respond, but what would a good, godly, Christ-honoring Christian respond?
We have verses in the scriptures that say, “Be anxious for nothing.” “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.” If God is in control, then why on Earth would any Christian or at least any deeply faithful Christian ever really be bothered by or upset about anything? This is a valid question.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
I’m going to be sharing something that enriches the scripture and may shake what you believe about emotions. But first, I want to be clear that God’s sovereignty is the greatest hope that we have. It is absolutely vital that we never lose sight of the truth that God is in control, and this is at the heart of all of our hope in life and in death.
Having said that, I want to slow us down because the Bible makes a very strong repeated case that there can be very deep good in our bad emotions. Now, obviously, when we experience dark emotions there is a chance to look at our own hearts and say, “Are there bad things happening in me as a result of this? What is my opportunity to repent and to trust the Lord in ways that I haven’t been?” This is always a fair question to be asking of ourselves.
But the biblical view understands us in a very nuanced way. It knows that we are complicated creatures. It knows that our world is both glorious and fallen. And that we respond as image-bearers of God, who like him, can see both good and bad in the situation around us.
JESUS, THE CHRIST, HAD NEGATIVE EMOTIONS
What does the Scripture say about negative emotions? One example that I keep circling around is John 11, Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus. He’s actually delayed so that Lazarus dies. This is an incredibly beautiful chance for Jesus to display his glory.
However, Jesus doesn’t just rush in and raise Lazarus. He talks to Mary and to Martha, Lazarus’s sisters, who are weeping and grieving and mourning the loss. He engages each of them in personalized ways. Then he goes to the tomb and he weeps.
The underlying Greek word has the sense of it is an angry weeping and an indignant weeping—your footnote might even say it in your Bible. It is a weeping that takes very, very seriously the absolutely horrible nature of what has happened to Lazarus. Why is that? Why can Jesus do that? Why would he stop and pause and weep when in fact he is about to raise him from the dead?
The answer is something like this: it’s because he loves Mary and Martha. It’s because he loves Lazarus. It’s because he loves life. It’s because he is good. It’s because he is love. Because he loves, he will not refuse to enter into the pain of those he loves, even for the ten minutes as we wait here before the resurrection of Lazarus. And he hates death. He came to conquer death. He didn’t intend for us to die, He came to give us life. And so in death, he weeps.
He sees his own death coming. He’s going to be laid behind a stone in the not-so-distant future himself. And he is seeing all of the evil that is waiting on the other side of that stone that is going to fall upon him. And he weeps, and he feels anger. And he feels distressed in the face of seeing, “This is not right. This is not good. This is not what the Lord meant to be. This is not what I meant when I created this world.”
Think about Jesus in John 2, driving people out of the temple, who are corrupting the place of worship of God, who are breaking down the opportunity for God’s children to come to him, and to know him, and to experience forgiveness, cleansing, and grace. Instead, these people are monetizing it, corrupting it, and commercializing it.
And Jesus goes in with a whip that he’s thoughtfully, ahead of time, gone out and made. He’s not suddenly irritated and just lashing out. He considered it and his anger is driving him to action that is deeply right and deeply good. Certainly, not the first image that most of us have when we think of Jesus.
OTHER BIBLICAL CHARACTERS EXPERIENCED NEGATIVE EMOTIONS
How many Psalms of lament and distress and dismay are there? The Book of Lamentations, the Book of Job, many places where we see various characters throughout the scripture tearing their clothes and wearing sackcloth and ashes, and just utter horror at the loss that they have just gone through or some terrible thing that has happened.
This is an important biblical reality. We can’t escape that if Jesus’ experience of life and of the brokenness of this world leads him to these dark, negative emotions and they can do that righteously, then we are called to do the same.
This doesn’t mean that God isn’t good, or that we don’t find comfort in his sovereignty. This doesn’t mean that we have to just mope about it. Also, I don’t want to, for a moment, suggest that all emotions are signs of righteousness in our hearts. But I do want to say that every emotion can be honoring to the Lord.
Pleasant emotions and negative emotions are not in opposition to God’s sovereignty. In fact, if anything, they go hand in hand and we can acknowledge both together that God is good and working all things for good. We want to hate what he hates and be grieved by what grieves him.
If you love the Lord, and if you love his kingdom, it is going to lead to negative feelings. We must be troubled by living in a troubling world that does not always honor our Lord.
There is a real place for these negative and dark emotions. They aren’t inherently bad and sinful, at least not necessarily. Do you have a place in your theology for these things?
If you, like me, have struggled here, then there’s room for growth in your functional theology of dark emotions. To learn that sharing in the Lord’s griefs is actually a profound way to share in his heart. To be a Christian, actually not only allows you to feel negative emotions but it demands that you will feel negative emotions because this world really is broken and it has not yet been restored but someday it will be.
So, yes, the answer is – it is okay for born-again believers to feel bad, really bad.
What a comfort it is that we know that the Lord hates when bad things happen to us. He enters into our sufferings, our griefs, and our darknesses to not only bring us relief but uses our very worst moments, our very darkest times, and our greatest joys for our eternal good. This is a God we can trust, in any and every emotion.
For your reflection:
- What uncomfortable emotions are you experiencing these days?
- Are there ways in which you can share it with your therapist/counselor and/or spiritual director? If you don’t see a counselor, maybe with your safe community?
- Knowing you have been through some negative emotions, what specific ways can you encourage those who are experiencing bad emotions?