Sometimes Christianity emphasizes the wrong idea. Like one that tends to tell believers that their emotions lead them astray and result in sinful behaviors. Ephesians 4:26 says; “Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” Twice in John 14 Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” That’s easier said than done. There are some injustices in the world that don’t have a 24 hour limit. Every time you hear of someone having been shot or hurt or something bad happens to someone you know you kind of have to be angry as long as it takes. And as to the other thing, it’s not like we can really help it when bad news gets us down, when we begin to worry, when fear enters the picture.
I worry that regular believers get the impression that if they aren’t smiling Christians who are overjoyed that they’ll go to heaven, then somehow God is displeased with them. Take something with a stigma in Christianity like mental illnesses. How is it most commonly manifest? Emotionally. Because we have an aversion to perfectly normal expressions of emotions, then anything outside of normal is made much worse. So we have people who are going through some tough times. They might be feeling just blue and they don’t understand why nothing’s getting better. They might still be grieving and wondering how angry or depressed they’re allowed to be. They might be perfectly normal people who just need to express happiness or sadness without being told that they’re disobeying God. Christianity tends to marginalize them, declare the lot of them as sinners, demand them to repent, and frustrate them when the Christian formula isn’t fixing what’s wrong. We even deny them medication that would make everything so much easier on them because somebody decided that using medication was the equivalent of failing to trust in God alone. The thing is, some of the best medicines in the world are made more effective in conjunction with spiritual support, and that sounds like being faithful to me.
Grief is said to have five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Of all the things that people can go through, it consists of so many raw emotions that it can be overwhelming. In our instant gratification world, it’s easy to want it to be all over with and on the other side, moving forward as best we can. But grief wasn’t always dealt with that way. In the Victorian era, grief was a way of life for wealthy widows. It came with rules and a dress code: black, of course, with a veil. If a woman was in ‘full mourning’ she might be expected to wear black for years. There was also a point of ‘half mourning’ where colors like grey, lilac, and lavender were permitted to be added back into the wardrobe. If the deceased was a sibling, then mourning ought to last about six months. Parents could be in mourning for a lost child “as long as they feel so disposed”. A widow was to spend two years in mourning and not enter in any social event for twelve months. To me, it sounds like they mourned until they could mourn no longer. They mourned until grief had fully taken it’s course and then they kept on mourning for good measure.
One blogger admitted that she “struggles to place her emotions under the authority of Scripture”. She wonders if sadness is a lack of faith, if she’s happy she’s holding on a blessing too tightly, and if she’s worried then it means she doesn’t trust God. She says that she has to ask herself these two questions: “Is this feeling luring me away from God’s commands or leading me to trust God more?” and “Would I rather feel the disappointment of denying my emotions or the remorse of disobeying God?” Doesn’t it sound like in her book that any emotion at all could be a sign of idolatry and sinfulness because it takes temporal precedence over the things of God even if only for a moment?
Usually Christianity emphasizes all of the wrong ideas about emotion. They’re as much as part of us as our DNA. They’re part of what it is to be human. Denying emotions in ourselves doesn’t make us any more human – it just makes us Vulcans who can be quite volatile. Is it possible to be too emotional? I’m not really sure. To a Vulcan, a teardrop might be too emotional because they’re not used to expressing healthy emotions in a healthy way. It’s a good thing that we’re not Vulcans though – but we’ve not practiced expressing our emotions nor have we established the degree that emotion is acceptable in public. Just ask anyone who’s ever overheard a toddler’s temper tantrum in the grocery store. There’s a certain amount of emotion that grates on our nerves – but it’s not something that most could tell, it’s yet another emotion that most are taught to bottle up as they grow up. The sad result is that for too many, the emotional manipulation and pressure builds up to a point where it can no longer be contained. They say and do things they shouldn’t and beat themselves up for not having been able to put a stop to it. They bottle up the guilt, shame, embarassment and the begin the process all over again. The rest of us aren’t much better, we’re not really able to emotionally connect one another to help relieve the pressure because we’re not really supposed to show any emotion that isn’t happiness. It’s a cycle with no end in sight all because of the wrong emphasis that emotions lead us into sin, therefore they are an enemy that ought to be controlled and denied at every turn.