Alex Noel explores our emotions and how we can both express them and honour God at the same time.
When was the last time you got EMOTIONAL?
Recently I was feeling angry. And I knew I needed to stop and listen to what this emotion was telling me. Which was to take action and confront a situation I was unhappy about. And I did. Afterwards I was pleased I’d done the right thing and felt I’d acted with integrity. But despite this, it didn’t take long for some self-doubt to creep in. Honestly I felt a bit exposed and I started to second-guess myself. I wonder if you’ve had a similar experience?
Taking it to Jesus in prayer, I groaned: “Lord, I feel so angry… and overwhelmed!” Almost immediately I heard him reply with a kind wink, “Yes, I know the feeling…”. Just then I remembered the story of Jesus in the temple courts (Matthew 21). It describes Jesus being angry. In a dramatic scene, he sends out the money-changers and vendors who were using the temple for buying and selling. Emphatically he told them that the temple was for prayer and not for business!
Jesus' emotions were on full view, he allowed himself to feel them.
Jesus was the most human Human. His emotions were on full view, he allowed himself to feel them. He got "emotional" and asserted himself. As he did so, he showed people who he was. He demonstrated his values and what he stood for, he communicated his boundaries. All without self-doubt or second-guessing. He allowed himself - Jesus the Human - to be seen. He became visible and knowable. In revealing his humanity, he showed us who God is too.
When we get emotional, it is legitimate for us to "fear punishment". Emotions are heavily policed both in our churches and our wider society. There’s a "time and a place" when being emotional is considered appropriate and when it’s not. For "negative" emotions like fear, grief, and especially anger there are even more sanctions. If we contravene these unspoken rules we can risk being labelled, judged, sidelined or even rejected. While this doesn’t just affect women it does connect to the still-prevalent misogyny and sexism we experience every day.
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We’re called to obediently follow Jesus. As we do we become more like him - taking on his character, his vitality and essential nature. These principles go beyond the values of the culture we find ourselves in. It is at once immensely liberating, and also uncomfortable and costly. Women already pay a price in society, but we don’t get to pass on becoming like Jesus. So what happens when this transformation brings us right up against the roles and expectations defined not by him? But by the society and institutions we’re part of? When our increasing freedom begins to impact on others.
Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit, he had perfect self-control. And he still overturned tables in anger.
Becoming whole and holy doesn’t remove our emotions. Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit, he had perfect self-control. And he still overturned tables in anger, wept with grief and sweated drops of blood from extreme stress. He felt joy, grief, anger, frustration, perhaps even fear - openly expressing them as fully Human and fully Divine. They were wholly part of who he was, and they helped him to accomplish God’s purposes. How good it is to know that emotions are part and parcel of our redeemed humanity and the integral Personhood within us.
So what enabled Jesus to do this with such confidence? He was totally secure. He wasn’t looking to society, friends or family for approval or validation. His sense of safety and security came from Heaven. Simply put, rather than fearing punishment, Jesus was made perfect in Love (1 John 4). It was from this place that he could allow himself to be fully seen, and he invites us into the same experience. When we take hold of its reality everything else pales in comparison.