Listen To Your Heart (Or Not): A Biblical Guide to Your Emotions
“Am I Emotionally Healthy?”
Emotions are real, valid, and deserving of a response. However, even though they are real, that doesn’t mean they’re reliable (Jeremiah 17:9).
Why not? Because our emotions are sin-impacted and sin-impaired.
Ever since the fall, we are all emotionally unhealthy. I know this can be discouraging, but to unpack emotional health, we need a standard of what normal is. For believers, that standard is Jesus. And compared to him, we all fall short (Romans 3:11).
Where do we go from here? What is the solution? Jesus!
The truth that “Christ is in us” gives us the assurance, confidence, and hope to fix our eyes on eternity, rather than our circumstances (Ephesians 3:14-21). We’re free to use our emotions as a gauge, not a guide. And ultimately, it leads us to emotional health.
What Does the Bible Say?
Before we fully dive into emotional health, let’s go back to the beginning and look at the opposite. Genesis 1-3 shares the narrative of creation and the fall, when sin entered the world.
Good news: the gospel—God’s plan for reconciliation—hinges on the rebellion of man in Genesis 3.
Bad news: there are still consequences for this rebellion. Earth and humanity will never be the same.
The serpent in the garden clearly didn’t want humans to dwell with God. His tactic of interference was to cause doubt, “did God actually say…?”
He was asking about eating the fruit, but his question applies for any temptation you might be facing. Simply fill in the blank for your own life!
Eve responded by seeing that the fruit was “a delight to the eyes.” She took the forbidden fruit, and she ate it. Then Adam did the same.
And so, we see that from the very beginning, we’ve struggled with insecurity and pride, rejecting God’s will in favor of their own. These same sins still enslave us today. We see them manifest through things like comparison, perfectionism, jealousy, gossip, materialism, and body image, to name a few.
Next up, in Genesis 4, we see a big example of human emotion. Cain was angry because his brother Abel brought the better offering. And in his anger, he ends up murdering Abel. (This is definitely a poor response to emotion.)
But, right before that, we see God’s response to Cain’s emotion and anger... He says “sin is crouching at the door. It’s desire is for you, but you must rule over it”. This is big. It shows that we are responsible to God despite our feelings.
Let’s look at a few other examples of emotions in scripture:
Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, and then a chapter later was depressed and wished he would die. Jonah wished he would die. David lusted after Bathsheba, and then killed her husband Uriah. The book of Job puts all kinds of emotions on display, specifically, those that lead to the poor response of Job’s wife and friends.
In each case, there’s a distinction between experiencing the emotion and acting on that emotion.
The emotion itself is never wrong. It is how you respond to your emotions that you are responsible for—and that response can be healthy or unhealthy.
A Healthy Response to Emotions
Let’s look to Jesus as our model for emotional health.
Jesus felt emotions. He felt compassion, and we see this in his miracles and healings. He was happy, often seen enjoying parties and expressing this in the beatitudes. He struggled with sadness at Lazarus’ death. He was angry, mainly with religious leaders. He experienced suffering in the garden of Gethsemane and at Golgotha, the place of the crucifixion.
Throughout Jesus’s life, compassion leads to action, sadness leads to empathy and grieving with others, anger is expressed righteously (not leading to sin), and suffering leads to submission.
Like Jesus, we are God’s image-bearers even in our emotions.
How To Encourage a Friend in their Emotions
In addition to our responsibility for our own emotional health, we can also love others in their emotions. This is often messy and emotional, and takes time.
First, meet others where they are at by hearing and validating them. Then, offer hope. This true hope comes from the gospel and its implications and blessings (Romans 3:23), not from excusing sin or telling someone what they want to hear. Lovingly encouraging others requires both truth and grace.
Here are 5 practical places to start when encouraging others in their emotions:
- Teach them to think biblically
- Provide Godly examples
- Show up and be present
- Pray with and for one another
- Meet practical needs
When it comes to our emotions, it’s challenging to navigate the “right” response. It is important that we get to the root of our emotions and develop healthy habits. With this in mind, I like to keep three one-liners in my back pocket to help me seek emotional health. I hope that you can benefit from them too:
- Respond instead of react.
- Be biblical not emotional.
- Seek to understand, not be understood.
Interested in learning more from Annie about practical ways to bear God’s image in your emotional responses? Don’t miss her interview with Christian and Samantha on Going There!