Category Archives: emotion in the Bible

Christian Mindfulness

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Christian Mindfulness“More than 100 million American adults who describe themselves as Christian contend . . . they are still searching for clarity regarding their purpose in life (George Barna, Maximum Faith).” Is there a connection between awareness of God and self-awareness? As one form of awareness goes up, does the other go down? Or does awareness of God and self-awareness work together? John Calvin writes, “The knowledge of God and that of ourselves are connected. Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God. Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.” Continue reading Christian Mindfulness

Arresting Anxiety

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a).

The same emotion can either be positive or negative in the Bible. The Bible may command an emotion in one place and prohibit it in another depending on the context. For example, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” (Ephesians 4:26). Sorrow has its place but also has limits. Likewise, fear is appropriate in particular circumstances but a state of prolonged fear becomes problematic.

The direction to not fear is one of the most common proscriptions in the Bible. You could read one reference a day for over a year!

Emotions are signals and send messages that are sometimes misread. In that case the signal gets stuck and the emotion is prolonged excessively. If warning signals on the dashboard continue to light up one may develop anxiety about “driving,” especially if the signals represent danger. Some may cover the dashboard, avoid feeling, and make some reckless decisions. Others may learn to devalue the signals. Still others may overanalyze the signal.

Signals to be properly interpreted need to be felt without fear. God provides a healthy option otherwise not available: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Christ has come to “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” Like a parent who grabs a child from falling, Christ is saying, “I got you!” Even when we can’t see light at the end of the tunnel, Christ is saying, “I got you!” “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you (Isaiah 43:2).

Christian Mindfulness

Emotions Versus Actions

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Many present a split between emotions and actions. In this way we tell ourselves that we are not able to change our feelings but that is acceptable as long as we do not act on them. Examples would be fear, anger, or desire. So acting right becomes more important. Similarly, if one does not feel enough joy, hope, or love, one may put more emphasis on actions, focusing instead on doing what is right instead of what they are feeling.

Using love as an example, is it possible, to act right but not actually love? In this verse the writer supposes that actions could be good, but inadequate. “If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). Love appears to be more than just actions.

Some focus on doing what is right and leave the emotion out of it, though the Bible indicates that right emotions are important along with doing right. “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13). The risk is that too much emphasis on acting without feeling may leave one feeling empty inside, or may even lead to more negative emotions like guilt. Or, acting and finding one’s worth in one’s actions can lead to hypocrisy and self-righteousness. What is God’s view of the self-righteous? “They say to each other, ‘Don’t come too close or you will defile me! I am holier than you!’ These people are a stench in my nostrils, an acrid smell that never goes away” (Isaiah 65:5). Instead, God may be looking for a change of heart. For example Jesus told the religious Pharisees “First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matthew 23:26).

Are Emotions Commanded?

Are Emotions Commanded?

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

There are many commands to have or not have particular emotions in the Bible in a given context. Many Christians focus on what they do or not do, and leave the emotional side as out of their control. However, emotions reflect beliefs and values, and thus are a valid window into the soul. They are not to be left behind in view of “doing the right thing.” Many come to counseling because they feel their emotions are out of control.

One difficult command in the Bible is to love your enemies (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-28, 32-36). Those that have enemies know this difficulty; in fact following Biblical precepts are difficult. It is understandable that Christians then focus on what they do or don’t do in spite of what they feel.

The story of the Good Samaritan is an example of loving your enemy. Reading the story suggests that the Samaritan acted out of compassion, and not a command to “do good.” Love is more than an action. For instance, God “pours” love into hearts (Romans 5:5). In the Bible, Paul’s love was deeply felt (2 Corinthians 2:4). Matthew A. Elliott supports the importance of emotion in Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament. On page 157 he writes “If love was action how could it be judged as insincere?” The Bible distinguishes between love and actions (1 Corinthians 13:3, Revelations 2:2-4).

But what if one does not feel such compassion? Are there ways to control emotions? The Bible points to the effect of knowledge, beliefs and values on emotions (Philippians 1:9). Finding truth and experiencing truth changes emotions. However it is a process and thus grace is needed.

The Heart in the Bible

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

God works through the heart (Jeremiah 31:33). It is out of the heart that we connect with God (Romans 10:10). We are told not to lose heart (Galatians 6:9). What does the heart represent in the Bible?

The definition of the heart in the Bible includes the conjunction of emotion, knowledge and the will. Each of these parts has an effect on the other parts; each part cannot be separated from the other parts.

In the story of the prodigal son, the father’s love for his wayward son was one of emotion, and not just from reasoning or just his commitment to his son.  The father did not respond to his son just because it was the right thing to do, or because he was forcing his will to comply.  “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him (Luke 15:20).”  It was the combination of all three parts – emotion, knowledge, and the will, that serves as a model for the love of God for us, and as a model for the love we are to have for others.

In contrast, in the description of a religious sect, Jesus describes their knowledge and their commitment, but questions their motivation. He compares them to white-washed tombs, beautiful on the outside but dead on the inside. He compares them with a dirty cup, again presentable on the outside, but the inside is corrupt (Matthew 23:25-27). Here again, rationality and dedication are insufficient if not corresponding to honest emotions. Paul also points to the knowledge of God alone being insufficient (Romans 1:21). The rich young ruler also attempted to gain favor by performance.

What if our desire, knowledge or will is lacking? God builds desire in us (Philippians 2:13), and for that we have to turn to Him.

Follow Your Heart?

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

The Bible says the heart is deceitful. Mental health practices, however, often encourages one to listen to the heart. “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Perhaps the heart is deceitful, and God works to change the heart. “The wise in heart are called discerning, and gracious words promote instruction (Proverbs 16:21).

How might God work through the heart? There are many accounts in the Bible. Knowing truth and one’s experiences of emotion seem to be primary ways God works through the heart. For example, knowing the truth can change the way one feels. It may not eliminate unwanted human emotions, but positive emotions are added, like hope, gratitude, or joy. When Jesus foretells the destruction of Jerusalem, He tells his followers to not let their hearts be dulled by the worries of this life (Luke 21:34). In the Old Testament, for another example, when the Israelites were desperate it was an occasion for God’s intervention. “The Lord Himself will fight for you. Just stay calm” (Exodus 14:14).

God also works through these experiences of both positive and negative emotions.  The Israelite’s faith was founded on the fulfillment of God’s promises.  Another example in the Old Testament occurred when Jonah was angry that God spared the city of Nineveh, God changed Jonah through an experience of emotion. When Jonah felt a loss when the plant giving him shade died, he understood how God would feel if He lost the city (Jonah 4). This experience changed his emotions. God may even direct one to have such an experience: “Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent” (Psalms 4:4).

Changing one’s heart, in which the Bible includes knowledge, emotion, and will, always involves not only Truth, but an encounter with Truth. “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD” (Jeremiah 24:7).

Stress Management Tips

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Here’s a Top Ten List of helpful approaches to stress management, incorporating Biblical approaches. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

1. Relax. “If any of you are having trouble, pray” (James 5:13). “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a).  Relaxation techniques include breathing techniques, tensing and relaxing muscles, meditation, and visualization. “But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Psalms 86:15).

2. Recognize what you are feeling and wanting.  “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts” (Psalm 139:23). Recognize triggers and old patterns. Observe how your thoughts and actions affect your emotions.

3. Resolve problems. List options that are in your control. Take one step at a time. Allow imperfection and a growth process. “After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Gal. 3:3).

4. Rethink. “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious, – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse” (Phil. 4:8). “People need more than bread for their life; they must feed on every word of God” (Matt. 4:4). Identify the thoughts behind your emotion to distinguish between truth and exaggerated thinking, facts versus fears.

5. Release your emotion. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Allow the emotion through talking, writing, creative endeavors, and physical exercise.

6. Refocus. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34). “Come to me all who are tired from carrying heavy loads and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Refocus especially when dwelling on a problem does not help. Refocus on one thing at a time, on good and simple things that are often overlooked, on humor, and on giving to others.

7. Relationships. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15a). “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we ought to love one another. . . There is no fear in love” (I John 4:11). The necessity of relationships include God, family, friends, and small groups at church (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

8. Routine gives a sense of accomplishment and stability using realistic expectations. “After looking at the way things are on this earth, here’s what I’ve decided is the best way to live: Take care of yourself, have a good time, and make the most of whatever job you have for as long as God gives you life. And that’s about it. That’s the human lot. Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work. It’s God’s gift! God deals out joy in the present, the now. It’s useless to brood over how long we might live” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20).

9. Recreate. God commanded festivals, created things for enjoyment. Take breaks, and real or imagined vacations. “Oh yes—God takes pleasure in your pleasure!” (Ecclesiastes 9:7).

10. Refuel. Routine recharging is needed through sleep, diet, and exercise. “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.” (Romans 12:1).

Arrestin Anxiety