BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part 2 of a two-part blog series by Sherry Allchin on emotions. Yesterday in Part 1, Sherry explained biblical principles for handling our emotions maturely. Today, Sherry explores biblical principles for bringing biblical balance to our emotional life.
God gave us emotions to assist us in identifying our circumstances and motivating needed changes. In Psalm 38, David identifies his symptoms of depression and its triggers, and then he was able to identify where to turn in the midst of his troubles. In Psalm 51, we see his emotion of guilt and shame motivating him to repent and change his behaviors. Then in Psalm 73, Asaph’s emotion of jealousy assisted him to compare two lifestyles (his and the wicked), to evaluate the eternal destination of each, and to reinforce his godly lifestyle. Psalm 133 is an example of emotions assisting to enhance our lives as David expressed joy over unity with his brothers of like-mind.
Our culture has programmed us to believe that feelings are the most important part of our existence. We are taught to communicate our thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and personal desires by expressing how we feel about something. Therapists often talk more about how a particular circumstance makes a person feel than about what the person can change in their own thoughts and actions to help change the negative feelings about that circumstance. Emotions are typically the entry point into counseling, so we as biblical counselors must understand how to lead a person from those bothersome feelings to what they can do about those feelings through sanctification.
Interpreting Our Emotions
When we as counselors or parents downgrade another’s feelings or invalidate them, we may rob that person of an opportunity to grow by identifying what he really believes about his circumstance, about himself, and about God. We must listen to emotions for what they reveal about a person’s belief system, rather than denying or minimizing what they are feeling. Use their emotions to help them gain insight into what actually needs to change.
Emotions are not the standard for quality of life. When emotions are exalted as supreme, a person may determine what is true and right for himself based on feelings rather than on God’s Word. How he feels about something does not make it accurate nor God-honoring, but it can give insight into his heart. Feeling good about sinful behavior does not make it right; it just indicates a heart misaligned from God’s heart. Our goal is to first help a person re-align his heart with God’s Word and then his desires, thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors will set the stage for balanced and godly emotions.
Triggers for Imbalance
I can hear some protesting that chemical imbalances must be addressed. I don’t deny that body chemistry can play a part in some people’s depression or anxiety, but the jury is still out as to which comes first, the trigger or the imbalance. That is not the topic of our discussion here, since we all understand that our body as well as our heart has been affected by the Fall.
But I will end this discussion on emotions by looking at Luke 2:52, the only record we have of Jesus’ development and maturity. Four spheres of life are mentioned. Jesus grew in wisdom (mind, intellect), in stature (physical), in favor with God (spiritual) and man (social). The absence of the emotional sphere does not mean Jesus had no emotions! He certainly displayed emotions regularly as he ministered here on earth, and He was emotionally balanced.
I believe His development focused on the four spheres we are responsible to balance in our maturing process. If a person becomes out of balance in any one of the four spheres, the emotions will be affected in a negative way. Rebalancing these spheres typically rebalances the emotions.
A person who is physically imbalanced, either because of disease, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, or lack of rest will experience emotional imbalance. A medical doctor may need to help correct physical problems. Diet, exercise, and rest must certainly be bought into a healthy lifestyle.
Think about the person who is mentally distraught, perhaps because of vocational or educational goals unmet or because of communication or thinking skills not developed in healthy ways. That person often struggles with emotions of fear, anger, jealousy, or depression triggered by an immature belief system. Perhaps reevaluating educational or vocational goals, or learning skills that allow them to grow in wisdom in healthy ways will make a big difference in mental balance.
Social imbalance from relationships out of sync with someone who should be close results in emotional imbalance. Couples who are fighting will come to counseling more about how they feel than how they need to learn to relate to one another in God-honoring ways. Yet learning to get along and love one another is foundational to how they will feel about one another!
Spiritual imbalance from guilt over sin, from misunderstanding and misapplying God’s Word, from lack of a personal relationship and connection with the Lord…these will also leads to an emotional imbalance. Confession, repentance, and then growth in sanctification are necessary to help the person regain a healthy view of themselves before God.
So how do we help someone rebalance emotions? By helping that person understand and correct the other spheres of their life that are out of balance. Emotions, then, are a by-product of what we believe and what we do in each of these spheres of life. When any one or more of these spheres are not in balance, negative emotions result. When all four are functioning in healthy and God-honoring ways, there is an emotional balance and stability that will get us through any of the trials of life we may face.
That doesn’t mean we never feel a negative emotion…we do and we will. But the negative emotions won’t dominate, because the fruit of the Spirit will prevail in our lives. Even if difficult circumstances never change, our attitude about the circumstance will be the mind of Christ resulting in the character of Christ lived out in us and in our counselees for the glory of Christ.
Join the Conversation
How do you bring biblical balance to your emotional life?