In Christian circles, certain emotions often get a bad name. If you are anxious, you must not trust God. If you are sad, you should be content and rejoice in the Lord. If you are angry, you need to give it to the Lord. These are the types of statements we make to ourselves and to each other. Emotions are often viewed as evidence of sin or even sinful in and of themselves.
As someone who has habitually suppressed and masked emotions, I have seen that ignoring emotions can take a toll on not just your mental well-being but also your physical health. Once I came to this realization, I decided to look at how Jesus handled emotions. Jesus was without sin, so if He expressed emotions, we can use His example to learn healthy ways to deal with our own.
Scripture gives us several examples of times when Jesus expressed emotions that the Church sometimes associates with sin.
One emotion Christians often seem to suppress is grief. We may ask how we can be sad about something that was part of God’s plan. Shouldn’t we always be joyful instead? If we are joyful, doesn’t that mean we are happy? Jesus experienced grief when Lazarus died. We know that He wept when Mary told Him that Lazarus had died. (John 11:35). As Christians, we often feel the need to be strong and to be joyful in sad situations. How easy it is to say we are suppressing our grief in the name of faith when in reality, we may be avoiding facing strong emotions. However, Jesus, who would soon raise Lazarus from the dead, who had hope in knowing He possessed the power to raise Lazarus from the dead, allowed Himself to feel the pain of losing a loved one. He did not bottle up His emotion. He expressed it and allowed others to see his grief through tears.
Anger and frustration are also emotions we see in Jesus though we may try to avoid them ourselves. One story I love to read is of the moment when Jesus cursed the fig tree (Mark 11:12-24, Matthew 21:18-22). Jesus was hungry during His travels. He saw a fig tree ahead and hoped to find fruit. To His disappointment, there was no fruit on the tree. In His frustration, He killed the tree. Jesus acted in anger when His hope of finding a much needed snack was disappointed. I think of all of the times when I have laughed at myself for being “hangry.” That’s no excuse for being rude to people around me, but simply expressing frustration in a way that does not hurt others is not wrong.
We also see Jesus act in anger when He finds the temple being treated like a marketplace (Mark 11:15-19, Matthew 21:12-17, Luke 18:45-48). He was outraged to see the place of worship treated with such disrespect, and He put a halt to it. Jesus was furious. I can imagine what the religious leaders who were always questioning Jesus would have thought as He overturned tables and benches and halted the merchandise that was being brought through the area. Jesus saw evil taking place, and His anger would not allow Him to tolerate it. When used with right motives, we can accomplish good and prevent evil through our anger.
Lastly, Jesus was distressed about going to the cross (Mark 14:32-42). He was willing to follow the Father wherever He led, but Jesus was anxious about going to the cross. He was not worried that God would not do what was best. He did not feel the need to take control of His life due to a lack of faith that God knew what was best. However, Jesus knew that a hard road was before Him, and He was in anguish. We often think of anxiety as sinful, and it can be if we are paralyzing ourselves with worry because we do not trust God. Anxiety can also be a signal of danger or unresolved hurt. It is a normal emotion to feel when we are faced with difficult situations.
Instead of suppressing our emotions, perhaps we should be reflecting on where they came from. Is it a need that God put in me that I must take care of? Am I experiencing the pain that results from living in a broken world where evil is present? Am I observing injustice or cruelty that needs to be stopped as quickly as possible? Am I having trouble trusting God, or do I need to find the source of anxious feeling so I can heal or prepare for what’s ahead?
There is danger, not just to our emotional state, but to our physical health when we choose to ignore the emotions God gave us rather than expressing them in healthy ways. Our emotions are not sinful, but they can be if we choose to act on them in selfish ways. If Jesus expressed negative emotions even though He is without sin, we should follow His example and use our emotions to drive us to do good.