How bleak life would be without emotions. No joy, wonder, excitement, or even sadness and grief? The capacity to feel is one of those special gifts God provided when he created us in his image.
That, of course, is the very reason why Satan is focused on turning our emotional capacity against our Maker. Satan cannot create, but he can corrupt. And he corrupts the gift of emotions in at least three distinct ways.
• Satan deceives us into imagining that our emotions are so powerful that they must control our choices.
• Satan deceives us into believing that our emotions are so shameful that they must be repressed..
• Satan deceives us into assuming that our emotions must be expressed if we’re to be “honest” with others.
Let’s look at each of these three lies of Satan. And then let’s ask the question, how much of our trouble with emotions is demonic?
Emotions are so powerful
Esther feels anxious whenever she leaves the house. Sometimes the anxiety flares up into full-fledged panic attacks. She constantly worries about what other people think of her, and will change outfits a dozen times before a social engagement, finding some tiny flaw in first this outfit and then that. When friends or family try to encourage her, she tells them they just don’t understand how she feels. She doesn’t want to be the way she is. She doesn’t enjoy anxiety, or those times when her heart beats so fast she’s afraid it will burst. But Esther knows she just can’t help it. She can’t control her emotions, as much as she’d love to. Her emotions control her.
James has a similar problem, but with temper. Ever since he was a kid he’s had a temper. If someone cuts him off on the highway, he just seems to go berserk. Once he even jumped out of his car, grabbed a tire iron from the trunk, and beat dents in an offender’s fender. What bothers James now that he’s married is that his wife keeps doing little things that made him mad. So far all he’s done is to yell at her, but several times he’s almost hit her. He can see that she’s becoming afraid of him. And he’s afraid of himself. “I’m just an angry person,” he told her after the latest incident. “I really love you, but I just can’t help myself.”
This idea that our emotions control us and we can’t help ourselves is one of Satan’s lies. God created us in his image, with a mind and a will as well as with emotions. For Esther and James. mind, will, and emotions are out of balance. This is especially true since Esther and James are both Christians. Scripture says to Esther, “God is not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7). And speaks directly to to James problem, saying “In your anger do not sin: (Eph.4:26). Our emotions are real enough. But our emotions are not to control us.
No reasonable person can challenge the power of emotions, or doubt the grip that they may gain on an individual’s life. But to believe that we must behave as our emotions dictate is to believe a lie, and to find ourselves in bondage. When the Bible says it is “for freedom that Christ has set us free,” one of those freedoms is freedom from the dictates of emotion that we might joyfully choose to live our lives in submission to Christ, not to our feelings.
Emotions are so shameful
Some of our emotions should cause us shame. And it’s hard to know what to do with them.
Dan has buried anger at his father for ignoring him when he was a child. And his father did ignore him. Dan’s dad was an alcoholic, Dan’s resentment is constructed on innumerable broken promises and disappointments. As an adult Dan has come to understand that his father, now a Christian and active AA member, couldn’t help himself in those days. But Dan often thinks, ‘Why couldn’t he have changed earlier?” Dan even finds himself resenting God for saving his father too late. Too late to avoid the hurts he experienced as a little boy. But Dan is a Christian. He believes that the resentment he feels toward his dad and the anger that wells up now and then against God are wrong. So he stuffs them down every time, denying their existence and yet filled with shame.
It’s a lot like the way James feels when someone talks about anger. He’d be mortified if his pastor had any idea of the way he treats his wife. Or of that desire to let it out and simply hit her. That’s something he won’t ever let himself think about. And something he certainly won’t admit to anyone else.
King David must have felt like this after his affair with Bathsheba and the success of his plot to see her husband Uriah killed in battle. David shares those feelings in Psalm 32.
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your had was heavy upon me;
My strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
Repressing our emotions never brings freedom, but keeps us in bondage. We have to bring even the most shameful things out into the open and deal with them.
Emotions must be expressed
Carol has no problem with repressed emotions. She simply blurts out everything she thinks and feels. After all, we are supposed to be honest with people. And Carol is brutally honest.
Like the time the pastor’s wife wore that dress to Carol’s daughter’s wedding. It was cut soooo low. Well, it wouldn’t have been too low for Carol to wear, but she wasn’t a pastor’s wife. Pastor’s wives are supposed to set an example for the young people. Carol couldn’t wait to tell her how shocked and disappointed she was that a pastor’s wife would show up in something like that.
James has been thinking about something he heard a counselor say on TV about our emotions. Something that made sense. The way to get rid of a negative emotion is to express it. Like, if you’re angry, don’t try to stay calm. Just yell. It would be wrong to hit someone, of course. But by yelling, the counselor said, you “discharge” your anger. Then you’re over it, and no one will get hurt.
The trouble for both Carol and James is that Scripture calls on Christians to “speak the truth in love,” and to “be kind and compassionate to one another.” We are to express “only what is helpful for building others up” (Eph. 4:29,32). The fact is that Carol’s “honesty” comes close to malice, and James angry shouts are hardly designed to build up those at whom he yells.
Truth vs Lie
The tragic fact is that too many Christians buy Satan’s lies about their emotions, and too few understand the truth expressed in God’s promise of transformation through trust in Christ. Just read a passage like Ephesians 4:17-32 or Colossians 3:1-17 and you have a clear picture of the emotional life that God intends to provide for his own. That life is not the life that Esther, James, Dan or Carol are experiencing.
There are many offers of help around these days. Psychiatrists offer pills to help us control anxiety and avoid panic attacks. Courts decree anger management courses for those with tempers. Counselors promise to help us get to the roots of our problems, and hold out the prospect of change through understanding. Others promise change through behavior modification; still others suggest yoga and contemplation.
Let’s be honest and admit that pills, counseling, behavior modification, and even anger management can help a person deal with his or her emotions. But these techniques can’t resolve the problems.
Most in helping professions tend to deal with people piecemeal. Psychiatrists today rely on a medical model and treat emotional problems with medicine. Counselors see emotional disturbances as psychological an offer therapy. Too often pastors see them simply as spiritual problems. In fact each of these areas is intimately linked with the others, so that emotional problems spill over into and have an impact on our health and our spiritual lives. Similarly our health has an impact on our emotions and spiritual life. And the spiritual has a powerful impact on our health and our emotions.
It would be foolish for a person like Esther or Dan not to seek help from a counselor. Finding the roots of anxiety or anger, which frequently lie in childhood experiences, can make a contribution to healing. But while understanding helps, healing is something much more, and different in character. Healing is essentially spiritual, and only God can truly heal the wounded heart.
Wounded by lies
Satan’s strategy is to note our reaction to emotional trauma, and then to craft the lie that will keep us in emotional bondage. For some, it’s the lie we are the helpless victims of our emotions and have no choice but to live as our emotions dictate. Esther has believed this lie. She feels helpless, and whenever her heart begins to beat faster or beads of sweat break out on her forehead she surrenders to her fears.
For some the lie is that our emotions are so shameful that we dare share them with no one. Such emotions are suppressed, forced deep down lest they reveal something about us that will make us unacceptable to others.
For some, emotions are confused with reality. What we feel is assumed to be true. Contempt for what others say or do spills over into condemning words or withering looks, and we self-righteously assume the mantle of judges of our fellow humans. “Well, that’s how i feel about it” is offer as justification for the most harmful words.
Satan loves these lies. And demons actively resist attempts to help anyone who has believed them learn and live by the truth. And what is the truth?
• Our feelings our real, but we are free to act despite and even against them. As we make godly choices our emotions will change.
• Our feelings may be shameful, but God loves, forgives, and accepts us anyway. Our acceptance by God and by others does not require repressing shameful feelings.
• Our feelings are real, but are not to be equated with truth. Nor do they justify treating others with contempt instead of respect.
The road to healing
Healing the emotions calls for a very special ministry, in which we identify the sources of emotional problems, invite God to share those terrifying moments with us and affirm his love and presence. Healing calls for forgiving those who have hurt us, forgiving God for permitting our pain, confessing the sin involved in our reactions to those experiences, accepting God’s forgiveness, and forgiving ourselves.
Often this process calls for the help and guidance of a deliverance minister. For those with serious emotional scars and severe emotional problems it is almost certain that demons will have attached themselves, and will battle against anyone in search of healing. This is why emotional healing [deep healing, prayer healing, whatever it is called] will often involve encountering demons and casting them out.
But even without deliverance ministry there is a place where we can begin. That place is acknowledging our emotions and expressing them honestly to the Lord. Esther can and should tell God all about her fears. Dan can and should bring his anger to the Lord. God’s love is unconditional. He knows our deepest secrets and loves us anyway. Whatever our situation, however deep is our distress, God has an answer. David puts it this way in Psalm 142
I cry aloud unto the Lord,
I lift up my voice to Lord for mercy.
I pour out my complaint before him;
Before him I tell all my trouble.
When my spirit grows faint within me
It is you who know my way.
God does know.
And he can, and will, free us from bondage to our emotions.