Emotions in the Bible

The Bible shows that God has emotions and created our capacity for emotions. We can be thankful God’s emotions are under control, and this Bible study on emotions explores how we can grow in godly emotional control.

Can you imagine life without emotions? I really can’t, especially not a meaningful, interesting life.

I can imagine—and wish for—a life with just the right balance of emotions and without the traumatic damage caused by out-of-control emotions.

Why do we humans have the range of emotions that we have? The Bible shows that we have emotions because we were created like God.

God’s emotions

God feels joy and love. He laughs and He gets angry. He has been “grieved in His heart” (Genesis 6:6). Jesus even wept (John 11:35; see our blog post “Jesus Wept”).

God created us with a wide range of emotions, and He doesn’t want us to just stifle them all and act as robots. He wants us to express them as He does—deeply, but always under control, always for good. God doesn’t want our emotions to lead us to wrong or foolish actions. He wants us to express our emotions in a vibrant and healthy way.

God doesn’t want us to give in to powerful emotional responses without thinking. He wants us to learn to recognize emotional responses that will be damaging to us and others and to redirect them and control them—with His help.

Examples of God’s people being overcome with emotion

God’s people are certainly not immune to being overcome with emotion in the moment. Consider how the New Living Translation describes Joseph’s emotional state when he saw his brother Benjamin for the first time in many years.

“Then Joseph hurried from the room because he was overcome with emotion for his brother. He went into his private room, where he broke down and wept” (Genesis 43:30, New Living Translation).

Joseph didn’t stifle his emotions, but he did keep them in check until he could express them privately. The New King James Version says “his heart yearned for his brother.” He knew he was going to weep, so he maintained control long enough to get away and not spoil the plan he was working out.

King David was also a man of deep and powerful emotions. At a particularly tragic time in his life, when his son had conspired against him and had been killed in the ensuing civil war, David did nothing to hide his feelings.

“The king was overcome with emotion. He went up to the room over the gateway and burst into tears. And as he went, he cried, ‘O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! O Absalom, my son, my son’” (2 Samuel 18:33, NLT).

David’s grief for his son is understandable—even though Absalom had rebelled and was trying to kill him. But David had to be reminded of how his display of grief was affecting his supporters who had risked their lives for him (2 Samuel 19:5-8)—and how it was affecting their whole divided nation.

So David composed himself and went out to the people. He didn’t want his personal emotions to harm his followers or the nation.

The danger of uncontrolled emotions

Anger is one of the most volatile and dangerous emotions. The apostle Paul instructed, “‘Be angry and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27).

The New International Version translates Paul’s warning as: “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

Anger and any other uncontrolled emotion can give Satan a toehold, a beachhead, a place to launch greater attacks in our lives.Anger and any other uncontrolled emotion can give Satan a toehold, a beachhead, a place to launch greater attacks in our lives. Read more about this in our article “A Foothold for the Devil.”

Putting time limits on our anger may seem arbitrary and unrealistic, but if we stop feeding the flames of anger, they will go out (see Proverbs 26:20-21). We will cover more about how to control emotions later in this article.

If uncontrolled emotion is one ditch for a Christian to avoid, being past feeling is the other ditch.

What is “being past feeling”?

God does not want us to be stoic, emotionless or world-weary. Paul told the Ephesians not to walk anymore like those who walk “in the futility of their mind” and “the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Ephesians 4:17-19).

“Being past feeling” is from the Greek word apalgeo, which can mean “to become callous, insensible to pain, apathetic” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon).

If you don’t care, if you are callous and apathetic, why bother trying to do anything right? This lack of emotion is dangerous. It is not what God wants. Right emotions under control can motivate us; they are part of a life worth living. Emotions are truly the spice of life.

Not all emotions are equal

Some emotions, like love and joy, are rarely a problem. Emotions that spring from right motives and that benefit those around us are good. They are part of walking as Jesus walked.

But the Bible has warnings about other emotional responses that can trip us up and damage our relationships. They might be triggered by real problems and injustices, but they can quickly lead to self-inflicted wounds without solving anything.

Negative emotions can be damaging

Here are some scriptures about the dangers of negative emotions, along with some resources that can help in controlling these emotions:

  • “An angry man stirs up strife, and a furious man abounds in transgression” (Proverbs 29:22). See our article “A Biblical Look at Anger Management.”
  • “Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go, lest you learn his ways and set a snare for your soul” (Proverbs 22:24-25).
  • “Wrath is cruel and anger a torrent, but who is able to stand before jealousy?” (Proverbs 27:4). See “How to Overcome Jealousy.”
  • “A sound heart is life to the body, but envy is rottenness to the bones” (Proverbs 14:30). See “Fighting the Works of the Flesh: Envy.”
  • “A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken” (Proverbs 15:13). See “How to Be Happy.”
  • “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad” (Proverbs 12:25). See “Wrestling With Anxiety.”
  • “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment” (1 John 4:18). See “Fear Not: How to Stop Feeding Fear and Overcome It.”

Emotional control

God wants us to learn to experience the range of emotions He created in us, within the healthy limits He intended.

The Bible gives guidelines for proper emotional control.

Scriptures on managing emotions

The book of Proverbs shows both the problems with lack of emotional control and the benefits of healthy management:

  • “A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back” (Proverbs 29:11).
  • “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32). The Christian Standard Bible translates this verse as, “Patience is better than power, and controlling one’s emotions, than capturing a city.”

How to control negative emotions

God created us, and He wants the best for us. Here are some biblical strategies for controlling negative emotions.

In advance:

  • Daily we can seek God’s protection for our hearts and minds, and for His help to handle any bursts of emotion that might hit us that day. God knows and cares, for He “tests the hearts and minds” (Psalm 7:9), or “examines the thoughts and emotions” (CSB).
  • Daily we should put God’s words into our hearts and minds through focused Bible study and meditation. The Bible can help us discern the “thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
  • Strive to focus on the positive, as Paul advised in Philippians 4:8. This can include focusing on the things we can be grateful for (perhaps with a gratitude journal) and considering good things we can do for others. A positive, outward focus can help buoy us up with positive emotions.

When waves of emotion hit us:

  • Immediately pray for God’s help.
  • Strive to recognize the thoughts that preceded and possibly triggered the emotion. Some events are totally out of our control, but how we think about those events is something we can learn to recognize and fact-check. Often emotions amplify our thoughts, and so we need to examine if our thoughts are off target and not totally based on reality.
  • Consider the effects of giving in to the emotion. How will it affect others around you? How might it affect your future?
  • Refocus on the positive and productive.

Casting your cares on our Creator

It’s not wrong to feel sadness, grief, fear or anger. We don’t need to ignore these feelings or stuff them down inside to fester.

But it’s also not wrong to take your sadness, grief, fear and anger to God, and to cast your cares on His broad shoulders (1 Peter 5:7). It’s not wrong to reexamine the thinking that led to the emotion or to seek to consciously refocus toward a productive response to the emotion.

Our emotions make up a huge part of life, so Life, Hope & Truth has many additional resources to help. You can start by studying further about controlling negative emotions in our blog series “Overcoming Dangerous Emotions.”

About the Author

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett is editorial content manager for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in the Dallas, Texas, area. He coordinates the Life, Hope & Truth website, Discern magazine, the Daily Bible Verse Blog and the Life, Hope & Truth Weekly Newsletter (including World Watch Weekly). He is also part of the Personal Correspondence team of ministers who have the privilege of answering questions sent to Life, Hope & Truth.

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