Is it OK to Feel Sadness as a Joyful Christian? Part 2: When to “Fix” the Problem

In my last installment of “Is it OK to Feel Sadness as a Joyful Christian,” I shared the story of my best friend coming to visit me and, because of a need to minister to his flock, we found ourselves cancelling our long-planned night of fellowship.  This led to me feeling sad about not being able to spend time with him.I ended that post with a number of questions/objections that I would like to spend the next few posts working out.

When Life Goes Differently

When life doesn’t go our way, we can choose to respond in a number of ways. Sometimes we respond in ways that scripture would say are wrong: anger, bitterness, revenge, worry, etc. Those choices can come almost naturally when a wrench is thrown in our plans. For me, I normally need to have a large amount of time speaking the truth of God’s word into my heart so that we can respond in a way that pleases Jesus. But what do we do if our response is none of those things?

While there are many unrighteous responses to expectations not turning out our way, there are many choices that do please Christ. Some believe that it would be ideal if we lived in a world where our relationship with the Lord was so mature that, when life didn’t go our way, we simply smiled and said, “Well I guess that is God’s will” and moved on. I would like to challenge that idea. I think that even the God of Heaven has feelings and doesn’t try to hide from them.

Does God Have Feelings?

Many of us, especially the “fixers” of this world, envision God as a supreme being who doesn’t have feelings. We think of God as perfect, but we also think of him as an emotionless being because we often have seen how, in our own lives and in the lives of others, emotions cause problems. We see how our society lives by their emotions and by doing so have sown havoc on their lives. But just because so many in our society live by their feelings and make them the largest determining factor in how to decide how to function, that doesn’t make emotions inherently wrong.

We could lay out many verses to prove that God is one who feels emotions, but one of the most memorable and impactful to me is Ezekiel 6:9. God is speaking in the passage and he says, “I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes which played the harlot after their idols.

God says that he loves his people over and over. Sometimes we grow up with the idea that it is not cool to talk like that, that real men and smart people don’t talk about their emotions—especially when they are hurt. But all through scripture God tells us how much he loves us, even going as far as to compare our relationship to a married person (c.f. Hosea and all the hurt that is in that book). So God lays his emotions out there. He says that the God of the universe and the Creator of all things (including feelings and emotions) declares that these little creatures have hurt him.

Now unless I am missing something, if the God of the Heaven and Earth can declare that he is hurt, that his heart has been broken by those around him whom he loves, then I think that it is OK to be hurt. There is nothing inherently wrong with the emotion of sadness.

But God is Different

There a natural argument that will rise up from the passage mentioned above. God is only hurt because we are talking about sin and how he has been sinned against. It is correct that God has been sinned against, but to say that he is only emotional because of sin misses the point that a perfect God can feel this way. For our purpose the reason doesn’t matter. God is sad about a lot of things, and if he is sad, then it can’t inherently be wrong for us to be sad, too.

The Turning Point

Since it is not inherently wrong to be sad, then when does it become wrong to be sad? We can’t live our lives in a state of being sad, right? So how do we begin to know when it is good to begin to speak truth and try to correct our emotions?

One important turning point comes when we allow our feelings of sadness to control how we act toward others and toward God. It is one thing for me to cry out to God and share with my wife my hurt. It is quite another thing for me to walk around my house and mope around. We are called to love God and love others even when we are feeling sad. If we allow our feelings to control us and we stray from that divine mandate, then we know that our feelings have displaced our proper worship of God.

So What Happens Next?

When I got home I shared with my wife what had happened and how I was feeling about my friend and our cancelled time together. She listened and consoled in a loving way. I then told my wife that this would be a great opportunity for me to spend time with her and my children as it was going to be a very busy week and I didn’t know when I would be able to see them next.

I started my night serving my wife by taking care of our daughter, since my wife was tired from a long day of painting our house (we are trying to sell soon). I was able to use this opportunity to love her and give her a much needed rest. Then, after the baby settled down, I was able to give my son a bath and play with him until it was time for bed (which was much later than usual because daddy was feeling generous).

By taking the focus off of myself and placing it onto others I began to feel the darkness lift. While I was still sad that I would not get a chance to fellowship with my friend and minister to him, the sting didn’t feel as painful. As a result of my choices, I got an unexpected opportunity to love my family and spend some quality time with them. Had I chosen to only focus on myself and my lack of time with my friend, my night would have turned out much differently.

My  next and final post in this series will deal with how to relate with depression and sin when it comes to the issues of sadness, unmet expectations and our emotions. 

Joshua M. GreinerJoshua M. Greiner
Joshua is the Pastor of Faith West Community Ministries. He has been on staff with Faith since 2010. He graduated from Purdue University with a BA in Political Science and from Faith Bible Seminary with a MDIV. He is married to his wife Shana and is the Father of Winston.
  • reformedophile

    Actually, it is when I take the focus off of myself and fix my eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of my faith that the sin, not darkness, is forgiven through repentance and faith. This is all of
    God’s grace through faith by the power of the Holy Spirit, not self-sanctification by faith in my self to refocus.

  • Susan

    So reformedophile, you are concerned about theology informing our thinking and feelings, not our thinking and feelings informing our theology?

  • reformedophile

    Susan,

    That’s right Susan, faith is no faith at all when we think we can just try harder to think and do better ourselves. This kind of person may profess faith, but may actually not possess it and be a Christian. Their joy is never complete in Christ but only in circumstances/people going their own way. Living according to principles is not the gospel. Our faith must be placed solely on the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross who alone enables us to live out our faith resulting in joy in the midst of trial. Yes, sorrow over our own sin and unworthiness and the sin of others is what we experience every day, but the joy of our salvation is restored through daily repentance and faith.

  • Peter

    Where does one go to understand a theology of sorrow? Look to Christ and his perfect obedience in his sorrow. But I’m not perfect like Jesus? How can I obey like that? Although we sin daily and respond sinfully according to our emotions, if we are in Christ we cannot help it but to obey because we are a new creature with new desires given to us to love, trust, and obey God. Even the smallest amount of sanctification with biblical motivations is evidence that we possess true saving faith. No growth, however suggests that we were never in Christ.