“Our theology gets really bad when we’re suffering.” – Ken Logan
When I first heard that statement a few weeks ago, it got me thinking about the basic emotions associated with suffering, usually anger or sadness, and what the bible says about them.
Cognitive psychologist Aaron Beck said that we learn that certain beliefs seem true in certain situations. When those situations happened, they would trigger a belief, which would trigger a thought, which would trigger behavior. His words for this chain were a bit different, but you get the idea.
Beck’s chain reaction could lead to a good or bad result depending on whether or not there were “thinking errors” in the belief stage. Thinking errors put a false filter on what we see in the world. They convince us of a false reality.
Even though I have frequently used this model with clients, one of its basic flaws is a risk of denying the validity of bad feelings. If we take Beck’s idea to it’s extreme, we shouldn’t have bad feelings because all bad feelings are due to thinking errors – which is a thinking error itself.
Be Angry and do not Sin
Here is what one verse from the bible says about bad feelings (Ephesians 4:26):
- “Be angry” Have your bad feeling. Hold it. Steam in it. Stew in it.
- “and do not sin;” While you’re holding your anger, steaming and stewing in it, don’t burn anyone else.
- “do not let the sun go down on your anger,” You have to cool down at some point, the sooner the better.
- “and give no opportunity to the devil.” The longer you steam and stew, the greater the likelihood you’ll burn someone.
Be angry and do not sin. Be sad and do not sin. Feel bad and do not sin. Easier said than done.
Bad Feelings are Not Inherently Bad
It is legitimate to feel angry or sad in times of suffering. Pretending that we are not hurt would lead to denying the reality that something bad has happened. If someone has hurt you, or life has you cornered, your anger and sadness are legitimate – you really do feel that way. It’s not a thinking error.
You feel bad because something wrong happened. It is not wrong to feel bad. Don’t feel guilty for being sad or angry.
Believing it is bad to feel sad or mad leads to false guilt. That false guilt misleads us about God, ourselves, and others.
Bad Feelings are Contagious
The problem is not the bad feelings. The problem is the bad behavior that results from those feelings – and leads to more bad feelings for more people. As the saying goes: “hurt people hurt people.”
While we are only human to feel anger or sadness when we have been wronged. We dehumanize ourselves and others when we lash out. There are good uses for both sadness and anger, but they build up, they don’t tear down.
It’s easy to say not to hurt others while we’re suffering. It’s hard to practice. When we’re distracted by our own emotional bleeding, we don’t often have attention or energy for the sensitivities of others. We might even feel entitled to enact revenge, but that only continues the cycle.
Justifying bad behavior because of bad feelings cheapens the emotional value of those feelings. Seeking vengeance cheapens justice. Cheapening justice minimizes the ugliness of sin and suffering.
Bad Feelings Are Sticky
It’s ironic that neither anger or sadness are pleasant to feel, but they both bring relief from the pain that brought them on. What’s worse, the disease or the cure? Too much of either one is toxic in the long run.
If it is hard to tear a band-aid away from a paper cut, how much harder is it to tear away anger or sadness from genuine suffering?
This is not to say that we should rush a responsible way of handling sadness or anger. It is to say we should start that process as soon as possible. The longer we go without starting that process, the greater the risk of hurting someone else out of our own pain.
Being mired in bad feelings for too long reduces both hope and initiative. Hope is what we need to turn to Christ. Initiative is what we need to take responsibility.
Add Your Voice (comment below)
Which one is hardest for you:
- Allowing yourself to feel anger or sadness?
- Self control while feeling anger or sadness?
- Letting go of anger or sadness?