How the Gospel Grounds our Emotions
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;”
– James 1:19
My stomach began to twist. The simple ride started to get to me. I was on a ride at Cedar Point where a boat would just swing you back and forth for several minutes, but after a long day of rollercoasters, a few minutes was more than enough.
My stomach began to twist…again. This time at a basketball game. The team I was cheering for was quickly losing its winning margin in just a matter of minutes as the opposing players continued to make great play after great play. How did this happen? We were doing so well!
Besides twisting my stomach, both scenarios share something in common – momentum. Momentum kept the ride going back and forth without having the machinery do all of the work. Momentum kept the basketball opponents making great plays in a very short amount of time. Momentum is that force that builds up over time and then drives or advances something or someone farther along.
In today’s American culture, we face a momentum of emotions.
In her article “The Age of Emotional Overstatement,” Caitlin Macy makes the argument that we Americans tend to “love” a lot (“I love your new haircut!” or “I loved your Instagram post!”) and, ironically, tend to be angry a lot too.1 She questions how there can be so much love and yet so much hate (she points out the noticeable uptick in riots occurring in 2020 and 2021), and it’s a fair inquiry. She seems to indicate that because we as a society are willing to love so easily, we also tend to hate easily as well. Our emotions have built up a lot of momentum swinging from one direction to the next.
But how about us as Christians? How are our emotions? Do we tend to give them lots of momentum? James, the early Christian leader, warns us against doing such. He says we should be slow to give momentum to anger. By implication, I think that means we should be slow to allow emotions to take over. For example, if I wake up tired, how much do I let that drive my attitude for the rest of the morning? If someone cuts me off on the highway, how much does that dictate my behavior for the rest of the afternoon? In other words, how much do we let emotions take the helm of our “behavioral ship?”
Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and this truth changes how we control our emotions.
Because of the cross, we will never be lost to our deserved eternal punishment in hell but will instead be with God forever in glory. We are now part of a local community of believers here on earth and will be with an eternal community in glory. God the Holy Spirit resides in us for all ages and is making us more like Jesus Christ. These are fixed truths that our hearts must cling to. They provide real hope and rock-solid stability.
In other words, they are truths that we can anchor our emotions to and decrease the emotional momentum that can swing us from seventh-heaven happiness to dismal frustration in seconds. They are foundational facts that remind us to really love our enemies (which depends on God’s grace rather than how we feel) because Christ loves us through the Gospel and to really look forward to heaven (a place where our eternal happiness and contentment will only increase as we commune more with God).
So, in a society that enjoys an exorbitant display of emotion, let’s continue to fix our hearts on God’s unchanging love and grace that shines through the Gospel. When we do that, we will find God’s grace driving our behavior more than our fluctuating emotions…and then we will be slow to let our emotions and their momentum rule over us.
1 Caitlin Macy, “The Age of Emotional Overstatement,” The Wall Street Journal, Saturday/Sunday, June 11-12, 2022, C1.