How Do You Feel About That?
[Reading time: 8 minutes] To repent is to change your mind and the way you think – how you think and what you think about. Because repentance relates directly to our thoughts and we consider our thinking and feelings as distinct from each other, we usually don’t consider how repentance relates to our feelings.
Are feelings sacred or beyond evaluation? No more than our thoughts are. Are all feelings acceptable? No more than all thoughts are acceptable. We’re responsible for our thoughts, feelings, desires, perspective and priorities. Repentance affects all of these areas.
Consider the following statements. “That’s just the way I feel. I can’t help it.” “I don’t care. I really want it.” “You made me angry.”
These are common and widely accepted statements. They express feelings, desires and emotions, and most of the time we use them to stop discussion on the topic at hand. They communicate an attitude that honors feelings above all else. They also reveal the person is unwilling to accept responsibility for themselves, and choose to blame others and even claim victim status.
Any concern I have about someone violating me or my feelings comes directly from a self-centered mindset, which believes anything I want or do or think or feel should be acceptable. None of us likes to be corrected because it implies we’re not acceptable the way we are. And self-centeredness typically motivates us to shift the blame to the person who pointed out our problem, claiming they are intolerant, legalistic or judgmental.
When God talks about us becoming spiritually mature and like Jesus, he doesn’t say we don’t have to do it if we don’t feel like it. No, God’s solution is for us to change the way we think and what we think about. We’re to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5, NIV), and that includes emotional and intuitive thoughts as well as rational thoughts.
Everyone has feelings, just as everyone has thoughts. What kind of feelings and thoughts we have and how we express them are determined by our character, which is predominantly spiritual in origin. Because our spirit’s development is dependent on what it receives from God’s Spirit and our mind – through Bible reading, teaching, meditation, and so on – transforming our mind is a crucial factor in our spiritual development.
A person’s basic character will probably remain the same as they transform their mind, though we can expect their thoughts and feelings to change. If they’re by nature an emotional person, for example, the nature of their emotions and the way they express them may change significantly, though they’ll remain emotional.
The more subjective someone is, the more their attitudes and actions will be based on their state of mind, perception or opinion. As their basic motivation changes from self-centeredness to humility and agape, they’ll remain subjective, but their perceptions, opinion and state of mind will change, as well as how they respond to them.
How can we change our feelings? The same way we change any other attitude or state of mind. The apostle Paul wrote, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). As we do this, we’ll develop new priorities and standards, and our feelings, emotions, desires and outlook on life will change.
Paul also wrote, “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” (Eph. 4:22). Sinful desires are deceitful because they lead us to believe we can find true happiness by indulging them, but that is not true. They produce good feelings temporarily, but that isn’t true happiness.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (Eph. 4:31). Bitterness is clearly an attitude or emotional state, as is anger. Malice is a desire to do someone harm, a spiteful attitude. What are we supposed to do with such feelings? Get rid of them.
It should be clear by now that God holds us accountable for our attitudes and their resultant feelings, emotions and desires. We’re no longer slaves to them, but instead have the ability and power to bring them under God’s control. And doing so is part of growing up to be like God, our Father.
How do you feel about that? You should feel wonderfully relieved, because there is hope that every part of your being can be pleasing to God, including your feelings.
Speaking of being like our Father, does God have feelings, emotions and desires? Yes, he does. The Bible describes several of them and we see others reflected in Jesus and his parables. Let’s briefly consider some of them.
Most people will agree God can be angry. In fact, some people think anger is God’s dominant characteristic. The parable about an unmerciful servant portrays God as the master, who “in anger … handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed” (Matt. 18:34). Jesus became angry when the religious leaders watched him carefully to see whether he would heal someone on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-5). And God was angry with the Israelites for testing and trying him in the wilderness (Heb. 3:7-11). Yes, God can be angry, but he has many other emotions as well.
He also experiences delight. The Old and New Testaments both show God expressing his delight with his Son, Jesus (Matt. 12:17-18; Isa. 42:1). The Greek word translated “delighted” is also translated “pleased” in other verses, although “delight” more accurately describes the emotion. When John baptized Jesus, “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” or delighted (Matt. 3:17). God uses the same word to describe his feelings toward you: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased [delighted] to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
Compassion is another of God’s feelings revealed in Jesus. “When Jesus … saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matt. 14:14). God himself is “the Father of compassion” (2 Cor. 1:3). And the Lord, the Son of God, “is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11).
Because of his compassion, God has longings and desires for his people, which Jesus expressed. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, … how often I have longed to gather your children together” (Luke 13:34). The night before Jesus died, he told his disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). And James refers to the “righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20). Have you ever thought about God having longings and desires? He does. But he is God, so why would he ever have to desire anything? Because he gave us free will and he longs for us to choose him and his kingdom voluntarily.
God also experiences the contrasting emotions of happiness and sorrow. He is happy about each sinner who repents (Matt. 18:13-14). Happiness apparently is one of God’s frequent emotions, based on Jesus’ parable of the talents; he tells the faithful servants, “Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matt. 25:21, 23).
When faced with the results of humanity’s sin, however, God experienced grief and deep sorrow (Gen. 6:6). Jesus felt overwhelming sorrow and distress for what was about to happen to him because of our sin (Matt. 26:37-38). And we should experience “godly sorrow” when confronted about our sin (2 Cor. 7:10-11).
So, does God have emotions? Definitely! Since he created us in his image and encourages us to become like him, we also have emotions. The issue is not whether emotions or feelings themselves are appropriate, but whether they are motivated by godliness or sinfulness.
How do we handle inappropriate feelings, those that originate with our sinful ways of thinking? And how do we foster appropriate feelings, those that originate with our godly nature? By repenting. This not only shows the importance of transforming our mind, it also shows that our emotions, feelings and desires will change as we become more like Jesus.
- “Pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28). How can praying for them help you get rid of your anger about how they mistreated you?
- “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed” (Luke 12:15). How can you repent – change your thinking, values and standards – to avoid greediness?
- “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion” (Col. 3:12). How must you change your thinking to become more compassionate toward other people, including those you don’t like?
- What practical steps can you take to redeem your feelings
As we repent, we can expect our emotions, feelings and desires to change as we become increasingly like Jesus.