When we lack an understanding of who God really is, our emotions can paralyze us and cause us to run from Him, the only one who actually offers us sanctuary and safety.
It’s interesting watching my three-year-old daughter wrestle through trying to figure out how to express her feelings. As parents, we try to explain to her how to do so and we try to work with her through them so she can properly process and identify them. Occasionally, we get some help from a couple of good, solid, kids programs we allow her to watch. Recently, one of those programs has been teaching about what it means to have your feelings hurt and my daughter has been paying particularly close attention to it. A week or so ago she did what any normal three-year-old would do and she disobeyed her Mom and I. As parents will do, we corrected her and then went about our way. Something she said back to us however, caused us to pause. As we walked away from her, she very sternly told us, “Mommy and Daddy, you are hurting my feelings!”. When we turned back to her she hid her head and shied away from us, so we scooped her up and hugged her and kissed her fat little cheeks.
Since then, this has become a common phrase of hers now when we correct her misbehavior. Because of our correction over her, as she experiences some mixture of shame, guilt, and sadness, she informs us that we are “hurting her feelings”. We are currently torn between correcting what she is saying and being excited that she is actually attempting to express her emotion.
We humans are complex and confusing things. Through the course of one day, sometimes even one hour, we can cycle through an enormous amount of differing emotions. Some of us are great at identifying and processing these emotions, others of us are not. Some of us can use these emotions as catalyzers, moving us to action and benefit; others of us see them as immobilizers, causing us to freeze where we are and be paralyzed from any advancement. For some of us, even opening our mouths to proclaim how we feel can be a monumental task in itself, especially where shame, guilt, and condemnation are concerned. Being able to express these emotions to another person is difficult enough, but when we discuss being able to express these emotions to God, the difficulty often rises and becomes even more pronounced.
Repeatedly, scripture tells us that we should view God as our Father. This can cause all sorts of confusion at times because most of our earthly Fathers were far from perfect. They have often caused much damage to us, our siblings, their spouses, and this damage can linger on in our lives. That’s why scripture never assumes that we KNOW what a good Father should be like, instead it defines for us what a good Father should be when it defines for us the character and nature of God. When we think of a good Father, we would be foolish to use our definition because we know that ours is tainted in one way or another, we must look to scripture for a proper description.
In one of John’s letters to the churches across Asia Minor, he repeatedly writes of God’s love for us and often interchanges the words ‘God’ and ‘Father’. Line by line he writes for us what love from God looks like and why it is so important to us. Even in the middle of his letter he emphatically declares “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1), and he goes on to define for us what that love looks like, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us…” (1 John 3:16) He is beginning to paint a picture for us of the sacrificial nature of God, our Father. He does this through all of his letter.
However, in one part of his letter he takes a moment to examine our own heart behavior. He writes, “…let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:18-20).
Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.
Once we have placed all of our faith and trust in Jesus Christ and the characteristics of God as a Father become true for us, the shame and condemnation we feel and that often paralyze and crush us have no place in our lives anymore. John is telling us that although we can still feel these feelings and wrestle with these emotions, we should set this effort aside because God is fully aware of all of it, He is greater than it, and He is a Father who loves us in the middle of it.
This should free us from the paralyzing fear of letting these emotions go. Letting them go means we confess them before God and allow Him to work on us where we are by massaging His truths into our heart so we can set these problems aside altogether. We have the freedom to release these emotions that paralyze us, these feelings of condemnation, because through Christ, God has handed us freedom from condemnation, that’s why Paul can write “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1).
When we realize this freedom God has given us, it frees us to move past our mistakes.
We no longer need to sit, immobilized by our foolishness, but can continue pressing forward and pursuing Christ. This freedom releases us from the binding power that sin has in our lives to crush us and condemn us, and instead binds us to a Father who loves us dearly and has paid the ultimate sacrificial price for us in sending Jesus to rescue us.
Because of Jesus, we are now free to run to our heavenly Father in our emotional confusion, resting in the assurance that He already knows it and loves us in spite of it.