Most people think emotion is something that just happens to you. You can’t do much about it. The best you can do with your emotions is to manage them. That’s not true. You can change them. Today we’ll find out how.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
James begins by commanding something that sounds impossible.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2).
Is James telling us to pretend we are happy when we aren’t? Does God want us to deny reality and live in a fantasy world? Or are we supposed to enjoy suffering, like masochists?
No. if we enjoyed it wouldn’t be suffering.
Hebrews 12:11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.
James doesn’t say, “feel it pure joy,” but “consider it pure joy.” But what does that mean? If suffering is not joyful, why should we consider it joyful? Is this a purely mental exercise, disconnected from emotion? If so, what good is it? What is “joy” you can’t feel?
The word “consider” is a cognitive word. It refers to something you think and believe, as opposed to something you feel. You go through a process of reasoning and come to a conclusion you regard as true. But that is not to say your emotions are uninvolved. It is a thinking word, but the purpose of the thinking is to change your feeling.
Emotions are Results of Interpretations
We live in a culture that holds an evolutionary, naturalistic perspective that ignores the reality of the soul. Emotions are nothing but chemical reactions in your brain. They are not right or wrong. They simply happen to you. So you are not responsible for what you feel.
But the Bible gives us a very different view. We are responsible for how we feel. We are not mechanistic robots controlled by random chemical reactions. Emotions are connected to chemical reactions, but in most cases those chemical reactions result from the activity of the soul. Just ask thinking about biting into a lemon can cause saliva to increase in your mouth, so other thoughts and attitudes can cause increased or decreased chemicals that affect emotion.
Emotion rises from your heart’s interpretation of events, weighed against your beliefs and values. The two key parts are interpretation and values.
If a wife sees flowers on the counter on her birthday, her interpretation may be that her husband did something nice for her birthday. The resulting emotion may be happiness or love.
But suppose he walks into the room and says, “Honey, can you put those flowers in a vase for me? Today is secretaries’ day and I wanted to do something nice for her.” Now her interpretation of the situation changes, and her happiness turns to jealousy or anger.
Beliefs and Values
Two people might interpret a situation the same way but have opposite emotions. This is because they have different values.
Give a child a piece of candy and he might have emotions of exuberant happiness. Give candy to a typical adult and he might smile, but without a fraction of the child’s emotion. The emotional response is different because the child and the adult value candy differently.
The same goes for beliefs. One person sees some election results and he’s happy because he believes the winning candidate will bring about “social justice” and better conditions. Someone else might respond with fear and sadness because he believes it will result in injustice, higher taxes, and higher crime rates. The same interpretation of the data results in opposite emotions because of opposite beliefs.
Right and Wrong Feelings
So is there such a thing as right or wrong emotions? Yes. Feelings that rise from an incorrect interpretation of the situation, or from evil values or wrong beliefs, are bad emotions—even sinful in many cases. This is one of the biggest differences between worldly counseling and biblical counseling. In worldly counseling, the main goal is to feel better. In Scripture, the main goal is to feel rightly.
How would you describe your emotional state? Joyful? Depressed? Apprehensive? Fearful? Apathetic? Hopeful? Just kind of blah? God designed us to feel a complex of wide-ranging emotions that are fitting responses to what happens around us. But the most dominant emotion for us as Christians should be joy.
Over the next few days, we will look into how to interpret trials properly. But for today, ask yourself these questions:
- Is there something about your emotional state you would like to change? What is it in your thought life that might be leading to the emotions you wish were different?
- What needs to change in the way you interpret the things that happen to you and around you?
- What values or beliefs may be causing wrong emotions?
“Greetings … Consider it pure joy” (James 1:1-2)
Part of James’ style is to end a section with a keyword, then use that word to pivot to the next topic. Here, the last word in verse one is “greetings,” which is the Greek word for joy. Then in verse two it is as though James says, “Speaking of joy, consider it pure joy whenever …”
 If you find child abuse amusing, that is a sinful emotion because it comes from valuing an evil thing. If you are happy when someone blasphemes God because you believe God doesn’t exist, that is a sinful emotion because it is based on a wrong belief about God.