Excerpted from the book More Jesus, Less Religion by Steve Arterburn
If Jesus attended your church this Sunday, would he be shunned, criticized, or quietly avoided because of his open displays of emotion? Would you and I feel, well, a little uncomfortable maybe a tad embarrassed in the presence of such strong, spontaneous expressions of anger at the temple money-changers or grief over the spiritual condition of Jerusalem?
In many churches, I think there is a good chance he would be shamed or taken to task for such conduct.
- “Get a grip on yourself, Jesus.”
- “Are you saved, Jesus? Christians ought to be the happiest people on earth.”
- “Come on, Jesus where is your faith?”
- “Don’t you know that Scripture says to rejoice always?”
- “Give it to God, Jesus.”
- “Remember, Jesus, all things work together for good.”
Can’t you just hear such comments being made? The Son of God himself would likely be criticized for not “snapping out of it” or “having enough faith.”
The truth is, of course, Jesus had perfect faith and was absolutely sinless. Yet he allowed himself to experience the heights and depths of human emotion. He knew the mountaintops of great joy and the blackest chasms of depression and sorrow. He did not suppress his anger, choke off his tears, or mask his depression. And he did not fear to speak forth the deepest longings of his heart.
He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He was (and is) passionate without apology.
Our Passionate God
Throughout Scripture, God is revealed to be a passionate God. Some of us may not be comfortable with that. Others might seek to explain it away: “It’s just a Hebrew, cultural thing.” But our discomfort doesn’t alter the facts one iota.
In the Old Testament we see glimpses of a God who possesses deep wells of passion. Through the prophet Jeremiah, he declares, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (31:3).
In the book of Hosea, he agonizes over the fate of rebellious Israel. You can almost catch a sob in his voice: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart is turned over within Me, all My compassions are kindled” (Hosea 11:8).
That word ‘kindled’ comes from a Hebrew root that can mean, “to shrivel with heat.” What a picture! This is no cool, dispassionate deity calmly observing the struggles of his children from the comfort of some easy chair among the clouds.
Can you hear the groan of a heartbroken parent when God says of Israel, “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations, a people who continually provoke me to my very face” (Isaiah 65:2-3)?
Our Passionate Forebears
The psalmists inherited their heavenly Father’s strong passions. In fact, Psalms is a veritable textbook of emotional expression. Try telling David he should be more reserved! He wrote: “I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes” (Psalm 6:6-7). At another low point in his life, David penned these words: “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning I am forgotten by [my friends] as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery” (31:9-10, 12).
At other times, this hymnbook of Israel is filled with raucous cymbal clashing, horn blasting, and mighty shouts of overflowing joy. A little excessive, you say? A little undignified, you protest? But what are we going to do with it? This sort of emotion flows through the pages of Scripture like a fast-running steam.
The Emotions of a Perfect Man
When Christ walked the earth, he expressed his emotions freely and without shame. It’s too bad so few of us choose to follow his example.
The Christian must recognize that Christ did not deny, suppress, or stuff his feelings; he embraced them. As he walked on earth, he revealed his love, anger, sorrow, and many other emotions. Beyond any question, he felt the depths of emotion.
Isn’t that what makes Hebrews 4:15 such an encouraging passage? The writer reminds us “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” Jesus experienced everything that we do. Every emotion. Every temptation. The high highs, the low lows, and the flat in-betweens. His is One who understands what we feel experientially. Sometimes it’s frustrating trying to describe to a counselor or friend what’s going on in our heart when we’re not half sure what’s happening ourselves. But Jesus knows. He doesn’t have to guess or imagine. He knows.
If you found this article helpful, I encourage you to explore the book More Jesus, Less Religion.