Crippling Emotions

Q: What do Depression, Anxiety, Fear, Worry, and Anger have in common?

A: They are all emotional responses that can be debilitating. Depression can result in a lack of hope and a lack of motivation. Anxiety, fear, and worry can result in a lack of confidence and an inability to make decisions. Anger can cloud judgment and break down personal relationships.

Emotions, in and of themselves, are good. God gave us emotions and a proper response to emotions should cause us to direct our hearts and our minds towards Him. However, our response to our emotions is often wrong. An incorrect response to emotions can result in being controlled by our emotions, rather than controlling our emotions. When this happens, emotions can become crippling and debilitating.

Depression, anxiety (along with fear and worry), and anger not only share similaries in that they are all emotional responses. I believe they also share similar causes concerning how these emotions can become crippling. In each case, the fundamental reason why these emotions become crippling is the same. The underlying cause is facing a reality (or potential reality) that you believe to be unbearable.

In his book Out of the Blues, Wayne Mack identifies three causes of depression. 1. A refusal to deal with sin and guilt biblically. 2. Mishandling a difficult event. 3. Clinging to unbiblical standards. I think the same three causes could be applied to fear and anger as well. In each case, the result leads to facing a current reality or a potential future that is thought to be unbearable.

The depressed person sees an unbearable situation, and is crushed by it. The fearful or anxious person frets over how they will deal with it. The angry person lashes out at the situation. The response is different, but the cause is the same. There is also a further underlying reason why people struggling with crippling emotions come to see a situation as unbearable. In each case, it can be traced back to a desire to be in control. A person may become depressed when they see that they cannot control the outcome they would like. A person who wants to control a situation, but does not know how (yet thinks they should be able to), becomes anxious. A person who lashes out in anger is trying to control the situation. Sometimes these three responses may overlap, and a person may experience more than one of these emotions. Anger and attempts to control a situation can be expressed passively also. A person who exhibits “passive-aggressive” behavior is attempting to exert control by giving limited control to another person and assigning responsibility to another person for their own actions.

Q: When emotions have taken control, what is the proper response?

A: It starts with a recognition that you are struggling to be in control of your own life. Without a willingness to let go of control and allow God to be in control (and trusting God with that control), none of the other steps toward recovery will be effective.

The next step is to identify the current reality or potential future that you find to be unbearable. What is unbearable and why is it unbearable? Once the situation has been identified (there may be more than one situation; in fact, there may be many–each needs to be identified and dealt with individually), there are only two possibilities. 1. The situation is not unbearable. 2. The supposed situation cannot be true.

I’m not sure which will be harder: identifying the unbearable situation, or believing the right things about the situation. It may take a long time to pinpoint the situation that seems unbearable. However, identifying the concern is necessary to gain an understanding of why the situtation is either not unbearable or not possible. Even when the concern has been identified, it may be difficult to know whether or not the supposed situation is truly possible or not. However, I submit that one of the two cases is true. Either the situation is bearable, or not possible.

Should the latter be true, recognizing that a potentially dreadful situation is precluded by God’s promises means that whatever situation you find yourself in is bearable. Recognizing that an unfortunate situation is bearable does not remove the hardship, but it does offer hope that it’s possible to have peace and joy in spite of the circumstances.

By focusing on these two possibilities (as opposed to focusing on the situation itself), the consequences of accepting and dealing with sin are seen to be bearable; the circumstances of a difficult event are seen to be bearable; letting go of values you have clung to is seen to be bearable.

Fear or Love?

Do you believe in Jesus because you love Him, or because you fear hell? Should children obey their parents because they fear being punished, or because they love them?

This question stems from some negative reviews of Tedd Tripp’s book Shepherding a Child’s Heart.

Originally posted 10/2/2004, on

Which is better–obedience out of fear, or obedience out of love? I think we would all agree that obedience out of love is better. From what I’ve seen about this book, Tedd Tripp is saying the same thing. He is focused on the child’s heart moreso than their actions, and the parent’s role in protecting and guiding their child’s heart.

The difference of opinion appears to be in the best way to effectively guide and prepare children so that they will be most likely to acheive that goal of obedience to Christ out of love.

Which is better–obedience out of fear, or disobedience? Some people may disagree with me, but I think obedience always trumps disobedience. Every child I’ve ever seen is disobedient, so something needs to be done to help them move from disobedience to obedience. The big question is whether that is best accomplished by a two-part process (‘obey because there are consequences’ first, followed by ‘obey because you want to’) or a one-part process that skips right to the final goal.

The Old Testament tells us to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind; but it seems to talk even more about fearing God and keeping His commandments. Why did God wait 4,000 years before sending Jesus to redeem us for our sins? Why did He lay down the law to the Israelites and stress judgement for so long, instead of skipping right to grace and love? (not that grace and love are absent from the OT; they just don’t seem to be the focal point like they are in the NT.)

When I was a child, I loved my parents, but that isn’t necessarily why I obeyed them. When I was young, I obeyed them because I would get spanked if I didn’t. As I got older, I continued to obey them (for the most part) even if I knew I wouldn’t get caught, because they had taught me right from wrong and I loved and respected them.

Soldiers in basic training do what they’re told because their commanding officer will make their lives miserable if they don’t. Yet when their training is over, many soldiers would voluntarily lay down their lives for their commander. I doubt if our military would function nearly as well if it wasn’t for some healthy fear of disobeying. Now, soldiers aren’t children, and children should not be treated like soldiers, but I think the principle still applies. I don’t think it’s wrong to instill a little fear, because that is often a necessary motivator. It’s hard to teach someone love and respect if they won’t first obey.

It is wrong to overemphasize fear, or to stop at step 1 of a 2-step process. Some churches and leaders are guilty of this. They get so wrapped up in the negative consequences of disobedience, that they end up failing in their goal of guiding the heart, because outward behaviour gets priority instead. They don’t intentionally put outward behaviour above heart change, but that’s the message that comes across. As with most things in life, the best approach is balance not one or the other. It can be difficult to find the right balance.

More thoughts on “the fear of the Lord…”

Originally posted 10/4/2004 on

Some people get hung up on the word fear, because they associate it with terror. It has more to do with reverence and respect for the power and holiness of God. An illustration I like that sheds a little light on a proper context for fear goes something like this: a group of teenagers are hanging out and someone suggests going to do something that they shouldn’t do. One teen objects, and says “no, I’d be scared my dad would find out.” Another teen sneers, “what you’re afraid your daddy will hurt you if he finds out?” The teen replies, “no, I’m afraid if he found out it would hurt him.” This isn’t a perfect illustration, but it gives a picture of “being afraid” in a proper context.

I am reminded of a passage in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (if you haven’t read the Chronicles of Narnia, I highly recommend you do).

If you’re familiar with the story, you know that it is an allegory, and Christ is represented by Aslan the lion. Much of the story centers on four children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, and their journeies in Narnia. In the following passage, Mr. & Mrs. Beaver are describing Aslan (Jesus) to them:

“Is he—quite safe?” [asks Susan.] “I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

There is something a little paradoxical about God being our shield, protector, provider, comforter, etc.; yet at the same time He is our fearsome judge and ruler. Is God safe? No, but He’s good, so you can trust Him. He gives us plenty of reason to fear getting on His bad side, but He also gives us His word that He knows what’s best for us and will take good care of us if we trust and obey Him.