As we live through this lockdown, we are being given a unique opportunity to observe ourselves under different and difficult circumstances. It is as if we are in a laboratory, with lots of normal elements taken out of our lives. What we may be discovering is that we are experiencing emotions in a way that we are normally too busy to notice.
Traditionally the church has not been very good at talking about the subject of emotions. Many of us were raised to feel bad about feeling, as if good Christians should not really feel a whole lot of anything. Others of us were raised with a modified view that we should feel bad about feeling bad. It is as if there are some acceptable feelings, but also some that are automatically bad. If we feel these “bad” feelings, then we may blame ourselves and confess these feelings to God, looking for a quick escape into the good category. Or we may blame the person that made us feel that way, convinced that they must be wrong because of the feeling that was stirred up.
In real life it is not so easy to categorize every feeling as good or bad. Good feelings can come from bad choices. Bad feelings can be a good thing. The fear I feel when I hear glass smash downstairs in the night is a good thing – it wakes me up, keeps me awake and gives me the focus I need to go downstairs and confront whatever is going on.
Feelings are like the lights on the dashboard of your car. They indicate that something is going on, and they prompt you to connect. I don’t drive my car better by covering over and ignoring all the lights on the dashboard. Nor do I drive my car with my head through the steering wheel looking only at those lights. But when a light comes on, I take that as a prompt to action, a prompt to connect. With my car I call the mechanic who can figure out the issue and fix it. With my life, I need to seek out other believers and I need to seek out God. He created us with an incredible set of emotions to help drive us through the challenges of life, but he never intended us to travel that path alone.
Biblically, we could look at the Gospels and see the emotions of Jesus, with dozens of discernible emotional reactions evident in his life. We could look at the people who met Jesus, and notice how the numbing effect of this world was reversed by encountering Jesus – people left Jesus feeling so much more alive! But instead, I’d like to look at an old favourite Psalm for a few more observations to help us – Psalm 73.
This Psalm was written by Asaph, a worship leader in Israel. Let me just make some quick observations about this text that may be helpful to us today:
1. Conflicted – The believer, even the leader among God’s people, can experience contradictory and conflicted feelings.In the first two verses we see Asaph, the worship leader, declaring that God is good to Israel, “but as for me…” He has almost slipped over to the other side, almost stumbled into giving up on God. Even though we are in ministry, we can still feel conflicted on the inside. We can know and even feel the truth of God, but also struggle with contradictory feelings pulling us away from Him.
2. Convinced – What we feel is often based on what we see, and so we can be convinced that the feeling reflects reality. From verses 3-15 we see Asaph’s “reality.” He saw the prosperity of the wicked, how they arrogantly dismissed God, and yet thrived. Their lives were a contradiction to all he knew, and yet they lived long and happy lives, without being held to account, without consequences. He knew this was wrong, but it felt so true. Our issue today may not be envy of the wicked, although it could be. Maybe we only see difficult financial circumstances due to the pandemic, or we only see grief and people unresponsive to the gospel, or we only see and feel the hopeless tension in our homes. What we see feels so complete and so real. But it could still be wrong.
3. Clarity – We only see clearly when we come to God.In verses 16-17 everything changes for Asaph. He comes to the sanctuary of God and suddenly the whole Psalm turns upside down. The reality of who God is, where He chose to dwell, and all of the history and reality wrapped up in that tent pierce the balloon of Asaph’s despair and flood his heart with perspective. Actually, it is helpful to remember that only as we come close to God can we see reality clearly.
4. Confusion – With hindsight we often see how confused we were, even though we felt so convinced. From verse 18, Asaph now is seeing how precarious the wicked are, how their day of reckoning is coming. And in verses 21-22 he looks back on how he was before. Now with clearer perspective he sees that he was brutish and ignorant, like a beast. Maybe you and I have been there too. After a big mess up we can so easily look back and say, “I was so stupid, what was I thinking!?” Knowing our capacity to be so convinced, and so wrong, maybe it is good to not linger long away from God! Maybe this lockdown is causing you to consider something that later will cause you to cry out, “I was so stupid, what was I thinking!?” Starting a foolish relationship, ending a God-given relationship, restarting a problematic drinking habit, or whatever. People under pressure feel all sorts of things, and those feelings are based on something going on, and those feelings feel so real. Be careful.
5. Comfort – God’s presence is the comfort we need in the midst of difficult times. From verse 23-28, Asaph seems to be almost triumphant, but that would be to misread this passage. It is not saying everything changed when he came into the sanctuary and now those circumstances were all different. They weren’t. Everything that had bothered him before was still true. The difference is that now he is facing difficult circumstances with an awareness of the comfort of God’s presence. God holds his right hand. God guides him with counsel. These assurances wouldn’t be necessary if everything was now perfect. And so he finishes with another “But for me” – unlike in verse 2, in verse 28 Asaph can now say, “But for me…it is good to be near God.”
This lockdown is stirring all sorts of emotions and feelings in us. We will be tempted to trust those feelings because they are based on the reality that we see all around us. Our problem is not the feelings. Our problem will be if we leave God out of processing the feelings he created us to have. Our feelings indicate something about what is going on in our hearts. Our feelings should prompt us to connect – with trusted others, and especially with God himself.