Dealing with Painful Emotion
Humans were created with the capability of feeling and expressing emotions. Regardless of how stoic or logical we wish to appear, there will be times in the face of trials and jubilee where we experience a reaction from within, and oftentimes we will react involuntarily to these internal stirrings.
People are often judged based off how well they can control their reactions to strong emotions; those who react less or not at all are rightly considered mature. However, regardless of outward expression, the inward battle still remains. Feelings of anger, remorse, and sorrow are hard to suppress and impossible to eradicate forcefully.
If emotions are almost a guarantee in life, how then should we as Christians struggle through some of the more negative and damning emotions such as anger, rage, and fear in the sight of an all knowing God. We know that the Lord searches the heart and tests the mind (Jeremiah 17:10), and we therefore know that, in spite of our attempts to conceal such emotions, God still sees our internal struggle.
Thankfully, there is a biblical precedent in the figure of Job that gives us some insight into the issue. The book of Job is perhaps the most unique book of the Bible. It does not neatly fit into a specific literary genre, and its origins are difficult to determine. The story itself is about a man who is tested by God and is stripped of all earthly possessions, family, and health. He is left in such distress that his friends fail to initially recognize him, and once they understand the extent of his pain, they sit with him in silence for seven days (Job 2:12-13). Job's faith and righteousness are tested through these trials.
Though Job traverses this difficult time in spite of his wife's and friend's poor advice and reaches the other side of tribulation restored, there were moments in which he went before God in all bitter transparency. Instead of lying to both himself and God regarding his feelings of abandonment, despair, and even anger, Job verbally wrestles with God's apparent disdain toward him. He laments in Job 16:7-9:
Surely now God has worn me out;
he has made desolate all my company.
And he has shriveled me up,
which is a witness against me,
and my leanness has risen up against me;
it testifies to my face.
He has torn me in his wrath and hated me;
he has gnashed his teeth at me;
my adversary sharpens his eyes against me.
Job continues in 19:7-11:
Behold, I cry out, ‘Violence!’ but I am not answered;
I call for help, but there is no justice.
He has walled up my way, so that I cannot pass,
and he has set darkness upon my paths.
He has stripped from me my glory
and taken the crown from my head.
He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone,
and my hope has he pulled up like a tree.
He has kindled his wrath against me
and counts me as his adversary.
Job here comments on God's supposed injustice. Going so far as to call God his "adversary" ("enemy" in the NASB), he is left in utter bewilderment as to the reasoning behind his plight. He has no knowledge of the heavenly council recorded in the first two chapters of Job or the test imposed by God to prove that he is unique in all the world for his righteousness (Job 1:8), and he believes that he is innocent of any sin that would deserve such a harsh punishment. Instead, however, of cursing God, as his wife would recommend in Job 2:9, Job remains faithful to God (1:21-22; 2:9).
The line Job walks between being ruthlessly honest with his feelings and turning his back on God is where we as Christians want to find ourselves when struggling with similar emotions. Though Job accused God of unjustly punishing him, he still concedes that God is sovereign over all things and all that he does is perfect. After some intense discourse with God himself, Job ultimately repents of his lament, surrendering himself to the will of God (Job 42:1-6). This repentance, ultimately, is the example we need to follow when feeling anger or ill will towards the Lord.
We cannot avoid emotions, as they are immediate responses to a situation; however, we can recognize where we fall short, repent, and come before God knowing that it is our understanding of the situation and not God's character that causes us distress. God is a merciful, gracious, loving God, and we sometimes fantasize about a militant, angry God that wishes to cause us harm. When we come before him in our anger and ignorance, he will be gracious. We will ultimately see him for who he really is.
Job passes the test in the eyes of God despite his ignorance (Job 38:2), and Job is restored. Elmer B. Smick comments on the potency of the message behind the book of Job, "What lifts the book to literary and theological greatness is the author's deft presentation of a truly righteous man whose commitment to God is total, yet who can still struggle with God to the point of rage over the mystery of God's ways... In his suffering Job serves God supremely, not as a stoic, but as a man of feeling who has to come to terms with the mystery of the divine will."