How to feel emotions Christianly

It is the Psalms that teach us how to handle times of joy and sorrow.

Consider the words of Saint Athanasius in his Letter to Marcellinus on the Psalms: “These words become like a mirror to the person singing them, so that he might perceive himself and the emotions of his soul” (§12). When he reads the Psalms he sees himself as if looking into mirror, reflecting back to him the emotions of his soul. When the Psalmist cries, Athanasius sees his tears; when the Psalmist shouts with joy, Athanasius sees himself smile. 

 

Have you ever wondered if there is a Christian way to feel? All of us experience deep seated anger, depths of depression, and delights of joy. Sometimes we let emotions overwhelm us without giving it a second thought. Yet there is a distinctively Christian way that we should experience these emotions. It is the Psalms that teach us how to handle times of joy and sorrow.

The early Christians understood this. Consider the words of Saint Athanasius in his Letter to Marcellinus on the Psalms: “These words become like a mirror to the person singing them, so that he might perceive himself and the emotions of his soul” (§12). When he reads the Psalms he sees himself as if looking into mirror, reflecting back to him the emotions of his soul. When the Psalmist cries, Athanasius sees his tears; when the Psalmist shouts with joy, Athanasius sees himself smile. 

Consider Psalm 73, gazing at Asaph as he works through his bitterness at the success of others. Asaph confesses the goodness of God, but his confession doesn’t match up with his emotional experience. In 73:1–3, he says: “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”

Asaph later resents his efforts to please God, since he envies the lives of high rollers or the successful who, unlike him, have not aimed to live with a clean heart: “Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence” (73:12–13).

Read More