I’ve heard it said that feelings aren’t bad or good, they’re simply yours.
But I happen to believe that what we consider bad feelings can actually be good for us if those bad feelings cause us to do what is right.
David the Psalmist described in Psalm 32 some pretty bad feelings he was experiencing after a season of sin:
When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer (verses 3-4).
David’s expression that God’s “hand was heavy on me” implies he was feeling a weight of guilt and perhaps shame for his sin. And the longer he kept silent about it and didn’t confess it to God the more he was “sapped” of energy and felt he was drying up.
Those “bad” feelings of guilt, shame, and regret caused David to do what was necessary for him to find relief:
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin (verse 5, emphasis added).
In David’s case, his bad feelings turned out to be conviction by the Holy Spirit, which led him to confess His sin to God, and experience the relief that results from God’s grace and forgiveness.
We tend to want to avoid bad feelings. But when we feel badly it’s because something isn’t right in our hearts or in this world. Whether we are feeling grief from losing a loved one, regret from having missed an opportunity, guilt from sinful actions, or shame from selfishness or rude behavior, those feelings can cause us to bring our hearts before the Lord for re-evaluation, re-alignment with His priorities, and transformation into the kind of people He has called us to be.
Ecclesiastes 7:3 says:
“Sorrow is better than laughter, For when a face is sad a heart may be happy.”
I believe that means when we experience sorrow, there are lessons involved, and that means growth can happen. When I, personally, experience bad feelings like guilt, shame, regret, or even anger, I can take them to God, ask Him to cleanse my heart (or give me a heart set on things above, or help me to long for Him more than the one whose loss I am mourning). By doing that, I am reminded that God is the One who specializes in redeeming those feelings and experiences into something that will grow me into a more mature believer. My relationship with Christ is renewed as a result of bringing bad feelings to God, and then I can experience that “happy heart” that Solomon talks about, or joy that comes from a right-standing relationship with God.
Here is a rundown of some “bad feelings” that can, ultimately, be good:
- Grief from loss– Mourning over the loss of people reminds us of the brevity of life and the importance of setting our hearts on things above (Colossians 3:1-4). It can also make us long for Jesus and to be with Him and those who have gone before us. Nothing gives us a more eternal perspective than mourning the loss of the temporary.
- Guilt and remorse– When we feel truly sorry for something we’ve done it causes us to re-evaluate our priorities and re-ignites in us a passion and desire to live rightly.
- Frustration– When we feel frustrated because something “isn’t fair” it brings about the realization, once again, that things are NOT fair in this world. And that reminds us we live in a world in which only God can set things right.
- Anger – We often believe that anger is bad. But Scripture instructs: “Be angry, and yet do not sin…” (Ephesians 4:23). Anger at what disappoints or grieves the heart of God is truly good. Be angry at what divorce does to a marriage and to the kids. Be angry at what abortion does to the tiny beating heart and to the woman who wasn’t told about the emotional consequences. Be angry at injustice, oppression, racism, abuse, addiction, hate crimes, hypocrisy, legalism, and anything that would stir God’s wrath. But if your anger is rooted in or expressed through “fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions, and envy” (Galatians 5:20-21), it is evidence of a lack of the Spirit’s fruit in your life, and that is something that can only be good if you allow God to break you through it and make you a person who shows grace, patience, kindness, and gentleness instead.
Jesus experienced anger at the self-righteous pride of the Pharisees. He experienced rejection, humiliation, and isolation as He hung on the cross for crimes He didn’t commit. He experienced sadness at seeing how death was ravaging the human race. He was called a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Yet in spite of all those bad feelings the Son of God experienced (which means He can relate to you and me today), He glorified His Father in Heaven.
What feelings are you experiencing in this season of life? Bring them to God and let Him sort through them, grow you through them, change your heart through them, and make you more like His Son.