One of the things that has been most interesting to discover as I’ve learned more about alternative health is the recognition of emotions as symptoms.
For example, in homeopathy, one’s emotional state is used in reaching a diagnosis. A person may (hopefully!) have the self-control to reign in some of their emotionally-charged behaviors, but homeopathy works best when one acknowledges their emotions for what they are and expresses them in some way that a homeopath can measure.
Traditional Chinese medicine is the same way. Persistent anxiety and fear issues are signs of a Kidney imbalance. Worry is a sign of Spleen deficiency. (Kidney and Spleen systems go hand in hand in Chinese medicine.) Depression is a sign of Liver imbalance, often Liver Qi stagnation – meaning that the energy (Qi) of the Liver is stuck and building up, unable to go anywhere. Heart palpitations when anxious mean a Heart deficiency. Feeling tired and sluggish, especially after meals, is a sign of Dampness in the body.
All of these “symptoms” are not regarded as symptoms in traditional Western medicine. One’s emotional state is, for the most part, a separate issue from the physical state of one’s body. It’s fascinating to me, however, to think of negative emotions as a sign of sickness, un-wellness, disharmony, whatever you want to call it.
I believe that, from a Christian perspective, it’s extremely helpful and healthy to take an alternative-health view of negative emotions. While negative feelings (anger, anxiety, depression, frustration, sluggishness) certainly can be sins in and of themselves, those negative emotions can also be seen as part of the general problem of Sin in the world. Christians know that our earthly lives are always going to be affected by sin. We get sick, we make mistakes out of ignorance, bad things happen that aren’t our fault, we get cold, hot, hungry, lonely, sad — all of those aren’t willful sins, but they are the results of living in a Sin-filled world. Life isn’t perfect, and it never will be this side of heaven. Christians are to bear up under the crosses that God gives them, knowing that bearing a cross is an indispensible part of being a Christian.
However, our bodies also display signs of a Sin-filled world. So, while there are passages in the Bible that talk about regulating our emotions (ie. “Do not be anxious about anything…” “In your anger, do not sin…) I think it’s also important to realize that sometimes our emotions are not ours to totally control. Our non-positive emotions can be as much a result of Sin’s general presence in the world as they can be a result of our specific sins.
I believe this distinction — emotions as general Sin and emotions as a result of our specific sin(s) — is vital to recognize, and I fear that it is not often recognized in much of Christianity today. I recently read a post over on Molly’s blog, titled Trusting God Makes Me Have a Happy Face (and Other Myths) that talks about this very topic. One of the first Bible passages that comes to mind is from Philippians 4:4 – “Rejoice in the Lord always.” JJ and I talked about that passage in response to reading Molly’s blog post. What does it actually mean to rejoice in the Lord always? Does it mean that we need to literally have smiling, happy faces all the time? What about the passage in John where “Jesus wept”? If JESUS wasn’t rejoicing at that moment (and he even knew that he was going to be raising Lazarus from the dead in a few moments!) and Jesus never sinned, does that mean it’s okay to be non-rejoicing sometimes? When would those times be?
JJ, as he always does when we have these Bible discussions, opened up his Logos Bible program on his computer and looked it up in the original Greek. After reading a bit, he shared with me that the passage more literally means to “Rejoice in the sphere of the Lord always.” In other words, we are to always be joyful when we remember what God has done for us. The knowledge of our assured eternal home in heaven should always give us joy, no matter what we’re experiencing on earth. So, to “rejoice in the Lord always” does not mean to walk around being joyful all the time. That’s going to be physically impossible this side of heaven. In fact, that’s one reason God created the church, the family, marriage — for comfort and encouragement in tough times.
Putting on a happy face all the time is difficult. When a person feels that s/he must show a smiley face to the world at all times, it’s even harder. But we can always find joy in the sure hope of our salvation, and as Christians, we should always be ready to “give a reason for the hope that we have.” But that doesn’t mean that we need to walk around smiley all the time. A wide range of emotions, including negative, non-happy emotions, are part of the human experience and have their place. We need to recognize our emotions for what they are trying to tell us, while still being confident that God is working everything in our earthly lives out for our good as well as looking forward to our perfect home in heaven.