Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Our emotions often start off innocently enough. Something happens and we respond. When our emotions are regulated, we can express anger, disappointment, happiness, and/or relief without those emotions controlling us. If they are not, however, our feelings become obsessions. If you think such a scenario could never happen to you, consider the following: When our emotions begin to linger a little longer than they should… something else starts to occur. We begin to feed those emotions in ways that we shouldn’t. For example, if it’s anger we’re feeling, we find people to be angry with us instead of us learning to let it go. If happiness is our addiction, we’ll chase it even when that means making irresponsible decisions. Simply put, we’re trading God’s light for darkness. And I would caution you, that it’s easier than you think when we aren’t intentional enough with our emotions and decisions.
When the Israelites Complained at Kadesh
If you’re looking for a Biblical example of emotional dysregulation, I would recommend Moses when he and the Israelites were at Kadesh. The Israelites were complaining, yet again. They had no water and so they asked Moses in Numbers 20:4-5:
Why have you brought up the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our animals should die here? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink.”
First, we should take a moment to acknowledge that the underlying ask is fair. They do need water to survive. Nevertheless, the delivery of their message demonstrated a lack of faith and gratitude. They referred to their dwelling place as evil, as if Egypt and bondage were better. This is the trouble with living in darkness. After a while, you aren’t sure what light is anymore. In response to their complaints, Moses and Aaron go to God to ask for help. The glory of God’s presence appears to Moses and Aaron, and He tells Moses to take the rod, gather the congregation, and to speak to the rock. By speaking to the rock, it will yield water.
Moses then takes the rod. Next, he and Aaron assemble the people. It would appear that we’re on the right track… but then something goes wrong. Moses cries out to the Israelites in verse 10: “Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” Now, it’s fine that Moses was frustrated by the Israelites’ complaining because it was a frustrating situation. Yet Ephesians 4:26 advises us to: “Be angry, and do not sin”. We get to feel our emotions, but they aren’t supposed to control us. In this situation, Moses allowed his anger to consume him. By doing this, he separated himself from God. He then gave the credit for God’s impending blessings to himself, and to Aaron. It’s like someone saying to you – well I prayed for you, and this happened – so you need to be grateful to me.
Moses then strikes the rock twice and water comes out abundantly. Despite the failed execution of God’s instructions, God has mercy on the Israelites and gives them water. Moses and Aaron, however, do not fare so well. In verse 12 God says to them: “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” Notice that Moses’ active disobedience and Aaron’s passive disobedience net the same consequences. In God’s eyes – disobedience is disobedience, and we must answer for our choices.
When I first considered this story, I thought God’s response was a bit strong. Afterall, Moses had a close relationship with God. But then I have to consider Ananias and Sapphira in the New Testament (Acts 5). There are times when our actions would take an entire movement off course, and God chooses to intervene. God could not let Moses and Aaron continue to lead His people. He cited two areas of issue – their unbelief and their unwillingness to honor Him as holy. Remember, when we let darkness in, we’re also letting light out. Had Moses not been so angry, he probably would’ve believed that by the grace of God, he could speak to the rock and water would come forth, but darkness limits our ability to have faith. So, Moses hit the rock instead – twice.
Furthermore, in his frustration, Moses gave credit to himself and Aaron for the gift of water, which would signal to the Israelites that they should be honored, and not God. Moses, like us, seemed to forget that no matter how overwhelming the emotions are, we’re still left with choices. We do not have to act from a place of malice and bitterness, we can choose God’s light. Afterall, if Moses needed 30 minutes to regroup, he could’ve taken them. If he needed to give God his burdens, God would’ve accepted them because compassion and mercy are always options. It is Satan that would like for us to believe that we must act on the darkness, even though it’s not in our best interest. Unfortunately, when we don’t believe we have choices, we have a tendency to act out, and usually, we would also like for others to join in.
Trading Darkness for Light
For example, it wasn’t enough that Eve was disobedient, she wanted Adam to participate too. Since the beginning of our time here on Earth, we prefer for our sin to be communal as if that somehow justifies the actions. I’ve often felt frustrated when others have expected me to align with their bitterness and sprigs of darkness. It’s overwhelming because what you’re really saying to me, is that I should trade God’s light for darkness. We forget that sin is an infection that grows within us. For some it strikes quickly, and for others it takes a bit longer, but do not let time mislead you. Once you let sin in, it eventually shows up through our emotions, actions, guilt, pain, and consequences.
The Need for Forgiveness
Ephesians 4:31-32 warns us against letting this type of sin enter us when the scriptures state: Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Malice can only exist where forgiveness does not. When we hold onto wrath and bitterness, cloaked with malice, what we are really saying is that we are not in the emotional space to forgive. And if we aren’t in the emotional space to forgive others, we must be careful to realize that we are putting ourselves in a space for God not to forgive us.
Now, forgiveness is not always easy or simple. The pain we endure can reach the very depths of our souls, but how long will we hold onto our anger? How long will we feel justified in our resentment? Letting go of the wrath and anger isn’t about winning or losing, or allowing someone to get away with mistreating us. Instead, it’s about allowing ourselves to heal. It’s about putting us in a space to connect with God on a deeper level, trusting that He will take care of the outcomes. In these spaces, we can make better decisions so that we do not find ourselves separated from God. Our words will be kinder, and our intentions clearer. Afterall, there is no situation that is worth us not entering God’s presence.
So each day, as we face life’s difficulties, we must learn to feel our emotions and then to leave them at the foot of the cross. If you don’t know how to, ask God to show you. The Holy Spirit will always lead us into all truth if we are willing to trade the darkness for God’s light.
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