How negative emotions can be good for you

I hardly live a day without some sort of frustration (or other negative emotion). It could be a hang nail that sets me off. Or it could be a harsh word from someone I love. Or it could be spilled milk, like yesterday at dinner time when I pulled out the tray of the high chair, not slightly as I intended, but all the way, and dinner and milk succumbed to gravity’s irresistible pull.

I must admit I’m feeling worn out from my daily confrontations with frustration, anger, discouragement, fear, doubt, worry, or impatience. It seems I am always battling something. It’s like mastering juggling, trying to deal with one blow after another without letting life crash down around you.

Enter perspective. What if instead of viewing these negative emotions as inconveniences to our happiness (at best) or enemies of our souls (at worst) we “turn the tables”. If frustration and impatience pop up quicker than weeds in a carrot patch, why not use them for our good? Why not make trials of the spirit work hard, like the irritants that drive the formation of a pearl?Where we see a struggle with fear as harassment from the enemy (which it may be) God sees a useful tool for character development.

That’s the goodness of God, constantly reworking the yuck of sin for his glory and our betterment. I think this is what is meant by Paul’s oft quoted warm-fuzzy verse, “We know that God works all things together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

All things are not good. All things are not fun. All emotions are not hip-hip hooray. And the previous verses of Romans eight confirm this. The same verse that pronounces us children and heirs of God, also names us co-sufferers with Christ (17). There is and waiting by creation and believers (21-23). There is weakness and confusion in prayer (26).

But, as verse 28 states, “God works.” He is at work, through his Spirit. Consider the “work” listed in verses 29 and 30. He knew us. He predestined us to be like his Son. He called us. He justified us. He glorified us. That’s a lot of work, and none of it is done by us.

And if that is not enough, chapter eight ends with several promises. First, “He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” All things can work for good because God did not spare his son. The gracious giving of all things is not that I get whatever I want (that would not be fulfillment of verse 28) but that all things are delivered to us for our good. Even the unpleasant things of life, though painful and sometimes appalling, must yield to God’s redeeming work.

Second, “…neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I think frustration, anger, doubt, fear, and worry would be included in that list. Not only will they not separate us from God’s love, but they will be worked for our good. They will be worked to turn our characters from lackluster to shiny pearl. That’s a promise we can live by.

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