What does God say about how the pain and suffering experienced in today's world can be healed? The third part of a series by the Focused Education team on abuse.
From the extremes of war and genocide, to the passive neglect of the elderly and children, this sinful world has foisted upon all of us a vital need for emotional healing. Indeed, emotional pain and suffering abound in a world described by the Bible as "this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4).
Understanding Our Nature
Human nature is self-centered rather than God-centered. "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Romans 8:7). Such self-centeredness can blind us to the causes and effects of our own words and actions. It can also block our sensitivities to the pain we inflict upon others.
In addition, the wrong choices of others-parents, spouses, children and friends-can bring us pain as well. God addresses this phenomenon as He gives the Ten Commandments. "For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Exodus 20:5-6). We need to earnestly seek God's merciful emotional healing.
Scripture expresses the enormous scope of abusive thoughts and actions. "Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19-21).
Painful consequences of these abuses may be physical, mental, spiritual and/or emotional. Whether we have abused others, sometimes even repeating what has been done to us, or have been a victim of abuse, our thought processes may hold us in bondage to repetitive behavior and unresolved emotional suffering.
Thoughts and Emotions Produce Our Actions
Thoughts and feelings play an important role in our lives. As our feelings connect with our thoughts, emotions are formed. "God created us with emotions so that our lives might be enriched. God could have created us without emotions; we could be intelligent, calculating, insensitive machines. But life would be exceedingly dull" (Managing Your Emotions, Erwin Lutzer, p. 18). Instead, God has given us an astonishing capacity for emotion in seemingly infinite combinations of types and intensities. Unfortunately, emotions and feelings are often viewed in negative terms. As a result, we may attempt to ignore some of our emotions and their effects in our lives.
Science is only beginning to understand the emotional component of our mind. "Only in recent years has there emerged a scientific model of the emotional mind that explains how so much of what we do can be emotionally driven-how we can be so reasonable at one moment and so irrational the next-and the sense in which the emotions have their own reasons and their own logic" (Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, p. 291).
The insightful wisdom of Solomon reminds us that "...as he [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7). Seeking godly wisdom is paramount. "He who gets wisdom loves his own soul. He who keeps understanding will find good" (Proverbs 19:8). The process of emotional healing requires following God's instructions about how to manage our emotions, not deny them. God actually gives us permission to feel anger. He also enjoins us to express it properly. "'Be angry, and do not sin': do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil" (Ephesians 4:26-27).
The first step is the acknowledgement of our true thoughts and feelings-and their validation in the Bible. Self-condemnation can damage our faith and confidence in God. "For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God" (1 John 3:20-21). The next step is the expunging of negative, destructive thoughts and attitudes such as futility, depression, unresolved anger and bitterness. This necessitates a new attitude and a new mind, motivated by forgiveness and love.
Our healing process begins with our calling from God. This calling imparts to our minds spiritual understanding previously unavailable to us. God removes our spiritual blinders, enabling us to see ourselves more as we really are. He also imparts to us an understanding of His laws and the recognition of our need to repent and to receive His Spirit. This is a vital part of the process of spiritual healing. Jesus said, "Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them" (Matthew 13:15).
Another scripture identifies mental and emotional healing as a crucial part of Jesus Christ's ministry. "...He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed" (Luke 4:18).
The Bible also explains the complete healing process in terms of the transformation from "the old man" to "the new man." We are exhorted, "do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). Paul explains how this process of transformation works. We must "put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-24).
God is love. This is what He is, how He thinks, what motivates Him and what He will always be. "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16). It is God's desire for us to also be motivated by His love. He wants us to love Him, to love His truth and to love one another even as we love ourselves. "'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Romans 13:9). This passage is also reminding us how a proper love for ourselves is important. We must yield ourselves to God-to His Spirit, allowing His love, not a negative self-centered spirit, to motivate us. Thus agape or a God-plane level of love becomes our code of conduct throughout the process of emotional healing.
A Biblical Anger Management Program
Anger is often a major impediment to emotional healing. "If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow." While the exact statistics of this ancient Chinese proverb may be debatable, modern researchers agree with its basic sentiment-that anger can affect our lives in powerful ways. Some specialists call anger potentially lethal. One medical doctor expresses it very bluntly when he writes, "Anger kills" (Anger Kills, Redford Williams, M.D., Virginia Williams, Ph.D., p. 3).
"Hostile people-those with high levels of cynicism, anger, and aggression-are at higher risk of developing life-threatening illness than are their less hostile counterparts. Hostile people are also more prone to engage in a number of risky behaviors-eating more, drinking more alcohol, smoking-that could damage their health" (ibid., p. 60).
Anger is an often-misunderstood emotion. Many misconceptions and myths masquerade as truth. Perhaps many of us would benefit from an intensive, in-depth study of the subject. It is a mistake to deny that we do get angry or to believe that getting angry is always wrong. "Angry feelings can go underground. They often don't display themselves in active forms such as hitting, pinching, throwing things, or slamming doors. They take more subtle forms like silence, irritation, resentment, bitterness, and hatred" (Anger Is a Choice, Tim LaHaye, p.13).
Learning how to recognize and effectively deal with anger is an essential part of emotional healing. Failure to properly manage or control our anger can result in disastrous consequences. "Damage to personal relationships is one of the most common costs of anger, and probably the worst. The relationships that are damaged are often your best.... The most frequent targets of anger include spouses, children, coworkers, and friends" (How to Control Your Anger Before It Controls You, Albert Ellis, Ph.D., p. 3).
"Another reason to curb anger is that it can easily lead to aggression.... It is estimated that in the United States about a million and a half women are battered by their partners each year. Approximately 40 percent of all the women who are murdered in this country every year die at the hands of their husbands" (ibid., p 9).
Clearly, uncontrolled anger is a powerful force, capable of wreaking great destruction-and even death. "Deciding to live your life with less anger may be one of the most important decisions you will ever make" (ibid., p. 17).
As we noted earlier, the Bible provides excellent advice on how to deal with anger. "'Be angry, and do not sin': do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil" (Ephesians 4:26-27).
Notice the example of how Jesus Christ, as He cleansed the temple of wrongdoing, expressed righteous anger-yet without sinning. "And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, 'Take these things away! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!' Then His disciples remembered that it was written, 'Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up'" (John 2:14-17).
In contrast to Christ's example, mankind's history is replete with cases of uncontrolled anger resulting in sin. Explosive anger shattered the first human family. Cain's unbridled anger erupted into the murder of his brother, Abel.
"And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. So the Lord said to Cain, 'Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.' Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him" (Genesis 4:4-8).
Uncontrolled and unresolved anger prevents us from healing emotionally. When we have been hurt or offended by others, God wants us to forgive, and pray for the offender. Harboring our anger makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to forgive others.
God's forgiveness of our sins is not unconditional. It is predicated upon our repentance. "Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear" (Isaiah 59:1-2).
When we repent, God our Father applies the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Through this process, the penalty incurred by our sin is paid for us. Our sins are forgiven, and the slate is wiped clean. "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:12).
Forgiving others in our human relationships may often seem more difficult. Relationships that have been strained or broken are not easily repaired or reestablished. Indeed, sometimes it may be unwise to reestablish the relationship. Anger, hurt, resentment and desire for revenge are very potent forces.
Jesus Christ has given us specific instruction that helps us understand that forgiving others is not merely a recommended course of action. Rather, it is absolutely essential, if we ourselves are to continue being forgiven by our heavenly Father. "And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive your trespasses. But, if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses" (Mark 11:25-26).
Our willingness and our efforts to forgive others are a pivotal part of the process of emotional healing. If we refuse to forgive others, our own emotional healing becomes short-circuited. It is only through forgiving others that we ourselves begin to heal from the effects of our anger, turmoil, grief and pain. We must be willing to deal constructively with our past-and then move forward with confidence in God.
As Paul eloquently expressed it, "Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead" (Philippians 3:13).
As we move forward, the next step entails doing something else that is contrary to our human nature. This step is the godly action of praying for our enemies.
Praying for Our Enemies
Enemies are the people who have been the most hurtful, caused the most suffering and produced the most devastating effects in our lives. They are often those who have been close to us. They may be people who have had considerable influence over us in some way. Their words and actions have created deep scars or left gaping wounds in our heart and mind.
Even as we strive to forgive them, we can be overwhelmed by the havoc and anguish that still remains. God's solution may seem untenable or irrational to us. "Therefore if your enemy hungers, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head" (Romans 12:20).
The instruction becomes clearer when we consider the exhortation of Jesus Christ. "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.... Therefore you shall be perfect [Greek teleios, complete, mature], just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:44, 48).
When we begin to pray for our enemies, we begin to diminish their effect upon our lives and end an adversarial relationship. Through the process of asking God to bless and forgive them, our revenge and hurtful feelings begin to leave. The more we pray for them, the more the negative feelings towards them diminish. As we request blessings and healing for our enemies, our own healing will begin to take place.
In certain cases of personal injury, anger or rage, we may feel the need to ask God to remove the pain from our life and grant us His peace.
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7).
Becoming reconciled to God is a good starting point in our quest for reconciliation in all of our relationships. As Paul exhorted, "we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20). We are "reconciled to God through the death of His Son" (Romans 5:10).
Reconciliation in our human relationships can be a difficult process. It must begin with each person accepting accountability for his own behavior. Next, there must be an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. This must be accompanied by the replacement of deceitfulness with openness and honesty in the relationship. Finally, a firm verbal commitment must be made to take the specific steps necessary to discontinue all inappropriate behavior.
Obviously, not everyone is willing to do his or her part toward reconciliation of the relationship. Indeed, attempting to reconcile with one who continues to be an abuser is not wise, nor is it God's will. On the other hand, even when the relationship cannot be reconciled, we can still know that it certainly is God's will for us to experience His emotional healing. Jesus Christ gives us great encouragement. "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).
Our next article in this series will discuss sexual abuse.
The first article in this series, "Understanding Abuse," ran in the January 1999 United News. The second article, "Answer to Child Abuse: Emotional Health," ran in the January 2000 issue. UN
Albert Ellis, Ph.D., How to Control Your Anger Before It Controls You, Carol Publishing, Secaucas, New Jersey, 1999.
Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, Bantam, New York, 1995.
Tim LaHaye and Bob Phillips, Anger Is a Choice, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1982.
Erwin Lutzer, Managing Your Emotions, SP Publications, Wheaton, Illinois, 1983.
Redford Williams, M.D. and Virginia Williams, Ph.D., Anger Kills, HarperCollins, New York, 1993.