The Bible’s Emotional Honesty

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Dear friends,

This week I look at the Bible’s raw emotional honesty. Perhaps like me, you have felt your own weakness or had experiences of anxiety, loss, and grief in recent days. When we look at the Bible, we find that none of this is foreign to real faith.

I hope this essay encourages you. I send it with prayers for grace and peace in your life.

Yours with gratitude,

Andrew

 

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I am encouraged by the Bible’s raw emotional honesty.

The Bible doesn’t deny or suppress our experiences of convulsive emotion, when we feel dis-ease or torn apart. It doesn’t pretend that our life with God is simple, easy, or always stable.

Instead, the Bible expresses the full range of our internal upheaval. From the beginning, its characters wrestle with fear, anxiety, loneliness, sadness, grief, and depression.

Reading the Bible reminds us that we aren’t condemned or alone when we experience convulsive emotion. It invites us into a deeper honesty, vulnerability, and more radical trust in God, precisely in the depths of our emotional pain.

Adam: Primal Vulnerability  

The second sentence Adam speaks in the Bible strikes to the depths of our emotional dis-ease: “I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Genesis 3:10).

Vulnerability makes us feel exposed to danger, and thus it leads to fear. And fear leads to hiding – to suppressing ourselves and trying to disappear. This sequence of emotions resonates with me intensely: vulnerability, fear, and hiding.

But it’s moving that God invites vulnerability: “Adam, where are you?” (3:9). God’s question is an invitation to be found, to come out into the open, to say, “Here I am” – exactly where we are.

Vulnerability, fear, and hiding are primal experiences of human existence, and the Bible names this from the outset.

Abraham: Dark Night of the Soul  

After the fall of humanity, God starts a redemptive movement with Abraham, the “father of faith.”

As he follows God, Abraham faces a famine and lies to protect himself (12:10-20), suffers a separation in his family (13:1-18), and gets embroiled in violent political conflict (14:1-24). After all of this turmoil, God speaks the word that Abraham probably desperately needed to hear: “Do not be afraid” (15:1).

But Abraham is not consoled.

Instead, Abraham questions God and names his feeling of emptiness and doubt: “What can you give me…?” (15:2-3). God then repeats his promise to provide a family for Abraham (15:4-5), and Genesis famously records, “Abraham believed the Lord” (15:6).

But this is not the happy ending of Abraham’s spiritual journey either.

Abraham immediately expresses his uncertainty to God again: “How can I know…?” (15:8). Even after God responds to Abraham a third time, Genesis tells us that “a thick and dreadful darkness came over him” (15:12).

I find this very profound. The most important moment in Abraham’s life is followed by the dark night of his soul. God’s promise and Abraham’s faith don’t prevent him from experiencing “a thick and dreadful darkness.”

The Bible’s founding father of faith knew uncertainty, doubt, and darkness, even as he believed God.

 

Hannah: Grief-Drunk

Hannah is another biblical character whose emotional experience grasps me.

Hannah had a loving husband but no children. In her context, that would have made her a failure and perhaps seen as cursed by God. Her husband’s second wife (this is the ancient Near East) ridiculed and mocked her. This disappointment and harassment plagued Hannah for years (1 Samuel 1:1-8).

The text doesn’t say that Hannah faithfully endured and rose above her circumstances. It says that Hannah stopped eating and broke down (1:7).

She experienced “deep anguish” and “bitter weeping.” She prayed to God about her “misery” (1 Samuel 1:10-11). In fact, Hannah prayed with such intense agony that her lips moved but she couldn’t vocalize words.

The local priest was so confused by Hannah’s wordless groaning that he thought she was drunk and lectured her to stop drinking. But Hannah fired back,

“I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer. I was pouring out my soul to the Lord out of my great anguish and grief.” 1 Samuel 1:15-16

Hannah isn’t calmly “trusting God.” She’s deeply troubled and pouring out her soul. She doesn’t pray with “faith and surrender.” She prays with “great anguish and grief.”

And God isn’t offended by Hannah’s grief-drunk breakdown. God “remembers” Hannah, and she becomes the mother of Samuel, whose name means “heard by God” (1:19-20). One of the most important prophets in the Bible is born by a “deeply troubled woman” who wrestled for years with “great anguish and grief.”

David: God’s Absence and Spiritual Desperation

King David, who was anointed by Hannah’s son Samuel, is one of the most celebrated characters in the Bible. But David’s expression of pain is also some of the darkest.

In his poems, David hammers God: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He attacks God for being far away and ignoring his “cries of anguish.” Whether he cries out in the morning or night, God doesn’t answer and leaves David restless (Psalm 22:1-2).

With self-loathing, David calls himself a “worm” (22:6). He says that all his bones are out of joint. His heart has melted like wax (22:14). Everything inside him is broken, fallen apart, and spilling out.

David feels no need to suppress the devastation he feels. Instead, he confesses that God doesn’t despise “the suffering of the afflicted one” but patiently “listens” like Hannah said (22:24).

Still, not all of David’s broken-hearted poetry takes this spiritual turn of trust. In Psalm 39, after writing, “My hope is in you,” David concludes, “Look away from me that I may enjoy life again before I depart and am no more” (39:7, 13). It’s as if David says to God, “Leave me alone and let me die.”

These prayers are biblical not blasphemous. They express the honesty of the human heart before God and give us words for our own experiences of emotional convulsion.

Job: Loss and Unbearable Suffering

If it is possible, Job’s expression of grief is even more intense than David’s.

We’re told that Job was “blameless and upright” – a man of deep humility, faith, and generosity (Job 1:1-5). And yet he lost everything: his children, his wealth, his health. Job’s life was wrecked.

And Job’s expression of emotional agony is excruciating. Job curses the day of his birth. He says that he wishes he were never born and that his birthday could be erased (3:1-4).

Job confesses that his worst fears have overwhelmed him (3:35). Fear and trembling seize him, and his bones shake (4:14). His anguish and misery are too heavy to ever weigh on a scale (6:2). His cry never rests (16:18). His call for help is unanswered (19:17). The agony he feels makes him terrified when he thinks of God (23:15):

“My life ebbs away… I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer… The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me… My lyre is turned to mourning, and my pipe to the sound of wailing.” Job 30:16-31

Strikingly, it is Job’s friends who speak about being fearless, emotionally stable, and knowing the formula for “contentment” and “prosperity” (11:15; 36:11-15). But God rebukes them in the end for not speaking truthfully like Job (42:7).

It is Job – desperate, devastated, honest and vulnerable – that God vindicates.

Jesus: Grief and Sorrow

Jesus himself wasn’t above or immune to painful, overwhelming emotion.

When his friend Lazarus died, Jesus was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (John 11:33). Jesus weeps so intensely that the other mourners are amazed by Jesus’s love for his dead friend (11:35).

Moments earlier, Jesus had told Lazarus’s sister Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25). But that hope-filled truth didn’t prevent Jesus from being deeply moved, troubled, and driven to tears with his grief (see Hebrews 5:7). Jesus models that hope in God and heart-broken grief are not incompatible.

When Jesus faces his own death, Matthew tells us that he was “sorrowful and troubled” (Matthew 26:36). Jesus confesses to his closest friends, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (26:37). He then falls with his face to the ground and cries out to God (26:39). Luke says that Jesus’s sweat was like blood as he prayed (Luke 22:44).

Jesus is not cool and composed, even though he spoke several times about how God would resurrect him. His soul is convulsing with unbearable anguish.

From the cross, Matthew records that “Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Rather than a psalm of praise, Jesus shrieks with the broken-hearted lament of David. Mark says that Jesus died with “a loud cry” (Mark 15:37).

Jesus, the Son of God, experienced convulsive emotion. He wept with grief in a rural village. He was overwhelmed with sorrow in the presence of his closest friends. He died outside Jerusalem with cries of God-forsakenness.

Conclusion: God Welcomes Our Honesty and Vulnerability  

The Bible’s emotional honesty encourages me, especially in a culture that idolizes control and invulnerability.

We don’t need to hide or suppress our experiences of fear, anxiety, sorrow, grief, and other forms of inner upheaval. When our chest is tight, our appetite goes away, our stomach churns, our mind is filled with darkness, our eyes overflow with tears, and we feel totally weak, we are not experiencing something foreign to faith or God himself. We are sharing the experience of many others who have gone before us, including Jesus.

The Bible invites us into an honest life that embraces vulnerability. We can speak to God and others about our real feelings. We can be open to God and others about our confusion, pain, and weakness.

True faith doesn’t hide from vulnerability. True faith answers God’s original question, “Where are you?” – exactly where we really are. That is where God promises to meet us.

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