I’m not a fan of emotions. I’d rather (and I tend to) stay even-keel all around than to get too excited or too upset about things.
But I still have a response to things internally, and I find the polarity between them fascinating. I’ve started to realize that within myself, I can have a fallen response to things, or I can have a redeemed, Gospel response to things.
For starters, it’s easy for me to feel hard done by. It’s easy for me to feel that I’m unappreciated, overused, and undervalued. But when I feel that response welling up in me, I have to stop and think that that’s one of those fallen responses. Why?
Well, recall the story of Cain and Abel, for one. Cain was angry because his sacrifice (which, in reality, wasn’t of the same quality according to God’s standards) wasn’t as appreciated; because God was pleased with Abel’s sacrifice and not with his. In reality, Cain threw a temper tantrum (which is how I see my hard-done-by attitude manifested) and didn’t really speak to God other than to ask if he was his brother’s keeper. What goes understated is God’s response to Cain—He always gives him a chance. He asks why Cain is upset, and Cain fails to respond, to make his case. God asks Cain where his brother is, and Cain responds bitterly by attempting to absolve himself of responsibility. So the first thing I notice about this response is that it involves a willing lack of reciprocity in communication. In other words, God gives Cain the chance to make his case, but he never does, because he chooses not to. Why? Who knows—maybe he was mad at God (likely,) maybe he knew he didn’t have a good case (also likely,) and/or maybe he just thought it would be better not to say anything and try to make God feel bad. But it didn’t work out so well for Cain. He wandered the earth for the rest of his life.
Second, it’s easy for me to feel afraid. Just ask my parents—I was chronically afraid as a child. I remember how petrified I’d be when a trailer for a scary movie came on TV while we watched our favorite shows or a football game. This was a perpetual issue until I was probably 16 or 17 years old. Today, this manifests itself in that I’m petrified of being found out. Let me explain…
My car needs to go into the shop. I haven’t even told my dad this yet (and he’s my go-to guy for cars, because they were never a strong suit of mine, nor do I really care for them to be) but it’s making funny noises and has been for at least a month, and the brake pads feel worn…it’d be best if I just took it in and said to the mechanic, “just drive it around the block, and you’ll be able to hear all the different things you need to look at!” But that response is exactly what I seek to avoid! I think there’s this manly things within me that wants to have an answer or a problem to be solved, rather than admitting, “I don’t know what the problem is, and I’ve been too embarrassed to bring it in because the fact remains—I don’t know what’s wrong.” Not only that, but remember that taking your car to the mechanic has potential to be expensive, and while I technically have the money to cover a trip, that money is in my emergency fund, and to this point, it’s no emergency, because my car runs just fine.
There’s this perpetual fear of exposure: that I don’t know what the problem is; that I don’t have the money to fix it; that I haven’t practiced the right habits to save; that I’ll be found out.
I write this because these are two of what I call fallen responses. A fallen response is simply responding to circumstances or events in a way that I would have responded before Jesus came onto the scene. That begs the question: how should I respond now that Jesus has come on the scene?
Well to the first response—feeling hard done by—I’d say that Jesus Christ was hard done by, but you never heard Him complain about it. He never blamed others for the problems in His own life, He never complained of being accused of things He didn’t do. He did expose the problem in thinking when people accused Him of things that weren’t really wrong (see Matthew 12) but He never gave up on His mission because of others. The Gospel—by telling me of Jesus’ life—helps me to see that I’m not the most important person in my life, and that injustice done toward Jesus is the reason I can be saved, and as a consequence, suffering injustice is a way I can share in Jesus’ suffering.
To the second—fear (and particularly that of exposure)—fear was never something useful. What I mean by that is that through the Bible, you hear God saying, “Fear not.” He didn’t say (to use the clichéd inverse approach) “just get over your fear.” He gave the command not to fear altogether. But the Gospel abolishes my fear of man by showing me that I’m already approved by the only one from whom I need it—God Himself. It shows me that I can move forward confidently because there’s nothing I can lose on this earth that can matter, be that money or reputation. Not only that, but the areas in which I feel incompetent now are areas in which I can learn or improve. As in, since I’m free from the bondage of fearing others, I can learn the process of dealing with mechanics or making painful phone calls that I’d normally dread.
Hopefully this can be a revelation for you, and you can notice in yourself when you respond to things in a fallen fashion instead of a Gospel-redeemed manner, and ask God for grace to respond differently.