emotions

Separating Truth from Emotion

Anger is cruel, and fury is overwhelming,

but who can survive jealousy?

Open criticism is better than unexpressed love.

Wounds made by a friend are intended to help,

but an enemy’s kisses are too much to bear. (Proverbs 27:4-6 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 27:1-16 GW)


It can be hard to separate truth from emotion—whether it’s the emotion of the speaker of truth or the emotion of the hearer. Our human tendency is to react rather than listen and consider what we hear before responding.

Too often, we allow our emotions to drive us but emotions cloud and even corrupt how we hear or say things. And so, the meaning or intention of what’s said is obscured or filtered through the emotions of the speaker or the hearer or both.

The ability to separate emotion from words of truth is a valuable quality. Discernment and discretion are needed to gain this ability. The intention of the book of Proverbs, as made clear in the beginning (Prov 1:1-7), is to help a person gain this ability.

Strong emotions

The first verse of these selected verses in Chapter 27 gives us a sense for why emotions cloud our understanding of what is said by others. Words spoken in anger have an intent to hurt, put down, or belittle a person. The phrase—lashed out in anger—describes the cruel intent of words spoken in anger—like the snap of a whip burning or slicing the skin.

Fury is out of control anger—unrestrained like a flood of water or a raging fire. But jealousy is an irrational and untamed emotion. A combination of hate and love. It’s destructive. This brings the question—who can survive jealousy?

It destroys any relationship with its impact on both the jealous person and the one who’s the focus of the jealousy. As one person put it—jealousy [is] jaundice of the soul. Jealousy is like a disease with trust and truth its only cure.

Understanding the impact and power emotion has on words spoken and heard helps give insight for the other two verses—5-6.

You might wonder—How can open criticism be better than expressed love? One simple observation is the former is known while the latter is hidden. But it’s deeper than that. Love is left unexpressed because of fear or indifference. There may be other reasons for love to remain unexpressed but it’s still an unknown truth.

Criticism—even when it comes across in a harsh manner—is more or less an observation. As a pastor, I’ve heard plenty of criticism over the years. It goes with the work and position. When said, it was often not intended to be beneficial nor expressed in a constructive way. But it was expressed.

Learning to separate truth from emotion

I had to learn to hear it in an objective way. As the expression goes—chew the meat and spit out the bones. It’s hard to extract the truth from criticism or a rebuke or a reprimand unless it’s detached from emotions.

In other words, although hard to do, don’t take it all to heart. If we can learn from criticism and correction, we’ll gain insight and wisdom. If we can’t, we lose an opportunity to grow beyond our self—beyond self-focus, selfishness, self-pity and so on.

This is especially true when it comes from someone close to us—Wounds made by a friend are intended to help.

The last two phrases of the third verse brings Jesus to mind for me. Reading through the gospels it’s hard not to notice Jesus used some strong words with His followers. They get rebuked and reprimanded for spiritual dullness (Matt 15:16) and for missing the point—the greater concern (Matt 16:8-12; Mark 10:13-16).

Jesus can also relate to the second half of the last verse. He was betrayed with a kiss by one of His followers (Judas). Betrayal is similar to jealousy because it’s insidious. It’s indefensible. Not only is betrayal cowardly, a person can’t defend them self or prevent it because it’s secretive and underhanded.

Except Jesus. Jesus knew He would be betrayed and knew His betrayer. He even washed His betrayer’s feet the night He was betrayed. Once again, Jesus shows us He can relate to everything we experience in this life—even flattery and betrayal.

It’s a valuable ability to separate truth from emotion just as Jesus did.

Reflection—

It’s a valuable ability to separate truth from emotion. We need wisdom, self-control, discernment, and discretion not to be ruled by our emotions or someone else’s. The wisdom of Proverbs can be helpful and valuable to gain these qualities and gain this valuable ability.

Prayer Focus—

When you find it difficult to hear criticism or correction, ask God to help you sift through what is said without your emotions or the other person’s emotions clouding what may be helpful insights. Remember, the Lord knows what it’s like to be criticized and betrayed. Trust in Him.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Keep the Floodgate Closed

Whoever forgives an offense seeks love,

but whoever keeps bringing up the issue separates the closest of friends.

Starting a quarrel is ⌊like⌋ opening a floodgate,

so stop before the argument gets out of control.

Whoever loves sin loves a quarrel. (Proverbs 17:9, 14, 19a GW)

(Context—Proverbs 17:7-20 GW)


Ever notice how much easier it is to start an argument than to end one? Most arguments are based on a difference of opinion with both parties insisting on their own rightness. The assumption is made that one side is right while the other is wrong, which isn’t necessarily true.

This can be seen in the typical news or sports talk shows where one or more people state their case against the view of another. The back and forth goes on and on till a moderator steps in as a referee.

Most of these arguments amount to straw man arguments based on opinion rather than facts. Oftentimes, knowledge about the topic is limited or unknown but this doesn’t stop people from arguing their point. They state conjectures and opinions as if they were facts.

A classic example—one that hits home, literally—is what I call the domestic discussion. Arguments between husbands and wives are typically the opinions and feelings of one spouse versus the other. The “facts” are various reasons for claiming rightness about an issue, often at the expense of the other.

I’ll joke with people that, “If my wife would just realize I’m right, we wouldn’t argue!” Of course, that’s the point. I assume I’m right and she’s wrong.

Some of our arguments have gone on and on to the point we forget what started it. We’ve even found ourselves laughing at how silly it is to be arguing, if we’re not too emotionally invested in our own rightness.

This is exactly the point of these verses—

Photo by  Felix Koutchinski  on  Unsplash

Starting a quarrel is ⌊like⌋ opening a floodgate, so stop before the argument gets out of control.

The purpose of a floodgate is to hold back a flood of water. When torrential rains threaten to break a dam, a floodgate or spillway may be temporarily opened to relieve some pressure. But this is a drastic and temporary measure that could lead to a greater flood.

When someone—a spouse, a sibling, a friend, or whoever—continues to bring up an issue already discussed, a full-fledged argument is inevitable.

This doesn’t resolve issues or offenses, it produces a separation between people. Forgiveness—an act of mercy rather than judgment—is the way to resolve and repair relational separation.

Forgiveness is an act of love.

On the other hand, a person—such as you or me—who continues to quarrel and bring up old offenses indicates selfishness rather than willingness to forgive and love to restore a relationship.

Better to stop than start an argument. But how?

When we pursue forgiveness and let go of our need to be right, we’ll stop arguments that lead to broken relationships.

When our motivation is love rather than a selfish pursuit of being right, even those domestic discussions won’t get out of control so easy and there’ll be a lot less crying and yelling.

So, it’s up to us what we pursue. If we choose to quarrel, we’ll open a floodgate we can’t easily close. But when we pursue forgiveness and love, we’ll keep the floodgate closed.

Reflection—

It’s better to stop arguments than start them. When we pursue forgiveness and let go of our need to be right and our motivation is love rather than a selfish pursuit at being right, we’ll stop a lot of arguments that lead to broken relationships.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself stirred up enough to argue a point or insist on your own rightness, take a step back in your mind and heart and pray for God to help you pursue forgiveness and love rather than your own rightness.

©Word-Strong_2018


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No Joyful Song

Sadness is a strong emotion. It can crush a heart and overwhelm the mind. Anger is also a powerful emotion. Left unchecked it breeds rage and becomes destructive.

Both these emotions are present in Psalm 137. This psalm is characterized as an imprecatory or curse psalm and expresses the psalmist's thoughts with strong emotive words.

I Will Remember

It's easy to blame God when things are not going well. We pray and it seems our prayers are going up into an empty sky. Questioning God when He seems far away is common and this psalm echoes that.

A great beauty of the psalms is the open, honest expression of prayer seen throughout the collection of 150 songs of prayer and praise. Sometimes the honesty is surprisingly raw, and it may make us feel uncomfortable when we read them.

Slippery Places

Jealousy is called "the green-eyed monster." The expression was coined by Shakespeare but the emotion has existed since the first humans on earth.

Jealousy or envy includes a range of emotions, all of which bring a sickness of the soul. Left unchecked it breeds greed and lust that are akin to idolatry (Eph 5:5; Col 3:5).

It is a destructive feeling and has no upside. Adam and Eve believed the serpent's lie because they thought God was holding back something good (Gen 3:4-6). Today we characterize it as FOMO—the fear of missing out.