It is not uncommon that when we do a study of biblical characters, be it from the Old or New Testament, we would highlight their strengths or positives. Thus, for examples, the courage of Daniel or Esther, the faith of Abraham or Moses, the perseverance of Job or Joseph, or the spirituality of David, a man after God’s own heart.
Quite naturally we elevate or focus on their faith accomplishments or conquests. In so doing we may be tempted to overlook, or at least minimize their shortcomings – their struggles and weaknesses, frailties and follies. We forget their “humanness” or as the apostle James puts it (referring to Elijah), that he was a man “just like us” (5:17).
Yes, indeed – the OT and NT heroes of faith were people just like us. They had their share of emotional struggles and pain, their frailties and vulnerabilities. If we leave these out, we are adopting a so-called romantic view of life. This view sees people from an idealized perspective, what people or life “ought” to be.
The romantic view of life demands near-perfection from people, particularly people in positions of leadership. On the other hand, we can take a view of life and people that is honest with the facts, a so-called realistic view of life. A realistic view of life does not minimize or excuse sin, yet it also does not ignore our humanness and frailties, as well as the pervasive effects of sin.
God is realistic. He weaves into the fabric of the Bible threads of failure as well as success. As we look at these OT and NT characters, we are confronted with cowardice and pride, envy and strife, lack of integrity and sensitivity. These unsavory character traits appear right alongside courage and conviction, faith and hope.
All people, including leaders and pastors, grapple with depression and discouragement, frustration and anger, guilt and shame, envy and jealousy, loneliness and confusion, anxiety and fears, inferiority and inadequacy, the pain that comes from betrayal, and the grief that comes with losses. Our relationships with our spouse, children, colleagues and bosses are often laden with tension and conflict. We are distressed, and sometimes, even in despair.
How then do we handle or cope with such real emotions that come about from real-life issues and struggles? Many would deny or dismiss, otherwise minimize, repress or suppress them, reckoning that they are “too emotional” or even “unspiritual.” Sadly, this is neither helpful nor healthy; instead, they often cause more harm and hurt as they inevitably show up in mental or physical breakdown, and in unhealthy and harmful behaviors.
At such times, I believe that we need to process and feel these feelings, not fear them, for they have much to teach us about ourselves and others. And even about God! Anger can teach us about a God of justice and righteousness; grief points us to a God who empathizes and gladly grants comfort and compassion, for Jesus who is described as a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3, KJV).
Indeed, we can process these emotions with Jesus, our High Priest who is able to “sympathize with all our weaknesses” (and struggles, Heb 4:12) and/or with a friend (a “sacred companion”) who cares enough to listen and understand our troubled emotions and accept us for who we are.