During the second week of November, students at some American universities were so emotionally distraught they simply could not take a test, and professors accommodated them by postponing examinations. What major life trauma struck these students, and perhaps their professors, all at the same time? The electoral victory of Donald Trump.
Elsewhere, weeping Hillary Clinton supporters cried on the sidewalks or marched through the streets screaming profanities, or posted hateful threats of rape and murder online or with spray paint on the sides of buildings.
This was the most recent example of a trend of young liberals “catastrophizing”—having the-sky-is-falling emotional meltdowns over normal, non-apocalyptic events.
Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt wrote about this phenomenon in the Atlantic. In “The Coddling of the American Mind” (September 2015), they noted the example of Yale University, where administrators advised students not to wear certain costumes on Halloween. One professor gently suggested by e-mail that students should make their own decisions, take responsibility for them, and handle any offenses through mature discussion. Some Yale students were so offended by this notion that they began skipping class and coursework, claiming they were losing sleep and suffering emotional breakdowns. They vulgarly and publicly attacked the e-mail’s author and her husband, demanding that they be fired.
Whatever young liberals are learning or not learning right now in American institutions of higher education, they are definitely learning how to be offended—and how to let their emotions slip from the leash.
Giving offense can certainly be a form of evil, but so can taking offense. Victim-thinking and hypersensitivity isn’t limited to rampaging elitist college students. It is a spirit that fills our age. We are all susceptible to it.
If you do not recognize it and kick it out, it will fill your mind. The fact is, if you fail to master your emotions, you are not really running your own life. You are susceptible to emotional manipulation from all directions: from people you hate, from people you like, and from forces far beyond your control. Proverbs 25:28 sums it up: “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.”
Headlines today teem with evidence of this truth. Unrestrained emotion is a force so potent that it can engulf and endanger entire countries! It is endangering America and other nations today.
What Is Emotion?
When we take offense, we naturally react with negative emotion. Emotion is not a weakness or a flaw in human beings. It is not an evolutionary quirk. It is a characteristic created by God: It is part of what makes us human! Emotion can be one of the most enjoyable blessings we possess. Without it, our lives would be bland, flat, colorless—hardly worth living. Our relationships would be boring, our jobs monotonous. God gave us the power of feelings so we can experience joy and love; deep relationships; and even anger, jealousy, fear and sadness. Through emotion, we experience increased variety, strength and depth of thought.
The Creator of human beings is Himself emotional. God experiences love; He is love (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8, 16). He experiences joy (Matthew 25:21, 23; Galatians 5:22), hatred (Psalm 11:5; 45:7), anger (Judges 10:7; Psalm 7:11), indignation (Isaiah 34:2), jealousy (Exodus 20:5; 34:14), concern (Deuteronomy 5:29), grief (Genesis 6:6; Psalm 78:40), sorrow (Isaiah 53:3) and compassion (Matthew 9:35-36).
God does not have the physiological changes we experience when we have emotions. Yet He has deep, powerful, profound states of mind. God created the human race in His likeness (Genesis 1:26) for the purpose of growing to become like Him (Matthew 5:48).
The Bible implies that God gave us these physiological changes to help us understand the depth of His thinking. Therefore, learning to manage your emotions means learning to think like your Creator.
Emotion is not an opposite and a counter to reason. These two motivational tools perfectly complement and enhance each other when you master your emotions.
How skilled are you at handling this critical part of life? Are you easily offended? Are you prone to emotional outbursts over small issues? Are your emotions immature and harmful? Are you constantly buffeted toward the extremes of the emotional spectrum? Or, on the other hand, are you casual or indifferent about things you should feel deeply about? Are your emotions founded on reality, or are they based on assumptions, misperceptions and lies?
The Source of Offense
Perhaps you don’t scream demands that people be fired for upholding freedom of speech, or riot over election results you don’t like. But it’s important to think about how you take offense, and the subtler ways you react with emotional immaturity.
Why do you get offended? Perhaps it is because you feel someone is criticizing something you did. Or you feel someone should have given you more credit. Or you feel someone is not giving you the respect you deserve. Or you are sensitive about problems in your life that you have not dealt with. Or you are upset by someone else’s superficial quirks or imperfections. Or you are agitated when someone fails to measure up to your expectations. Or you assume someone else’s actions are caused by the worst motives.
There is a common thread in all these situations. It is vanity—self-love—self-righteousness—the wrong kind of pride. And the Bible reveals the author of such thinking: Satan the devil.
Satan is the “god of this world,” who “deceiveth the whole world” (2 Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 12:9). It was in him that sin was first conceived (Ezekiel 28:14-15). And the essence of that sinful attitude was self-love—his heart was lifted up because of his beauty, which God had created (verse 17). This attitude is the opposite of the outflowing love of God.
Under the devil’s influence, the world today exalts self-love. It promotes taking offense as a kind of pursuit of justice, as if it will make the world better, fairer, more peaceful. It will not. In fact, that wrongful self-love can be found at the source of all offense, interpersonal friction, conflict, hatred, emotional pain and suffering. Nurturing and encouraging it will always lead to more problems! Always!
In the Bible, the Greek word for offended, skandalon, can refer to the trigger of a trap. If you take offense, it’s a trap—for you! You succumb to negativity, resentment and debilitating emotion.
Those who go about establishing their own righteousness—self-righteous-
ness—rather than submitting to God’s righteousness are ignorant and will suffer for it (Romans 10:3). The self-righteous person is highly attuned to what he perceives as everyone else’s flaws. In any conflict, he feels the other person is to blame. He takes quick offense and often feels like a victim. Exactly the way Satan himself does.
How to Overcome Offense
Psalm 119:165 says, “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.” This is how to avoid becoming caught in the trap of being offended: Love God’s law. Follow the outflowing law of love.
What does God’s love look like? “Love is very patient, very kind. Love knows no jealousy; love makes no parade, gives itself no airs, is never rude, never selfish, never irritated …” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5; Moffatt). Self-love can be very impatient. It is easily provoked, and can be rude and selfish. God’s love is none of these things.
Obeying God’s law of love helps you remain calm, stable and unoffended. Submitting to God means always loving the other person. It also makes you more compassionate. You have a clearer perspective of your own faults, which helps you recognize your own contributions to interpersonal conflicts, and makes you much less judgmental toward others in their struggles.
“[R]esist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. … Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:39-40, 43-44).
Is this difficult? Yes! It is completely opposite to the spirit of this world. But the power to choose your own reaction is completely under your control.
With this take-no-offense attitude, a nasty e-mail, a cold look or a criticism won’t hurt you. In fact, you will become bulletproof against emotional manipulation.
Jesus Christ was mocked, ridiculed, beaten, tortured and crucified—yet His response was to pray, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). This is the absolute opposite of the hypersensitive, exacting, vindictive attitude this world is deliberately cultivating and which is ripping society apart!
Master Your Emotions
How do you respond to slights and insults? Do you think like Jesus Christ—or like the devil?
We all need to monitor and regulate our responses to what happens in our lives. We must develop real awareness of our own emotions—become attuned to what is going on in our mind—to identify what is causing our emotion and recognize when we are getting emotional in a destructive way. Proverbs 14:29 gives this rock-solid advice: “He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit [or quick-tempered] exalteth folly.”
Mastering your emotions is not just about being slow to wrath, however. It is also about cultivating and using emotion. Philippians 4:8 is a powerful summary of how to do that: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
In stark contrast to self-love, God’s love “is never glad when others go wrong, love is gladdened by goodness, always slow to expose, always eager to believe the best, always hopeful, always patient” (1 Corinthians 13:6-7; Moffatt). This is how we need to respond to slights, offenses, problems and conflicts. This is the emotional mastery we should work to develop.
This is true emotional maturity! And someone with godly emotional maturity can not only avoid the drastic extremes we see in society today, but also build a powerful, vivid, meaningful life growing closer to the Creator of emotion!
For more Bible-based instruction on mastering your human nature, request our free booklet How to Be an Overcomer.