A little sadness can make us more like Christ.
That’s the lesson that was convincingly impressed on me when I watched Pixar Animation’s Inside Out. Even though secular entertainment is not a go-to source to look for truths in our spiritual walk, this principle embodied by anthropomorphized emotions in a children’s movie is one that my soul constantly needs in order to be balanced and biblical.
My soul is thrilled as I read passages in God’s Word describing the joy our Creator brings to the world. As Psalm 65:8 reminds us, God “makes the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.” This theme is constant throughout the Psalms, as well as other places in the Scriptures. It’s a theme that resonates with me as well as, I suspect, every person who has an optimistic, generally happy personal bent. As we are more acquainted with the reality that our saving God has complete sovereign control over all of the universe and is working everything toward our soul’s good and His eternal glory, no response is more appropriate than joy and gladness. However, if we allow ourselves to be guided more by our personal bent and less by what we’re directed towards in Scripture, we may find ourselves acting like the character “Joy” in Inside Out: prizing happiness to the point that we stifle any other healthy, normal emotion to our own soul’s detriment.
I firmly believe that when we encounter the God of the Bible, He wants our whole lives to be transformed into joyful worship of Him as we experience the world He created. However, since God’s goal is to make us like Jesus (Romans 8:29), it makes sense that we will experience the same full, healthy range of human emotions Jesus experienced. Jesus, in His dual nature, was overjoyed at God’s work (Matthew 11:25), was angry when His Father’s name as dishonored (John 2:13-17), and wept when His friends wept (John 11:35).
In order to be whole, Christ-like Christians, we sometimes have to lay our selfish preoccupation with personal happiness aside for the even greater joy of responding to things the way Christ did. When happiness alone is our goal, we will inevitably find ourselves taking shortcuts to stay happy instead of going for the gut-wrenching pain that may be required to be fully healthy as a believer.
A personal, hurtful example: repentance. I am all too often tempted to settle while repenting. I want to get back to the point where I am happy and peaceful--both legitimate Christian emotions that result from a close walk with Christ. However, we cannot gauge our spiritual health by whether or not our sin still hurts our happiness and gives us a sense of shame. We must reach the point where we can say we have truly dealt with it. True sorrow for sin is the only sure means of producing sure results in repentance. Letting my sin affect me to the point that I can no longer be joyful with its continued presence in my heart will drive me to make whatever change is necessary to remove it from my life.
Like Joy learned in Inside Out, I cannot afford to let happiness be my domineering emotion. Not if I truly wish to be like Jesus. Rather, sadness, anger, and godly fear of sin are needed in order to keep me in pursuit of the pure joy that comes from being like Jesus. He was the most complete human that ever lived because all of His emotions were in harmony with His Father. Let us learn to be like Him.