Book Review: Untangling Emotions

Review by Alex Manisier

Emotions are a bit like the weather. Just look at some of the words we use to describe our emotions. An angry person might be in a ‘thunderous’ mood, ‘storming’ out of the room. A happy person can be said to have a ‘sunny’ and ‘warm’ disposition. And you might describe a sad or melancholy person as ‘downcast’ or ‘cloudy’.

And just as we can’t control what the weather will look like tomorrow, so too do we lack true control over our own emotions. There is no way to stop someone from feeling sad because they lost their job or a loved one, just as there is no way to stop someone from feeling happy because they graduated uni or won the lottery. 

Untangling Emotions by J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith is not a book about how we can control our emotions to always feel happy and on fire for God. Rather, it’s a book that recognises that there are some seasons in which we will never be happy – and in which our good and godly response is not to search for happiness, but to take stock of and respond to our sadness.

I particularly appreciated the section of the book dedicated to exploring God’s emotions. It’s a simple idea: if God is emotional, and we are made in God’s image, then we inevitably reflect God’s emotional nature. We weep for our loved ones as God weeps for his people. We are outraged at injustices in our world as God is outraged by sin. It’s a good reminder that it isn’t wrong to feel, because God invented emotion!

The book is a fairly even split between broad, high-level theology and practical advice. It’s accessible and full of helpful anecdotes and applications from the authors’ lives, which give some much needed colour to the core thesis of the book: that we should always bring our emotions to God as we process them.

If you’re looking for a full systematic study of the theology of emotion, you probably won’t find it in Untangling Emotions. But if you want to understand how the Bible paints emotion, and how you can respond to your own emotions in a godly way, I’d recommend giving the book a go.

I’m particularly thankful for Untangling Emotions because of how it helped me understand my darker emotions. I’m strangely comforted to know that I can’t change or avoid anger and grief in my life, just as I can’t make it warm and sunny in the middle of May. Because God is there for me to bring my emotions to him, and process them in prayer, meditation, and with the support of my precious brothers and sisters in Christ. I can’t stop the rain, but God will always be there, ready to hand me an umbrella.