Over the last 35 years a major portion of my life has been working with adolescent human beings, (and, yes, I do realize the potential for calls of oxymoronic speech with the use of that phrase!) In all of the years, I have experienced more times than I can count what I can only call an “emotional reversal.” I have never heard this term used before, but it describes what I have experienced.
Let’s say we have a fourteen-year-old and I want to tease them a little bit with the intent of giving them some positive attention. And on Tuesday it works! They receive it as I had intended. As a matter of fact, they gave me some teasing back which results in a bonding moment. I am considered a nice, funny guy.
Now on Wednesday, I greet the same individual and continue with similar teasing as the day before. But the reaction this day is dramatic--immediate crying, burying their head in their hands, and running away asking how could I be so cruel? I am left standing there wobbling between being dumbfounded and asking myself why I was such an idiot that I could ever think of saying anything resembling wit to a fourteen year-old!
What a difference 24 hours makes! I trust I am not the only one to have navigated these waters of “emotional schizophrenia” we call adolescence? However, I really do not think that this type of emotional reversal is only present in young people. People can have vastly different feelings toward a person or an idea in a very short period of time, so we have to ask the question, why?
I was reading this week in Acts 14 about Paul and Barnabas and how God used them to heal a man who had never walked in his life. As Scripture tells us, Paul was speaking and as he looked at this man he saw that he had the faith to be made well. So Paul, “Said in a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’” The man sprang up and began walking around! What an amazing day for this man! The crowds likewise were amazed and quickly ran to bring oxen to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas. Acts 14:11-12 tell us;
“when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, ‘The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!’ Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.”
Obviously the people were in total awe as to what God had done through Paul. As a matter of fact, their only explanation for what happened was that a god had done this. And they were correct, only they had the wrong view of the true God!
So Paul and Barnabas reacted very strongly to the crowds trying to get them to understand that they were just men like these men:
“Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations He allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet He did not leave Himself without witness, for He did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness. Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.” Acts 14:15-18
As I see it the people could not have a higher view of Paul and Barnabas! I’ll bet they didn’t have to pay for their meal that night in Lystra?
However, the always remarkable “emotional reversal” came about quickly in this instance. In the very next verse we read:
“But the Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.”
It seems totally unconscionable to us that one day you can be desiring to honor someone as a god and the next you are part of a mob that wants to kill them. And yet this practice is more common than we would realize. Let’s remember what happened in Matthew 27:24-26.
“So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.’ And the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.”
How quickly the religious leaders, who were said to have been intermixed with the crowds, forgot what they had asked for. In less than a month’s time, give or take a bit, they brought the disciples in to question them with regards to teaching that Jesus was killed, buried, and raised from the dead three days later. In Acts 5:28 they said, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” To which Peter and the apostles responded, “We must obey God rather than men.” How quickly people are trying to avoid being held accountable for the very thing they were pleading and demanding happen just a few weeks before? They could have at least had the common courtesy to “own their own stuff!” This unfortunately is a courtesy that is not too common anymore!
This type of behavior reminds me of the person who is described in James 1 who asks for wisdom from God, and then doubts the wisdom they are given. They are described as being like a “Wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” I am convinced that the only thing that can keep us grounded on truth and not prone to “emotional reversal” is the Word of God! When everything around us is in a constant state of pressure to change, we can hold on to the unchangeable truth of God and His Word. As we are told in Hebrews 6:19, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.” Jesus as our Savior and High Priest is unchangeable and will not go against His Word.
So if you find yourself surrounded by people or you yourself are drawn to fall into the temptation of “emotional reversal” ground yourself to the steadfast anchor of your soul! God’s Word can keep us from adolescent behavior. Preaching to yourself the promises of God will have a profound effect on your life. Could this be part of what is talked about in I Corinthians 13:11? I would argue that is something to consider.