I would like to talk about sulking. It is a poison you mix for another and drink yourself. It may be effective in making him miserable while he is in the room, but once he goes off to work, he will be thinking of other things and will be fine—while you are still left in your sulk.
Sulking is first of all a choice. I once asked a Christian counselor what’s the most eye-opening thing she learned in her classes. She said, “The heart is active, not passive.” Nothing done to you can cause you to sin; the sin you committed is the sin you chose.
Sulking, ignited with the kindling of frustrated desire, needs constant infusions of self-justification to stay alive. But once it blazes, you find to your horror that you no longer manage it; it manages you. This is because you had totally underestimated the spiritual dimension of sin, and thought it was just your little private snit. God has told us how that works:
“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey?” (Romans 6:16).
“The one” in the above sentence refers to God or the devil. These are persons, not abstractions. Christian, you no longer are under the authority of the one who has the whole world in his power (1 John 5:19); you have been ransomed out. Nevertheless, you can put yourself back under Satan’s authority (a kind of “reverse mortgage”) by putting yourself in agreement with his methods against God’s. This is called a “foothold” in Ephesians 4:27, which adduces the example of the person who “lets the sun go down on her anger.” That is, she chooses to sulk rather than seek peace.
The devil exacts his first payment even as he is granting what you want. I experienced self-loathing whenever I sulked (grown-up version: “the silent treatment”). Outwardly pretending righteous indignation, I inwardly supped with all the most unsavory personages in the Bible. Cain chose sulking rather than responding to God’s overtures to turn around. God also warned him about the spiritual dimensions of the drama he was trifling with (Genesis 4:7). But alas, “the heart is active,” and the rest is history.
We tune to Rachel’s sulk a few mutations in: “Give me children or I shall die!” she explodes to Jacob. She is his favorite wife, but the harried patriarch finally lets her have it: “Am I in the place of God!” (Genesis 30:1-2). Unwittingly he also hints at the true target of any sulk—God.
God met Jonah in his sulk and asked, “Do you do well to be angry?” (Jonah 4:9). This is a masterful bit of counseling. God is not so much being rhetorical as offering a door into wholesome thinking. When God has asked me that same question, I have sometimes answered with a frosty: “Yes. I. Do.” My husband’s prayers have broken the back of some of my sulks.
Saul’s spirit of sulking responded to stringed music (1 Samuel 16:23). There are spirits that cause muteness (Luke 11:14); mute and deaf spirits (Mark 9:17, 25); spirits that cause ill will between people (Judges 9:23); spirits of depression (Isaiah 61:3); spirits with jurisdiction over geographical locations (Daniel 10:13, 21). Romans 8:15-16, pointedly contrasting the spirit of fear with the Holy Spirit, indicates real spiritual personalities, and cautions us not to interpret “spirit” in that modern, supercilious, anti-spiritual, psychological way people do.
Sanctification’s progress depends on knowing your enemy. A sulk is more than a mood; it is flirting with demons. Hell’s “footholds” (Ephesians 4:27) become “strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). Satan started small by putting thoughts in Judas’ head (John 13:2), and later on moved in with his luggage (v. 27).
Sulking is like giving the devil a cookie and thinking he will settle for that. But as the children’s book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie informs us, that will not be the last of it. Next he will want milk. And in the end your whole house will be a mess. God will always interject: “Do you do well to be angry?” He already knows the right answer, but He wants you to reach that answer yourself.