In evangelical circles, there’s a major emphasis on feelings. Much popular Christian music is aimed at making us feel good so the lyrics are aimed at the emotions. Many popular Christian books say so much about experiences and feelings. Preachers preach with emotion and feeling and they preach to people’s emotions and feelings. I’ve heard sermons where preachers spend quite a bit of time telling the congregation how a verse makes them feel. They are very passionate and emotional about their feelings. This even happens in Reformed and Calvinistic circles.
There’s a negative consequence when feelings are over-emphasized: Christians who don’t feel that way begin to think of themselves as inferior, less spiritual believers. When a preacher talks about how a verse makes him feel, a Christian in the pew thinks, “I don’t feel that way at all…am I a bad Christian?” Brant Hansen puts it this way:
“It’s no wonder so many analytical types find themselves estranged from a Christian subculture that traffics in emotional appeals. We find ourselves wondering what’s wrong with us, perhaps even begging God to make Himself real to us in the way He clearly is to others. When we’re told we’re not ‘open to the Spirit’ or ‘leaning too much on our intellect,’ we may redouble our efforts to somehow fix what’s wrong with us, before finally drifting away.”
“…The absence of feeling is not the absence of love. Yes, you may occasionally feel things, maybe even intensely, but when those feelings vacillate, it doesn’t mean you love God less [or that he loves you less – SPL]. He doesn’t seem to prioritize emotion. He’s looking for obedience. For faithfulness. For mercy. For justice. For compassion on the poor.”
Hansen later says that “Jesus said if you want to judge a tree, you look at its fruit.” “Feeling” is not a fruit of the Spirit.
“Someone might immediately, like clockwork, break down in tears of genuine emotion at the first chord of every worship song. Wonderful. But that’s not ‘fruit,’ biblically speaking. A Christianity that’s one-emotional-size-fits-all simply isn’t fair. You may have Asperger’s, like I do. You may have gone through trauma as a kid. You might grapple with depression and just not emote like other people. You may be wired differently.
When one person insinuates that another must be spiritually lacking because of a dearth of feeling, it’s worthwhile pointing out this is utterly foreign to the biblical concept of bearing fruit.”
Of course, feelings aren’t necessarily bad or sinful. God created us as humans who laugh, cry, hurt, and have emotions. The problem with feelings and emotions is that they are not trustworthy since we are sinful. Proverbs 28:26 says he who trusts in his own heart is a fool (NASB). It follows that we should be very hesitant to trust the emotions that arise from our hearts. Feelings come and go; they rise and fall. Feelings depend on how much sleep you’ve had (or not had!) in the past week. Feelings depend on how much coffee you had today (or didn’t have!). Sometimes feelings change when the seasons change! Emotions often change when circumstances change. So don’t base your Christian faith on your feelings and don’t judge your commitment to Christ on how you feel at the moment. If your feelings don’t match that of “better” Christians, don’t panic or get down on yourself. It’s okay; it’s no big deal.
The Christian faith is based on fact, not feeling. Dear Christian, the blood of Jesus cleanses you from all sin even if it doesn’t feel like it. The tomb is empty even when you’re way down in the dumps and you’re emotionally drained. God’s love for you is constant and steady, even when you feel like a pile of crap. You are justified even if that truth doesn’t make you emotional. You’re being sanctified despite the fact you can’t “feel” sanctification. Believe the truth of the gospel and rest in it. Just rest. Don’t panic. Feelings about the gospel may come and go, but the fact of it remains.
The above quotes are found in chapters 5-6 of Blessed are the Misfits. (I received this book to review and was not compelled to write positive remarks about it.)
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015