By Don Ruhl
Most people want to feel good about themselves. Therefore, they avoid things that make them feel bad about self and pursue the things that make them feel good about self, making feelings the standard of rightness and wrongness in modern society. What do you feel is right? What do you feel the Scriptures say? This guides modern religious thinking. Should we follow our feelings in religion?
Christopher Lasch in The Culture of Narcissism, wrote, “The contemporary climate is therapeutic, not religious. People today hunger not for personal salvation, let alone for the restoration of an earlier golden age, but for the feelings, the momentary illusion, of personal well-being, health and psychic security”1
Paul Vitz in his book, Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship, shows how our language has been affected by the deification of feelings, “A distressing symptom of the spread of selfist ideas throughout our culture has been its effect on everyday linguistic expression. In conversation and in students’ papers it has become common for ‘I feel’ to be substituted for ‘I know’ or ‘I think’ for example: ‘I feel that the conclusions were not justified.’”2
Feelings are physical sensations or emotions, but we use the word for intellectual processes, when we should be saying, “I believe,” or “I know,” or “I think.”
The Proper Place of Feelings in Christianity
Since feelings are inherent with humans, we cannot quench feelings, otherwise, we take the life out of a human, making a mere robot out of a being made in the image of the feeling God. Simultaneously, not all feelings are good; some are sinful. Good feelings are included in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5.22, 23, I hasten to add that these qualities are not only feelings, can even exist without feelings, yet they are possessed perfectly when accompanied by the right feeling).3 Sinful feelings include lust (Matt 5.27, 28), bitterness (Eph 4.31), and others.
God does not want us to ignore our feelings, but to redirect them for the use of righteousness (Rom 6.19). The Spirit says, we should be, “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2Co 10.5).
Christians have to be fervent in expressing God-authorized feelings, increasing and abounding daily in the intensity of those feelings, for Christianity without intense feelings shows a woeful lack of appreciation for the grace of God. Christianity without the proper feelings is empty, being nothing more than an insensitive sounding cymbal, giving no profit to the disciple (1Co 13.1–3).
The Improper Place of Feelings in Christianity
Nowhere do the Scriptures encourage the use of feelings as the determining factor for right and wrong in doctrinal and moral issues. Feelings must harmonize with the Bible and when a feeling conflicts with the Book of God, change the feelings instead of changing God’s word. If someone thought the Holy Spirit gave a feeling and learns later the feeling contradicts what the Holy Spirit teaches in the Scriptures, change the feeling, because the Holy Spirit would not give contradictory thoughts. The Holy Spirit is involved in the right feelings, but the written word tells us His thoughts exactly (1Co 2.12).
God is against the man who speaks by the authority of his feelings rather than by the authority of the word of God (Jer 23.25–32).
The Sacred Scriptures always take precedence over feelings. When a lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?,” He did not answer by asking how the lawyer felt about the issue, not even what he felt the law commanded on this vital matter, but Jesus answered by asking a question that directed the man to what the law said, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” (Luke 10.25, 26). The Book of Proverbs gives these words of wisdom: “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered” (Pro 28.26).
Keep Feelings In Their Proper Place
Express good feelings zealously, but avoid overemphasizing feelings, exalting them to the level of authority.
Live abundantly in the Spirit and in His word and you shall enjoy great feelings, because you will be filled with holy feelings with the Spirit as your Guide rather than your whimsical feelings, which need to be guided rather than being the guide (Pro 23.19).
1 Lasch, Christopher, The Culture of Narcissism, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.: 1978, p. 7.
2 Vitz, Paul, Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Col., 1977, p. 58, emphasis his.
3 I hasten to add that these qualities are not only feelings, can even exist without feelings, yet they are possessed perfectly when accompanied by the right feeling.