You’d know someone is off kilter is they claimed they never felt love, joy and peace but simply obeyed God. And if there was one indicator Jesus explained to the Pharisees about their hypocrisy it was that their hearts were far from God. So why are feelings relegated to the back of the train, as the proverbial evangelical track portrayed back in the 1980s?
We know the benefits of ignoring the feelings of sloth, gluttony and avarice. And feeling compassion and joy to the exclusion of logical reasoning is sure to lead one astray. Yet how do we make sense of our feelings in a faith that extols the virtues of self-control and sound reasoning but also being filled and led by the Spirit who lives in our hearts?
Let’s look at the impact of our language. Isn’t there a clear distinction between surface feelings and deep emotions? Don’t we feel it when we know the truth that burns in our hearts? What does it mean to “speak the truth in love” as Paul declares in the letter to the Ephesians? It means that truth is felt at a deep level – in the heart – and when one is led by ideas that are not felt deeply with love, one is skating on thin ice.
It's a wonder that some Christians can be so wary of trusting of their feelings and yet so confident of trusting their mind. Can anyone just read the Bible and be led into truth by applying one’s mind? Recall Jesus said to the Pharisees “You diligently study the scriptures because you think they give you eternal life” (John 5:39). How often do we come across people who misinterpret the Bible! Do you think it all comes down to the quality of logic and background knowledge? Or just presume that since you became a Christian you can’t be flawed in your thinking, just because you’re sincere? What about everyone else who disagrees with you?
It's a scary thought to not have guarantees of one’s thinking. Enter humility, and dependence upon God. Remember from where the ascendancy of the “mind alone” movement has arisen: from the enlightenment, an atheistic response to a Christian worldview. Certainty is a good thing if its about faith in God – but not in whatever one understands is true.
Out of the heart comes the words and deeds that bring life and true godliness – or the opposite, depending upon the heart’s composition. Is the heart just feelings or just thoughts? It's both. The “heart” that Jesus gives us is in the executive center of the brain – distinct from the analytical center – that operates out of an identity and character that is felt as well as known. We are not analytical computers; we are knowledge feelers.
For those who believe they can operate from their analytical minds and trust them as you cross-check scriptural references, here’s some disturbing news: you’re fooling only yourself. The root meaning of emotion is “that which moves”. To ignore emotions is to be blind to your true motivation; you ignore those “feelings” at your peril. That’s where the error comes in.
Thus, if your guidance is simply “it feels right” – that won’t do. If it’s your conclusion after analysing “what would Jesus do?” – then you’re lost. We need to operate as we’ve been designed: out of the brain’s control center – a place where we spontaneously know and feel what is true and right and lovely (… Philippians 4:8).
Here’s the rule for guidance. Attend to what’s going on in your heart. Make yourself cleansed from negative emotions through the devotional practice of your choice. Feel the love of God, not the anger of man. Be aware of whatever feelings and thoughts are noisily clamoring for attention. Lift your mind – your core identity – above that. Expect to meet God’s mind on the matter. It happens in a nanosecond. Feel the certainty of knowledge. Obey.