Faulty Ultimates: Feelings
I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About This
Feelings serve a legitimate purpose. There is a time and place to experience the variety of emotions that God has given us.
The writer of Ecclesiastes writes in chapter 3 that there is:
“a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; (v.4) a time to love, and a time to hate (v. 8).”
Feelings are not in and of themselves wrong. There is a right time, place, and way to feel happiness and sadness, grief and laughter, love and hatred. The problem is we do not always feel appropriately. We do not always have the right feelings in the right way at the right time.
The reason? “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9).
God created us to experience a variety of emotions. Sin twists God’s good design; we do not always feel the way we should. This truth becomes particularly problematic in a culture that elevates feelings as the ultimate authority to determine goodness and truth.
Feelings are King
In a culture of subjectivism, an individual’s feelings (ironically) become the standard of objective truth. How do I know what is true? If it “feels” right, it must be true; if it “feels” wrong, it must be false. How do I know what is good? If it “feels” good, it must be good; if it “feels” bad, it must be bad. This standard is incredibly problematic. Our sin causes us to feel good about many wrong things and feel wrong about many right things.
How are we to know what is good and true?
God has revealed to us what is good and true in creation and in his Word. We can only know what is good and true because God has revealed it. How are we to understand what God has revealed? Do we understand the goodness and truth that God has revealed through feelings? Feelings are not the means to understand what is good and true. Feelings are designed to respond to what is good and true.
Reason is God’s given tool when it comes to understanding God’s revelation. As we grow in our understanding of God’s revelation, our feelings should respond.
However, both human reason and feelings have been twisted by sin; both need to be redeemed and sanctified by the work of God. Because of sin, we do not always reason and feel right. We need our thinking and feeling to be renewed by the work of the Spirit through the Word.
I Feel Like…
Most Christians would affirm that God’s Word is the ultimate authority over and against feelings. However, many of us still have a hard time living like this true. This difficulty can be seen in a variety of ways:
The State of My Life
For many of us, feelings can be the gauge to determine whether not life is good or not. If we feel down, we think that our life must be going poorly. Our feelings cause us to search for a reason for our depression. The thought is that if I am feeling down, there must be something wrong with my life. We can easily interpret reality through the lens of our feelings instead of the lens of Scripture. We must remember that the state of our feelings does not determine the state of our life.
What is the state of the Christian life? According to Scripture:
We are blessed with every spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3).
All things are working for our good to conform us to be more like Christ (Rom 8:28-29).
We have been adopted into the family of God (Rom 8:14-15).
We have been forgiven through Christ’s death (Heb 9:28).
We have been made righteous through Christ’s obedience (Rom 3:22).
God is showing his glory through our lives (Rom 11:36).
We are on our way to an eternal state of bliss (Rev 21:1-4).
According to Scripture, the state of the Christian life is always a state of goodness, even when evil is done to us. Yet, feeling down can quickly cause us to believe that our life must be in a miserable condition. Our feelings do not determine reality; God does. May God work in us so that our feelings appropriately respond to the great truths God has revealed in his Word. The Standard of Church
Another area where feelings can take the place of Scripture as the ultimate authority is in how we evaluate a church. How do we know whether a church is good or bad? If feelings are the standard, we may think that it must be good if it makes me feel good. It must be bad if I feel bored or down after the preaching. If feelings are king when I seek a church home, I will inevitably land in a bad church. The music may be enjoyable, and the message may tickle my ears—but at what cost? Faithful biblical preaching is not often entertaining, nor is it always easy to swallow. The standard of a church is not our feelings; it is the Word of God. The questions we must ask are:
Do they preach Christ and him crucified every week?
Does the pastor teach the Word faithfully?
Does the music conform to the truths of Scripture?
Do they rightly administer the sacraments and church discipline?
Does the pastor care more about rightly handling the truth of God’s Word than pandering to the feelings of the audience?
The Bible’s emphasis for the church is good doctrine, not good vibes. Your church may look outdated, and the music may be old-school, but if the preaching is faithful to the Word of God, you are in a good place.
The Reality of this World
Another area where Christians can fall prey to letting their feelings determine the truth is in how we view the world. Our world right now is a very dark place. It seems that evil is winning and that Christ’s Church is waning. These things can cause us, like Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress, to be locked in Doubting Castle with Giant Despair tormenting us. This despair can cause us to be downcast, unmotivated, and hindered in the fight of faith. We must use the key of God’s promises to break out from the chains of despair. We must view the reality of this world through the lens of Scripture instead of our feelings. What has God promised?
That he will finish what he has begun in us (Phil 1:6).
That he is working all things together for the good of his people (Rom 8:28-29).
That he will build his Church (Mat 16:18).
All his sheep will come to him and he will not lose any of them (John 6:37-40).
That Christ is ruling and reigning even now (1 Pet 3:22).
Christian, Christ is on the throne accomplishing all his good and holy will. It may not feel like it, but he is. Take heart.
The Truthfulness of Doctrine
When discussing doctrine that is difficult to swallow (eternal damnation, predestination, substitutionary atonement, federal headship, etc.), the objection can often be, “But that doesn’t feel right.”
We must understand that our feelings are inadequate to determine a doctrine’s validity. The egocentric nature of sin causes us to be repulsed by many doctrines that are contrary to views of human goodness and autonomy. We have a sinful desire to determine what is good and true; we have a sinful desire to be the ultimate standard. Whatever our views are, the standard should not be our feelings; the standard needs to be God’s Word. Good hermeneutics is more determinative than good feelings when it comes to rightly dividing God’s Word. When we seek to sharpen one another in theological discussion, may we not test doctrine with our feelings. It is better that our feelings be conformed to difficult biblical doctrine than for difficult biblical doctrine to be conformed to our feelings.
I Feel Like We are Wrapping Up
In conclusion, we must recognize that though feelings serve legitimate God-given purposes, they are faulty as our ultimate authority. Scripture alone is the authority of authorities because it has God as its author. As the Second London Baptist Confession states:
“The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving Knowledge, Faith, and obedience (2LBCF 1.1).”
May God grant us that our feelings would be shaped by the great truths of God’s Word. May God grant us that we would feel the right thing at the right time and in the right way. May we be a people most hopeful because Christ is not only our creator and savior, but he is our king who rules even now. May we judge what is good and true not by our feelings but according to the standard of God’s Word. May we believe, even amid sad and challenging times, even amid loss and want, that we are a people most blessed. God help us, even now.
Stephen Duarte (ME, National University; working on MTS, Reformed Baptist Seminary) is a pastor at Parkside Bible Fellowship in Fallon, NV. He is husband to Debbie and father of two.
Note: The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of other contributors on this site.