The Tyranny of Feelings

Feelings are not inherently good or evil. They are not inherently true or incorrect. They can be any of those.  Sometimes Christians get a bad reputation for being against feeling anything. While that generalization is not accurate, it may appear that way to the world because Christians are not to become slaves to our feelings, or to the feelings of others.

In our relativistic culture, personal feelings have become the ultimate truth or reality. If someone feels a certain thing, then it is true to them and is to be encouraged, unchallenged,  and that is all that really matters. This is how our world operates. Christians rightly refuse to bend the knee to the cultural obsession with feelings. This  causes us to appear stoic to a world obsessed with feelings. 

Why is this important? Our culture has rejected absolute truth as the standard to live by. Despite our culture’s claim of not having an ultimate standard, it in fact does. When you remove one standard something has to fill the void. Since everything has become hyper-personalized and truth matters not, the feelings of individuals have supplanted truth. Feelings are absolute. They are not to be questioned. They must be accepted and listened to, even if they have no basis in reality or truth. The problem with the rise of feelings to prominence is that our feelings are a terrible taskmaster who rules with an iron fist.

Sadly, our culture is experiencing this tyranny everywhere we look. We have safe places on campuses where students are free from all “threatening ideas” so that they feel however they want. We see the feelings of an immoral and perverse culture played out in our national media, entertainment, and politics constantly. In no uncertain terms American culture is reaping what it has sowed when it bent the knee to personal feelings as the ultimate standard.

As I look out at this culture one other thing becomes painfully clear—all this emphasis on our feelings has left us not feeling very good at all. Feelings are not ultimate; they can be and often are wrong. If I feel that I can fly like superman that does not make it so. Christians are not to be driven by feelings alone, rather our feelings must be shaped by the truth.

The Problem of Inaccurate Feelings

In Christian ministry, whether preaching or counseling, I am constantly faced with helping people shape their feelings so that they align with the truth rather than allowing their feelings to tell them what is true. This is a monumental task in our current culture.

Just a few weeks ago a man came into my office convinced that the Holy Spirit had abandoned him. When I asked him how he knew this, he replied, “I Just know it. I can feel it.” I empathized with his predicament, but I did not stop there. I walked him through Scripture (truth) where it is rather clear that when you are “sealed” by the Holy Spirit that you are indeed sealed forever. No matter how much truth I gave the man from Scripture, he would not turn away from his incorrect feelings. For him, feelings were ultimate, not truth, and not Scripture.

This line of reasoning, the unquestionableness of feelings, is the false gospel of our culture.  To even suggest that someone's feelings can be incorrect is modern-day cultural blasphemy. How often does the phrase, “I feel like God wants me to be happy,” or something similar get thrown out as a trump card in modern evangelicalism? The problem is we have absorbed so much of our culture that we do not even recognize that we have allowed this false gospel impact the way we think, live, and feel.

One of the major problems I face in my own life is that I am tempted to feel something which is rooted in a lie. Sometimes my feelings are deceptive. My feelings are also constantly changing, God’s truth doesn’t. And if I embrace these deceptions then I am need of repentance because I have sinned. I do not have the right to feel whatever I want, however I want, whenever I want. To do this is idolatry at the altar of the self. There is no enlightenment or salvation found in how I feel. But Scripture reminds us that the truth will set us free.

This is important to remember, you do not have the right to feel however you want. Such thinking not only ignores the gospel but it is anti-gospel. This is a major battleground of growing in personal godliness. You will not grow to be more like Christ by chasing your feelings, but changing them to align with the truth of Scripture.

Our culture tells us to “follow our heart” to our own destruction. Our culture tells us we need “safe places” to feel whatever we want. Our culture tells us feelings are ultimate. But the gospel says repent. The gospel says your heart is treacherous. The gospel says the truth will set you free. The gospel says we are to renew our minds with the truth. The gospel says we are to put off the old self and to put on the new. We need more  gospel and less "safe places."

The Cancer Spreads to the Church

There has been discussion lately about the church being a safe place for people to feel without being confronted with arguments or truth. While we do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, we must not adopt the attitude and reasoning of the world. Feelings are not inherently bad, but they must align themselves with the truth.  While it is true there is a time for silence and a time for weeping with those who weep, none of this should be done out of a respect for the unalienable right to feel whatever you want. That is not the gospel. We must not make arguments that appear to protect our culture's idolatry to feelings by labeling the church a "safe place to feel" without any consideration for the truth.

The church is not a safe place to feel whatever you want. While the church should be a place where you can express your feelings, but you should be doing so in order to examine your own heart. We are called to repentance and this includes repenting of incorrect feelings. God’s Word, the gospel, is sharper than any sword and it should cut us to the heart, including our feelings. This means the church is not a place where we can emote whatever we want while neglecting reality and the gospel.

When I bend the knee to my feelings alone this leads me to wandering away from God and toward sin. But when God’s truth shapes my feelings, then I draw near to him. If the church adopts a list of feelings from the world which are not able to be questioned, if we transform the church into a “safe place” where feelings reign supreme, then we forfeit the gospel. If we do this, then we are bending our knees to the false gods of this world instead of God of the universe.

The Irony of it All

This is where things get a little crazy. Our culture which rejects absolutes, which rejects morality, is constantly telling us how we should feel about the latest event or tragedy. They claim no absolutes exist and then when something happens which offends their (im)moral standard they demand that everyone feel as they do! If you do not feel as they do, then your feelings are incorrect and must change, otherwise you fall short of their (un)holy code. And so the feelings of the (un)holy majority take their place as dictator on the throne demanding that there be no challenge to its reign! Our cultural feelings will suffer no rival. So our culture which claims no absolute morality ironically has a very strict (im)moral code.

The problem is too often Christians line-up to show the world they can feel exactly the same things in pretty much the same way as the world does. If there is something which should cause us to not feel very good, it is the eagerness many Christians possess to appear righteous  according to the unrighteous standards of our society.

Christians must remember that feelings alone are a terrible tyrant which will never be satisfied. Feelings without the truth of the gospel will be controlled by our sinful desires. We must remember that we cannot serve two masters;  the truth is important and it must inform how we feel.

Christians are only to bend the knee to Lord of Lords and the King of Kings, Jesus Christ. And his call is for us to renew our minds, to repent of incorrect feelings, and to follow him no matter the cost. If we find our identity in Christ, and not the tribes of this world, our feelings will look a lot different than the abject tyranny our culture tries to pass off as freedom.

No, the church is not a safe place to feel whatever you want. It is not a place where feelings reign supreme. But the church is the only place to find true peace and true rest in the light of the truth of God’s gospel. In his kingdom feelings take their proper place and form. That truth is the foundation for how Christians should not only feel, but also how we think, act, live, and love.