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“Feelings or Faith?”

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Feelings Or Faith

Sewell Hall

The nineties may well go down in history as the decade of feeling. Feelings clearly determine the values and standards of our times. Feeling good about ourselves is the mark of the good life. Feeling good is considered our birthright, and anyone who interferes with our good feelings has wronged us.

Schools encourage this attitude. I recall visiting the principal of a school which was adopting a new educational policy. Each student made a contract with the school and when he arrived in the morning he could do whatever he felt like doing that day. I have not heard the results in that school, but the results of such education are evident in our society. Multitudes of able bodied people are depending on others for their livelihood simply because they feel more like loafing than working.

Feelings have become the test of morality. “If it feels good, do it” is a popular motto. “How can this be wrong when it feels so right?” is a question asked in a familiar song. More than one jury has acquitted an obviously guilty criminal simply because they felt good about him. And the grossly immoral conduct of more than one executive has been tolerated because people felt good about how things were going.

In religion, as well as in other areas of thought, people now talk more about how they feel than about what they believe. Years ago, it was not uncommon for someone to leave an assembly disturbed by what I had preached, saying, “I don’t believe that, and I am going to take my Bible and prove you wrong.” Now they say, “I don’t feel as you do on this subject” and go their way and think no more about it.

Some judge the success of a worship service by how good they feel when it is finished. Churches often cater to this by introducing various devices to produce those good feelings, and attendance grows. One problem with this is that such devices must continually be upgraded as the old ones cease to have the desired effect, and before long activities are introduced which are not authorized in scripture. Any criticism of such practices, however, is refuted by pointing to their rapid numerical growth.

Another problem is that those who are not right with God need to feel bad about themselves. Godly sorrow is necessary to produce repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). Nathan’s rebuke left David feeling bad about himself, but it was his salvation. “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord … No chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:5, 11).

Justifying our conduct by feelings is a cop-out. We do not feel obligated to defend our feelings, for no one else can know how we feel. But our beliefs must be defended; we are expected to be able to give reasons for what we believe.

Is right and wrong determined by feelings or by faith? Not one word in scripture justifies anything on the basis of feeling. “We walk by faith” (2 Corinthians 5:7), and “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).

The demands of faith and those of feeling often conflict. The heroes of faith featured in scripture often acted contrary to their feelings. Would you suppose that Abraham “felt like” leaving his homeland for an unknown destination, or offering his son on an altar? Yet, he did those things by faith (Hebrews 11:9–18). Do you think that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego “felt like” defying the king’s command to worship his image, knowing that a fiery furnace was already prepared for those who did? Or that Daniel really “felt like” praying openly to Jehovah when he knew that hungry lions were waiting to feast on one who did so?

Read Paul’s lists of things he endured as recorded in 1 Corinthians 4, 2 Corinthians 6 and 11 and ask if he really “felt like” preaching. In 2 Corinthians 5:12 he summarizes it all by saying, “death is working in us.” Why did he continue preaching? The next verses gives the answer: “But since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed and therefore I spoke,’ we also believe and therefore speak.” Paul acted by faith, not by feeling.

Many justify absence from worship or failure to study and pray because, “I just don’t feel like it and if I don’t feel like it, it will do no good.” When we are tempted to think this way it is time to revisit Gethsemane.” See that suffering sinless one weeping, praying there alone.” And what is His petition? “O My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me.” Does He feel like going to the cross? Obviously not! Yet, he adds, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”

When Feelings say “NO” to any duty, Faith says, “Nevertheless, Father, not as I will, but as You will.” Only then do we have a right to “feel good about ourselves.”