Within each of us is a longing to know and experience God. A longing which if unrequited can often paradoxically push people farther away from the very thing which they desire, namely a relationship with God Himself. Many atheists and agnostics began their journeys as earnest seekers of divine truth, only to find themselves stranded on the rocky shores of unbelief when their hopes of finding God went unmet.
And I often wonder if it’s not our fault as Christians.
We live in a day and age of profound distrust when it comes to the function of the mind and the exercise of the human will. We have been told that we cannot trust our intellect, and that the ability to apprehend both truth and the nature of reality lie beyond us. We have been told that we should never force ourselves to do that which is distasteful to us. We have been told that the only viable way to determine the validity of a proposition is by asking ourselves how we feel about it.
How do you feel about a particular politician or political party? How do you feel about capitalism and big business? How do you feel about vaccines? How do you feel about America’s foreign policies? How do you feel about a woman’s right to choose? How do you feel about the right of every person to marry the one that they love regardless of all other considerations?
Everything is filtered through the screen of our emotions. The facts of a particular situation rarely come into play; rather we choose to focus almost exclusively on our emotions, feeling that they are far more trustworthy than our intellect in helping us to make decisions.
We evaluate politicians based on their warmth and charisma and whether they fill us with hope. We wonder whether big business is uncaring and selfish, and ask ourselves why they don’t provide for the little man? We fear that drug companies and food producers don’t care enough about our children, and struggle with whether Americans are perceived as arrogant and brash by the rest of the world.
We feel that the rights of the individual override any other considerations (even the rights of other individuals), and we speak of things like personal choice, sex, and marriage as God given rights for all; because after all – wouldn’t God want us to be happy?
We feel that it is intolerant and judgmental for us to disagree with anyone on matters of philosophy, religious belief, or moral actions, because ultimately we feel that we have no way of determining objective truth – rather we must rely on what makes us feel good to guide our actions and beliefs, and trust that others will do the same. Consider the following quote from Tom Robbins:
And this has become the new Christian ideal. We read the bible and then ask each other, “What do you feel like that is saying to you?” We take for granted that our feelings, and what Scripture is saying “to us”, is inestimably more important that what the authors of Scripture were intending to convey to their audience.
Surely God wants for me to have a happy marriage at all cost. If I’m unhappy, then I should obviously divorce and remarry someone else who can make me happy. If I’m attracted to someone of the same sex, God couldn’t possibly expect me to be chaste! That would be difficult. That wouldn’t feel good to me. I would feel like I was denying my very truest self. Christ wouldn’t want me to deny my truest self would He? He certainly would never say anything like, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”1 I don’t think that would make me feel good at all…
To return to my earlier assertion, we have told people that a relationship with God is something that you should feel. We have told people that if they don’t feel God is real it is because of a lack of faith on their part. That experiencing God is all about our feelings and “sensing His presence.”
We have said things like, “You have to know, that you know, that you know that God exists.” What does that even mean?! We have blithely asserted that, “You should feel closer to Jesus than you do to your closest friend.” even though Christ Himself told His friends, “A little while and you will see me no more;”2 He knew that they would feel lost and alone with Him, but also that it wouldn’t be a permanent state of affairs. “So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”3
And then when people don’t experience God emotionally; when they can’t seem to feel His presence in their life; when they don’t hear His voice; when they struggle with faith; when they seek Him and can’t find Him in the emotional experiences that we assure them are necessary – they will frequently move farther away from the very thing which they desire most, namely a relationship with God. Many atheists and agnostics began their journeys as earnest seekers of divine truth, only to find themselves stranded on the rocky shores of unbelief when their hopes of finding God went unmet.
And I often wonder if it’s not our fault as Christians.
They [novices in worship] think prayer is all about finding pleasure and sensual devotion. Through great effort, they struggle to acquire that sweetness, exhausting their energy and confounding their heads. When they cannot find what they hunger for they become discouraged, convinced they have accomplished nothing. In light of this yearning, they lose true devotion and spirituality, which lie in humble and patient perseverance, in self-doubt, in the desire only to serve God.
Such souls give everything over to the pursuit of spiritual gratification and consolation. Beginners like these never get tired of reading sacred literature. They dedicate themselves to one meditation and then another, in constant search of some pleasure of the things of God. Justly and with loving care, God denies them this kind of satisfaction. If indulged, their spiritual gluttony and attachment to that sweetness would lead them into countless troubles. Those who are inclined toward gratification are generally lazy and reluctant to tread the rough road to union. A soul in search of sensory sweetness will naturally turn her face away from the bitterness of self-denial. ~ St. John of the Cross4
Perhaps it is time that we learned to deny ourselves and our ever-clamoring emotions. Perhaps we should repent of our need to gorge ourselves spiritually, and instead turn our worship away from our own gratification and back towards God. Perhaps it is time that we quit being lazy, self-indulgent, self-absorbed, and oh so sensitive, and instead became the men and women that God has called us to be.
We must disregard our feelings, for that which can only be found in the way of self-denial and perseverance. [Tweet This]
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