When Feelings Undermine Faith
Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. (Romans 2:1)
You know you’ve become your parents when you look around and find yourself incredulously shaking your head at what the world has become. I’m sure that soon my kids will begin to hear me waxing nostalgic about “the way things used to be” or even using the term, “Back in my day.” Each aging generation has always looked at the changes in society, particularly those brought about in popular culture by the younger generation, and felt a certain disconnect with the emerging trends. I will never understand the fascination with the Kardashians, for example, nor can I appreciate the violence the English language has suffered at the hands of social media. Hashtags are evil: plain and simple.
However, while we might rib our kids about what we find mildly ridiculous concerning their generation, as our parents did to us, there are some trends that are genuinely alarming and signal a real danger to the foundations of our society. In our increasingly postmodern society, for example, objective truth and moral absolutes have been subverted by subjective feelings. This leads to genuine absurdities masquerading as reality. One area where this is perhaps most clearly seen is in the area of gender identity. Subjective feelings about one’s gender have trumped objective biological fact to the degree that it is socially acceptable in many quarters to identify oneself by the gender of one’s choice rather than the gender of one’s birth. If someone suffers from gender dysphoria, we in the Church should offer understanding and compassion. Indeed, regardless of the reason, we need to demonstrate the love of Christ toward with those dealing with any form of gender confusion. However, when our society decides to endorse such disorders by altering public policy to accommodate them, it threatens to unravel our civilization’s grip on reality. Objective realities cannot be altered by simply wishing them to be no matter how many parents, public officials, or even Supreme Court justices say they can. The universe simply does not work that way and enabling or encouraging someone’s delusion in the name of tolerance is not demonstrating love toward the sufferer.
For believers, all of this is obvious enough. We see sociological phenomena like these, shake our heads in disbelief, and wonder where it will all lead. However, we can do so blind to the fact that we are often guilty of doing the same kind of thing in our own context. We may not do it regarding gender identity or other current social issues, but there are other ways in which we are often guilty of allowing our subjective feelings to shape our reality rather than the objective truths of God’s Word. After all, for the believer, there is no higher authority than the Truth (capital “T”) of God’s Word. Thus, it should have the final say in the way we view reality as well as in the way in which we make our decisions and conduct our lives. However, the truth is that this is not always the case.
Let me give you a simple example from which you can then extrapolate the principle into other areas of Christian life and conduct. Let’s just use the issue of forgiven sin and the new birth. When one becomes born again, the scriptures clearly teach us that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). In other words, regardless of how criminal or vile our past might have been, when one is born again, the old is gone and the new has come. We receive a clean slate and a new identity in Christ. God no longer sees us as the old sinner we were but as a new creation in Christ. All believers would agree with these statements. They are fundamental Christian doctrines. However, in the Church we can sometimes speak of people we know in the light of who they were before they came to Christ rather than acknowledging who they are now in the light of God’s regenerating work in their lives. We may view such people’s experience with God with suspicion simply because of our knowledge of their past. However, if God’s Word is true, they are not the same person they were before, and we should not continue to see them in the light of the person they used to be (see 2 Corinthians 5:16). We are letting our subjective feelings undermine our faith in what we profess to believe is the bedrock of all objective reality – the Word of God.
I have often wondered what it was like for the apostle Paul, who was formerly Saul, the ambitious and tireless persecutor of the Church. By his own testimony, he pursued this career of Christian persecution with all his might. In his testimony before Agrippa, he states:
Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities. (Acts 26:9-11)
After Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, it took some time for a suspicious Church to accept the legitimacy of Saul’s conversion. Ultimately, it was through the testimony of Barnabas, the well-respected and trusted disciple, that Paul was finally accepted by the Church. I can’t help but wonder what it was like for him when he first joined those saints in worship. Did he have to look into the eyes of children whom he had made orphans or widows whose husbands he had sent to their deaths? I don’t know, but I have to believe that the possibility is very real. Yet, so convinced was the Church of the truth of God’s Word and the power of the gospel, that Paul was able to rise in the ranks of the Church’s leadership until he became the man whose name is the one most identified with Christianity outside of Jesus Himself. This is not just the result of a Church that was gracious and forgiving, but one that was willing to set aside their personal, subjective feelings about Saul and believe the objective truths of God’s Word regarding His redemptive work in the apostle’s life.
The same thing applies to us as believers regarding our own sins and missteps. We all miss the mark – some of us more notably than others. While all sin might be “sin,” there are some things that are harder for society, even Church society, to forgive. We might find it difficult to forgive ourselves for such failures. Many believers never rise from a significant fall but rather live in the shadow of guilt and shame, despite the fact that forgiveness is provided for every sin. As 1 John 1:9 declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Sometimes, this inability to recover from our failures is the result of the individual simply not forgiving himself for disappointing those he loved, while other times it might come from the sidelong looks he receives from others in the Church who refuse to see him in the light of God’s grace and forgiveness.
This is doing the very same thing for which we criticize the world – allowing our subjective feelings to undermine and subvert the objective truth of God’s Word. If God forgives us when we take responsibility for our sins, who are we to judge ourselves as anything less than forgiven. Or why should we allow ourselves to be moved off the solid ground of truth on which our lives are to be built simply because of the fickle feelings others have about us? The subjective feelings of others do not determine our reality. God’s Word does that, for God’s Word is truth. Likewise, until we are ready to see others in the light of their identity in Christ, through the lens of His blood which has washed them clean of past sin, we are just as guilty as our culture for abandoning truth for our own feelings.
There are many such areas like this, where faith in objective truth is too often undermined by our subjective feelings, simply because we have not made a commitment to honor the immutable truth of God’s Word above all else. The tendency can be subtle sometimes, but it has the effect of making us inconsistent in the way we see ourselves and others. It also causes us to fall short of the victory we have in Christ and the abundant life He died to provide us. Perhaps one reason the world has had a difficult time taking us seriously is that we have not taken God’s Word as seriously as we should. Our faith should always govern our feelings and not the other way around. We have inherited a Kingdom which cannot be shaken, and no subjective feeling to the contrary can ever change that.
Dr. Randy Bunch is the pastor of West Kern Christian Center, located at 1000 6th Street in Taft, California, as well as a graduate advisor and adjunct professor at Summit Bible College in Bakersfield, California. He is the author of several books, including his new devotional, Immutable: Changeless Truth for a Changing World. For more information, or to purchase your copy, go to randylanebunch.org. For more information on the ministries of WKCC, you can go the ministry’s website at wkcconnect.org.