Monday, May 13, 2013

Feeling is Not Believing

About five years ago, a man walked into my office at the church and introduced himself with a definitive introductory statement - "I can't feel!"  "Excuse me?" I asked.  "I," said the man, "display sociopathic tendencies."  Knowing that Atascadero State Psychiatric Hospital was less than 5 minutes from my church, a place where many violent sociopaths were housed - I instinctively reached for the buzzer on my phone to alert my assistant that she needed to intervene in my meeting ASAP.  "No," said the man, "don't worry, I'm harmless, I am just here for advice."  "What can I do for you?" I asked.  The man went on to say that he had been unable to feel ever since he was a young boy.  He didn't have the ability to empathize with the feelings of others, or the ability to actually feel pain or joy himself.  "My problem," said the man, "is that I wonder if I can believe in Jesus.  If I can't feel, then can I be a follower of Christ?  Don't I have to feel God in order to believe in him?"  My friend was asking a very important question.

This past week at FPC, we looked at the text of Naomi and Ruth (As Chuck Swindoll has said, this is the most beautiful story in the entire Bible).  The story, you will remember, hinges around the statement by Ruth that, "Where you go, I will go and where you stay I will stay.  Your people will be my people and your God my God.  Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried." (Ruth 1:16).  Ruth's definitive statement is striking for several reasons.  First, there seems to be no emotional (feeling) basis to the statement.  Naomi was demonstrating nothing resembling a warm fuzzy or a kind or a compassionate relationship with Ruth.  Ruth and Orphah, remember, are told to "Go back to their people."  Second, Ruth seems to be making this declaration with all of her being - she is all in in this decision to "Go with" Naomi.  Scholars have called this a Covenantal Relationship.  Covenant is marked by a reasoning deeper than emotion - it is marked by choice, and by commitment.  It would seem that Ruth is believing without feeling in this instance.  It would seem that;

Feeling is Not Believing

And thus answering my friend's question, of whether he could believe in God, without feeling God."  The answer is an indefatigable - YES!

The sixteenth century Reformer, John Calvin, greatly distrusted the connection between feeling God and believing in God.  Calvin wrote, "Man's mind is like a store of idolatry and superstition; so much so that if a man believes his own mind it is certain that he will forsake God and forge some idol in his own brain."  Again, even more than distrusting feeling, Calvin seems to be suggesting that we should distrust our thoughts as well as our feelings.  (Remember, of course, that Calvin does not suffer from the Cartesian Dualism - the split between thoughts and feelings - that would become prevalent in enlightenment philosophy of later periods).  That Calvin, a towering legal and theological thinker would suggest that we should distrust our thoughts, is both an act of humility on Calvin's part, and an act of reality on my own (If Calvin distrusted his thoughts, I must surely distrust mine....).

Jesus seems to also validate the notion that we shouldn't necessarily trust our feelings when it comes to believing.  After Jesus comes back to life again, and visits his disciples in the upper room, Thomas asks to put his hands and fingers where the nails have gone through Jesus' hands.  In other words, Thomas does not believe because he does not feel/see God.  Jesus says to Thomas, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:29).  And Jesus might have added, "Blessed are those who believe without feeling me in their heart."

Why am I writing this blog post and laying out this philosophical argument that "Feeling is Not Believing?"  Simply because of this.  I know too many people who are basing their relationship with God only on the feelings they do or they do not have about Him.  If they feel good about their faith, they believe.  If they don't feel good about it, they don't believe.  Ultimately, belief in God begins with a decision (to Go where God Goes, that God's people will be our People).  It is usually after this initial decision that we then have feelings towards God (of love, affection, adoration, joy, completion, peace). But, in the case of my sociopathic friend, he will never have these feelings - but he still can BELIEVE!

All For Now,

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