"Nothing More Than Feelings"
Let me say that emotions are not a bad thing. God created emotions, and they are a normal part of life. And thus a very real part of our spiritual walk. Being moved by a worship song (be it a hymn or a chorus), bowing in shame when we’ve sinned before an Almighty God, sizzling with anger when someone uses that Almighty God’s name as a curse, or just getting the warm fuzzies when someone does something really nice for us are all legitimate emotional experiences. When emotions become a problem is when our spiritual welfare (and our spiritual activity) is based on them. If you go to church because you feel like worshipping God, great. What happens if you wake up on Sunday morning a little grumpy and out of sorts and feel like sleeping for another few hours? Do you still go to church, sans feelings? If you are overflowing with gratitude for what God has done in your life and you feel love for Him and are compelled to acts of Christian service, great. But what happens when you start to take Christ for granted (as we all do from time to time) and the feeling of love just isn’t that strong. Do you cease to be obedient?
Again, emotions aren’t bad. And responding to emotion isn’t always bad, assuming we are cognizant of our response and the reason for it. But if emotion is the only fuel in our vehicle, we are bound to start coasting or stop completely. Something has to be there to pick us up when emotions run out because THEY ALWAYS WILL.
So what is that something? It’s a dirty, disregarded-by-culture, shunned-by-churches, four-letter word: Duty. It is doing what you are supposed to do because it is what you are supposed to do, not because you feel like it. It is dragging yourself to church on a Sunday morning when you’d rather sleep. It is giving your tithes and offerings to God because that is what he commanded you to do, even if you’d rather spend your hard-earned cash on something else. It is giving up your time and pleasure to help someone else (Ouch! I just stepped on my own toes). It is clear why duty has been disregarded by culture. Duty gets in the way of another four-letter word, Self.
But why do so many churches and Christians seem to be shunning duty? I think it is because duty seems to conflict with appropriate emotional responses. After all, how can a good, godly person who loves Jesus ever have to drag themselves to church? Shouldn’t he or she want to be in church and be raring to go on a Sunday morning? Yes, he or she should. He or she should also live a perfectly virtuous, sinless, selfless life. But there is someone else doing some dragging (away and enticing) too.
Or take tithing? Doesn’t God say that he wants a “cheerful giver,” not one who is “reluctant or under compulsion”? (I Corinthians 9:7) Many read that as an excuse not to give if they don’t feel like it. But I don’t think Paul was talking about regular (tithes) giving. The context is in reference to a love-offering being collected for the Lord’s people, and Paul didn’t want the Corinthians to feel that they had to give a certain amount. Rather, he encouraged them to give what they could, with the reminder that generosity would be rewarded. Check out the book of Malachi to see how God felt when His people didn’t give Him the tithes He required.
Look through the rest of Scripture and you will not find, I dare say, any commands along the lines of “Obey God if and when you feel like it.” Instead you will fine phrases like “Make every effort” and “laboring” and “striving” and “I beat my body.” These seem to me like calls to duty.
Another reason that duty is shunned, in my opinion, is because our actions seem unauthentic if “the heart isn’t in it.” I would argue that it is just the opposite. Doing the right thing out of duty when the heart (emotions) doesn’t want to is the epitome of true authenticity. It is a forceful subjecting of the will. It is the essence of obedience. Duty mandates that we preach the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, even if it isn’t popular and might not give off a good vibe. Duty suggests we sing songs that have rich theological value instead of upbeat fluff that gets us excited. Duty obligates us to stand firm in the faith and not be watered down by society and culture or by other churches that profess Christ but clearly do not hold to the Scriptures, even though it may make us unpopular, may not draw a crowd, and may not evoke good feelings. Duty is stoic. Duty is still there when the smoke clears. Duty is our anchor when emotions fail us. And I dare say we would be much better off if we (as individuals and as the church) were driven far more by duty and less by emotions.
Once again, I want to clarify that I am not against emotions (Anyone who’s ever watched Nebraska football with me knows that). Nor am I saying they don’t have a place in church or in a Christian’s spiritual life. Emotions are more than welcome. They just do not get to drive the bus. If the tune of a song or the oratorical skills of a preacher (or the impassioned plea of a blogger) gets us into an emotional lather, nothing has been accomplished but getting into a lather. Whereas if the truth expressed by song or the Biblical teaching of a preacher inspires emotions in us, then that is indeed wonderful. As the adage goes, if you can fall in love, you can fall out of love. There has to be more than feelings to make a marriage work. Similarly, if our walk with Christ (as his bride) is based just on our feelings, we may be in for a rather rocky hike.
I’ll add one more emotion that can be dangerous. Zeal. As Paul wrote, “It is good to be zealous, provided the purpose is good…” (Galatians 4:8) This article is largely motived by my zeal for the church of Jesus Christ not pandering. But I freely admit that my zeal is an emotion that can blind me, that can take me too far. So by all means, if that is the case, call me on it. If you disagree with me, let’s have a discussion and let’s look to the Scriptures as our guide.