Thursday, January 07, 2010

Fact, Faith, and Feelings

Back in 1952 Bill Bright wrote a booklet entitled, "The Four Spiritual Laws." Most everyone from my era was familiar with the tract. In fact, the phrase "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life" is one we all know and comes straight from Law 1. Nice. Included in the booklet was a famous train illustration. The engine was marked "Fact", the coal car was "Faith", and the caboose was "Feelings". The point was to tell new believers not to rely on feelings ("Do I feel saved?"), but to trust God's promises. And I have remembered that little train all my life.

You see, we are commanded to do things in the Bible that are, by standard usage, feelings. We are commanded to rejoice, to be thankful, to love, all these kinds of things. We recognize these things as feelings. So how do you command feelings? Well, clearly, the Bible isn't telling us "Feel this way." It isn't rational. So clearly there is a choice element to things like gratitude and love. Conversely, if we limit these terms to their emotional content, we are missing out on the biblical sense of these kinds of commands.

There is, however, a reverse problem. It is a problem that plagues me, so I'm well aware of it. In the train illustration, the booklet says, "The train will run with or without a caboose. However, it would be useless to attempt to pull the train by the caboose." The tendency, if we admit that these types of commands that are generally seen as feelings are actually choices, is to seek a divorce. It goes something like this. "Fine. Love is not a warm feeling of affection, but a choice I make to treat someone well. I am commanded to love my wife. Therefore, I will choose to treat my wife well even though I have no feelings towards my wife." The feelings-based believer would cry "Foul!", but the choice-based believer would have to admit that it makes sense. The feelings-based believer, on the other hand, would be at a loss to help the poor fellow who has no feelings toward his wife. So it would seem to have merit.

Here's the problem. Given the train illustration, you cannot eliminate any component of that train and make it viable. No engine and it goes nowhere. No coal car and it has no fuel. No caboose and it's a meaningless train. It's true that "The train will run with or without a caboose", but what's the point of such a train? It needs all three components. Thus we read Jesus saying, "These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me" (Matt 15:8). It is possible to choose to do what is right without feeling anything and it doesn't work. What God demands is a "whole heart". "I give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify Your name forever" (Psa 86:12). We are designed to long for God, not merely obey Him. "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for You, O God" (Psa 42:1). He is to be our true affection. "One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple" (Psa 27:4).

It is true that our faith is based on fact. It is true that the truth is the "engine" that motivates us. It is true that biblically-commanded emotions have a component of choice. What is not true is that emotion plays no significant part in Christianity. We are commanded to feel certain ways towards God and others. That happens by choice. But choice based on fact via faith necessarily produces emotional response. You see, if you can spend time in the presence of God and not feel anything, you didn't spend time in the presence of God. If you can truly love your spouse and not feel anything, you haven't truly loved your spouse. If you don't have an emotional response to the truth of God, you haven't yet apprehended the truth of God. Feelings don't determine facts, but faith based on the truth must produce feelings or you haven't been there yet.

9 comments:

Ruth said...

Thanks for the explanation, Stan. I've wondered over this disconnect between "feelings" and "choice" before, understanding that yes, emotions are fickle and hearts are deceitful, but also cringing at the "it's a choice" phraseology. In a recent blog post, I grapped with defining love and ended up with smething like "it's not just a feeling, a choice, or a demonstration, it's the fusion of all these things put together with God's grace and power."

By the way, my phone won't let me comment on the previous post, but I agree remorse over sin is key. Verses 1:5 through 2:6 in 1 John are enlightening (as if John anticipated our question). He said he's writing so we won't sin, but if we do (as 1:8 implies is inevitable), we have an advocate. He seems to say that we should walk as Jesus walked, but if we stumble, we can trust in being forgiven because of Christ's righteousness and God's faithfulness.

Stan said...

It is indeed a fusion. Our problems occur when we overemphasize one component or another. Like baking cookies (something I did recently), you have a fusion of ingredients. Too much salt, on one hand, and it won't taste much like cookies. Too much sugar, on the other hand, and ... wait ... can there be too much sugar? Oh, never mind. You get the idea. Balance.

Your phone won't let you? Wow! That's too much control if the phone won't let you. But you bring up a good point. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. That would seem a direct contradiction to "true believers never sin."

Ruth said...

Yeah, I get the idea. Balance is important.

:-) Yeah, the internet on my phone is an odd thing; I can comment on posts with no comments, but not on ones that already have comments...figure that one out; at least I'm back to my laptop now! In any case, yes that does seem like a contradiction. I'm not through being puzzled yet, though. Reading in chapter 5, verses 16 through 18, John suggests again that believers sin (since he says "if a man sees his brother sin") but then repeats again that "whosoever is born of God sinneth not"...

RkBall said...

A quick internet search will show that the wonderful quote on the right of your blog cannot accurately be attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville.

Stan said...

In an article titled "Misquoting by the Religion Right" (that is, not a friendly article) they say about this quote that it is not in de Toqueville's Democracy in America but "perhaps occur in 'other more obscure writings'." It is listed as a possible comment by de Toqueville that cannot be confirmed. That is, it may be his comment, but it cannot be confirmed. However, the quote has long been attributed to de Toqueville. Since I don't like to claim things as my own which are not, I like to note where things come from. That is, I don't list the name (in this case, de Toqueville) because it lends credence to the statement. I believe the statement to be true and listed the best source I could find for the sake of avoiding simple plagiarism. What would you suggest? Would you recommend I simply steal it and not mention any source? Or something as unhelpful as "somebody once said ... I don't know who"?

RkBall said...

I offer what is intended as helpful information, and your response is to suggest I am advocating theft?

O-K.

I won't be back.

You might list it as "Attributed to..."

Stan said...

My apologies. Been shot at too many times this week. No excuse; just an explanation.

RkBall said...

OK, I know the feeling!

Stan said...

"I know the feeling"

Based on your latest post on your blog, if you don't by now, you surely will. :)