Feeling And Thinking

Has our society said two things are identical that are not? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, a long discussion took place on my Facebook page when I said that a person should act loving towards their spouse even if they don’t feel love. The discussion centered around if love was a feeling or not. I contend that it is not. It may result in feelings that we call the feeling of love, but it itself is not a feeling. It is an action and it is a commitment.

I think there’s a great problem in our society today that we have equated feeling with thinking. You’ll watch a program on the news with some commentators and you’ll hear about the latest political event and the host will ask a guest “How do you feel about that?” That could be one thing. That could matter at one point. What matters most is what a person thinks. In fact, if you do counseling, you realize this is a tremendously important distinction. It’s alright to ask how someone feels when something is said, but then you have to ask what the truth really is.

This isn’t to knock feelings entirely. Feelings are very helpful. They alert us to certain realities and can help train our thinking. A feeling of fear can help us think carefully in a dangerous situation. Unfortunately, fallen that we are, it can also take over for us. A feeling of love can motivate a man to love his wife, but a feeling of lust can motivate a man to rape a woman.

Our culture has become one where the feelings are central. We’ve heard the saying “If it feels right, do it.” Just yesterday I blogged about Michael Shermer at a debate and how he said that if we want to see if an action is right or wrong, we ask how it feels to the recipient. Now of course, that is important information, but that doesn’t settle the case.

If it did, then it’s wrong for a girl to ever say no to a guy for a date because, hey, that doesn’t feel good. I could say as a non-profit that it doesn’t feel good to not get donations, therefore anyone who refuses to donate to Deeper Waters is in the wrong, but that would be a terrible argument. A man could say it doesn’t feel good to be laid off from his job, therefore laying someone off is never justified. Of course, there could be cases where it is unjustified, but you don’t know by looking at the feeling.

One of the big problems with feelings is that they come and go. You don’t have a feeling that lasts forever. Even the really really good feelings fade after awhile. People with addictions know this. You meet your addiction and you get your positive feeling and it’s really good, but then you go right back to it eventually. Often times, it takes more and more to satisfy that urge. An alcoholic needs to drink more. Someone with food addictions needs to eat more. Someone with a porn problem needs more and more variety and deeper and deeper fulfillments.

Sometimes, this can be used for good. A couple can have really euphoric feelings over their sexual relationship in marriage, and that drives them to want more of each other. (By the way ladies, most men will not have a law of diminishing returns here either. We instead appreciate you even more.) I find that in my Christian walk, I need even more and more deeper truths about Christianity and that drives me to learn and study more and more. What we have to ask with each desire is “Am I desiring a thing that is really good?” and then “Am I desiring it in the right way?” and finally “Am I desiring it in the right proportion?”

If your thinking is based on your feelings, then you will live in a responsive mode all the time and not a proactive mode. You will also live a very me-centered lifestyle. Everything is about you and what you feel. Again, this isn’t to say that sometimes what a person feels isn’t important, but it isn’t everything. We always say it’s wrong to hurt someone’s feelings. I’d say it’s wrong to do it needlessly. In fact, sometimes hurting someone’s feelings can be the loving thing to do if you have to tell them a hard truth.

We live in a society now that feels more than it thinks. Hopefully we can get a turn around. We can get to a society I hope that will seek once again the good, the true, and the beautiful, and not be caught up with itself.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Doing The Right Thing

What do you do when you don’t want to do what you should do? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Biblically, we all know no one lives life on the mountain always. There will be times of trouble and sorrow. Bluntly, my mood isn’t the best right now. I woke up this morning not really wanting to do anything and there are times then the apologetics ministry becomes a burden. You see, I normally love doing what I do, but there can be times you wish you could go without having to interact with the rest of the world. There are times you wish that the skeptics weren’t there that you had to answer. There are times you wish that you could push the pause button and put everything else on hold. Yet I get up this morning and not too long after waking up, what do I find myself doing? Apologetics.

Note, this can happen even when you’re not really happy with what God is doing in your life. I think too often we go and put on our best church faces because Christians are always to be people of happiness who don’t have problems. Don’t know what Bible you’re reading, but the one I read seems to say a lot to people who have a lot of problems. We live in a world where everyone puts on a face which means we really don’t discuss the problems we have going on. It’s a wonder so many of us can look to study the problem of evil and how to deal with it and try to live our lives as if evil isn’t a reality.

But evil is a reality and we all know of times when it looks like the universe is not working the way we think it should. It is often thought that when God seems silent, the real pain is wondering if He’s even there. I disagree with this entirely. For those of us who know He is there, the real pain is that we know He’s there and He doesn’t seem to be doing anything. The pain is that we know that this is in fact what is good for us at the time and we best learn to grow from it somehow. There are times that quite frankly, the goodness of God is something that is awful.

So here you are and you are one who says He is a servant of Christ and you know your duty and yet there is nothing inside of you that is prompting you to do it really. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. What do you do in this case?

You do your duty.

Our culture has become so feeling-oriented that we look at our world through the lenses of our experience and feelings first. Unfortunately, the hard struggle for us is the Bible doesn’t make many allowances for us. There is nothing that says “Love your neighbor as yourself, unless your neighbor is being a jerk and then you have a pass.” “Pray for your enemies, unless they do this specific evil to you and then you can pray for fire and brimstone to fall on them instead.” “Love your wife or respect your husband, except for those times that they quite frankly are getting on your nerves and then you have an exception.” Imagine how far we can go with this. Rejoice in all things. Pray without ceasing. Study to show yourself approved. Do the work of an evangelist. This is the way, walk you in it.”

Yeah. Go through the book and see all the exception clauses you can find. There’s a story supposedly told that when a famous atheist was dying, a friend of him was surprised to come to see him on his deathbed and find him reading the Bible. When the friend asked the atheist what he was doing he got the reply of “Looking for loopholes.”

We laugh, but we all are looking for loopholes or living like they should be there. “Oh I know Biblically that I should save sex for marriage, but I really love her and we’re going to get married anyway.” “Oh I know Biblically that I should give to the poor, but there’s this item on sale that I really want this week.” “Oh I know Biblically that I am to be loving of my neighbor, but do you have any idea what the jerk did to me?” “Oh I know Biblically that I am to pray, but God is really silent so if He doesn’t care about me why should I care about Him?”

I think we’ve all made statements like this before.

And you know, this all gets harder in light of James 4:17.

“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

We have this strange idea that we should do what we feel like doing or don’t feel like doing and get away with zero consequences. We fail to realize that every action we do, big or small, is building up a character, and not just in us, but in everyone around us who we interact with. We do not stop to ask what kind of person we are becoming. We all tend to think we’re the exception to the rule and that reality will treat us differently.

It won’t.

Reality is what it is and we Christians are called to live in accordance with the truth. If we start making exceptions for us, don’t be surprised if the rest of the world starts to think there are exceptions for them too.

So what is it that we are supposed to do on those days when we don’t desire to do what we ought? What are we to do when our every feeling and desire in us is telling us to not do something?

We are to do the right thing.

This is the way of the cross. This is taking it up and following Him. This is dying to our self and knocking ourselves off the throne of God and realizing that we are to live in accordance with what our master teaches and if it doesn’t seem to make sense at the time, we are to still realize that He knows best. If we have to do it while inwardly we are kicking and screaming and gritting our teeth in frustration, well we do it anyway. If we often wait until we feel like serving Jesus or doing anything that He has told us to do, then it is quite likely that we will never do what we ought.

Do you not like that?

Well quite honestly, neither do I.

But reality is not about what I like. Reality is about what is. The truth is Jesus is my Lord and I am to follow Him regardless.

He knows best after all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why I Discourage Seeking Signs

Are you really on the right path? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

There’s an oddity in the Christian community that so many Christians are caught up in seeking signs to justify their decisions. How many of us have seen people make very foolish decisions based on signs? This is not to say that signs do not happen at times, but this is to say that we should not be consistently seeking them, as if God is arranging all the works of the universe around any one of us individually. Sometimes, some things just happen. The Christian’s main route to decision making is not to be looking for signs, but in using sound thinking, especially sound thinking informed by Scripture.

When we look in Scripture, signs are quite regularly condemned. Gideon looks for a sign repeatedly, but these signs are actually indicators that he does not have the faith that he should and in fact, he needs them repeatedly. Jesus condemns a generation that asks for a sign and says the only sign that they will be given is the resurrection. Of course, someone could say “What about Hezekiah? He asked for a sign that he was truly healed.” Yes. Hezekiah asked for one because he’d been given two different messages. Both of them were from God and one reversed the other so he needed to know which one God was truly authenticating.

Today, we look at most anything that we see as if it was a sign. This isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, it was also going on back in the Civil War with each side of the war trying to interpret providence. Most of us have a hard enough time trying to understand what our own spouse is saying a lot of the time. Why should we think that we are going to be able to understand the way God is interacting with reality which has numerous numerous facets that we do not understand? Even sadder when we do this is that we often end up neglecting Scripture which we know He is behind and not treating that message as seriously.

When signs show up in the Bible, they are often there because God is wanting people to do something that is contrary to the way of wisdom. In Scripture, we have a whole book called Proverbs that is all about wise decision making. Perhaps if we are wanting to make a decision, we should consider the route of Proverbs? Let’s consider an important decision like marriage. When it came time for me to marry, what did I do? I looked at the situation. I looked at the things I knew about the woman I was wanting to marry (And I did end up marrying her) and I prayed and studied my Bible and I also took the step of talking to people who I deemed to be wise counselors. This last one is one that we often do not do as well, or sadly when we do do it, we end up not listening to them.

We have often made it a habit of interpreting the Scripture by our experiences. The reverse is true. We should interpret our experiences by Scripture. For those of us especially who claim to be of the Protestant tradition and say that Scripture is our final authority, it looks too often as if we are the final authority. What happens to us determines the way reality is. Along these lines, it can be our feelings that tell us what is going on in the world and how we are to live instead of letting our lives be guided by Scripture. If your feelings tell you one thing and Scripture tells you another, your feelings are wrong. It does not change that you are experiencing them of course, but it does mean you don’t have to listen to them. After all, you can only listen to one of the two if they contradict and if you choose your feelings, you are making your feelings the authority and in essence, making yourself a deity.

The end result is that we don’t think about matters of Christ enough and we listen to ourselves way too much. We become the focal point of reality. We lose the ability to study the Scriptures well and we lose the ability to think well and we become caught up in ourselves. Now I did say God can speak in signs earlier, but when He does, they will be clear, unmistakable, and they will be rare. These are going to be in intense times when the way we are to take really is not what we would expect with the way of Wisdom. Until then, God gave us brains and He intends for us to use them for His glory.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Should I Feel My Faith?

If we do not feel the presence of God, does that mean that He really isn’t there? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Often times when it comes to the silence of God, one thing that we ask is why don’t we feel our faith? Why does it seem that the love of God is just absent from us? These are questions worth answering, but one of the most important lessons we can learn is to question our questions. Perhaps we are starting off on the wrong foot? Do we not with the question imply that if there is no feeling of our faith, then there is something wrong with our faith? What if instead this is a way of thinking that really isn’t what the Bible is talking about?

Now as I say this there is of course a caveat. I tend to be a very logically oriented person. Feeling what I believe is not common. In fact, I’d say it’s the exception. I happen to be married to a quite emotion centered person who does go strongly by feelings. In this case, we help to balance each other out as my being logic-oriented rubs off on her and her being emotion-oriented does rub off of me. We’ve both experience blessings from this kind of relationship, although it can also be difficult at times seeing as we have to learn how to think in whole new ways and how to respond.

What we have to learn is that things aren’t always what we feel they are just as much as they aren’t always what we think they are. Our culture has become very feeling-oriented. We have done this so much that we treat the words “think” and “feel” like they are synonyms. They are not. This is something I always stress. If someone presents to me a piece of information and says “What do you feel about that?” I could say “Happy” or “sad” or “confused.” Then I generally follow it up with “I think you mean to ask what I ‘think’ about that.” (There was a time some Jehovah’s Witnesses were visiting me and after awhile they started to catch themselves because I always caught them when they said this.)

This can often be the case with the wife who says to her husband “You don’t love me any more!” Why? Because she’s not feeling love. Now it could of course be that the husband has ceased to love his wife, but it is not a necessity at this point. Her feelings alone cannot tell her this. This does not mean her feelings don’t matter. They can tell her something about herself and they should be something that she discusses with her husband, but they are not the determiners of truth.

In fact, we can know a truth when our feelings are the exact opposite. For instance, just last month, I had come down with the flu again. My wife decided to place me in a temporary quarantine in the bedroom while she slept on the couch to prevent the spread. Unfortunately, this led to my having to ask her for practically everything and I do not handle the pain of being sick well at all. Allie has indeed said that she felt like introducing me to a pillow many many times, yet still she was someone waiting on me and making sure I was cared for because even though her main feelings were feelings of annoyance, the reality was she still loved her husband. (And still loves him today!)

In our modern culture, we have raised feelings up to a level of being a truth detector. I am thinking right now of visiting friends yesterday and the wife told me about an atheist co-worker who came to her and said something like “You know about Angelina Jolie? Imagine a man who says he’s married to her. He says he has a wonderful relationship with her. He says that she brings him such joy and happiness whenever he thinks about her. Unfortunately, Angelina Jolie has no idea who this man is. She’s instead married to Brad Pitt, despite how wonderful this man feels thinking he’s married to her. What do you think we can learn from this story?”

I was thinking we can learn that atheists are very good at making up straw man arguments that show they don’t understand what real Christian thinkers are saying a bit.

Sadly, this would have a powerful effect on many Christians who think the only reason they can know Jesus is alive is that they feel Him in their hearts. One can also think about our tendency to rely on our personal testimonies. When we do this, we’re more often doing an evangelism technique that might have worked in the world 50 years ago, but it just is not as effective now and we can’t turn back the clock just by wanting to turn it back. While Christianity does not change, the world has indeed changed. We don’t have to accept the new belief system of the world, and we shouldn’t, but we should accept the way the world is as frankly the reality and try to change it.

In this case, the person who is feeling-oriented needs to learn from the one who is logic-oriented. (Yes. There are times this is reversed, but we’re talking about this one time now.) What matters first is “What is the truth of the matter?” If you want to know if your husband loves you, for instance, you don’t look to your feelings. You talk to him and see what his friends and family say and you look at his actions. Then you make the best judgment that you can based on the available data. So what do you do if you want to know if God is there and if God loves you?

As a Christian, or at least someone who wants to be a Christian if you’re in doubt, you look to the knowledge of God. For one thing, you can look simply at metaphysical and philosophical arguments that show that God has all the omni-attributes that we apply to Him. Now there is a sense that unless you’re someone who loves this kind of argumentation, it will leave you a bit cold. If you do look at it and enjoy it, you can realize many truths. One that comes to mind is that you know that God is omnipresent and therefore, you realize He is always there. As I type this I know the presence of God is all around me. That does not leave me with intense joy and that could be something I need to work on in myself.

You can also learn that God is all-good. When you realize this, you know that everything He does is right. This can be a source of comfort, but it could also be a source of distress. After all, that implies that God allowing this event to happen to you is something that is good in some sense. It is not saying the event itself is good, but God sees a good that can come from it. C.S. Lewis would compare it to being in the chair of a dentist. Most of us do not consider that a pleasant experience, but we know that it is a necessary evil.

Many of us will instead go to the Bible, and if we do go there, and we should, we will find many passages relating to this and we’ll look at some in future posts. We will find that the Psalms especially are a gold mine of information as we can find most any emotion that we want in there and any situation. The Psalmist himself often felt abandoned by God. Psalm 88 is quite likely the saddest Psalm in the whole book. Psalms 42 and 43 together are an excellent resource to go when we long for God and it feels like God is distant.

Also from the Bible, we learn about Jesus and this is something many of us who are very metaphysically inclined have to learn. The best revelation we have of God does not come from reading Aristotle, but rather it comes from learning about Jesus. Jesus is the one who best reveals God to us. We can ask ourselves about the historical Jesus. Do we truly think that if we were seeking God, that the historical Jesus would abandon us? Would He leave us alone? Is He the kind of person that we can trust? This is one reason that I agree with Michael Bird and N.T. Wright that study of the historical Jesus should be essential for discipleship.

And what do we do when we have done all of this and we still feel empty or maybe even the contrary feeling?

We act.

Again, going back to my flu story, I know I would have been in a lot of trouble if Allie acted on our feelings. Most of us would be terrible spouses, friends, and parents, if we acted on our feelings consistently. Let’s not even consider how we would be when we’re driving if we acted consistently on our feelings. If for one day everyone just acted in accordance with their feelings without paying attention to what they were thinking, this world would have a nightmare day. A good fiction writer could probably write a fascinating horror story about such an event happening.

When we act, it could be that our feelings will follow. This can often happen, but it is no necessity. If they follow, great. If not, then we have done the right thing any way. Remember, there is never a justification to not do the right thing and it will not work in any court to say “I didn’t feel like it.”

We’ll continue along these lines in a future post.

In Christ,
Nick Peters