Are We Really People of the Book?

Do we who are Protestants really go by the book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was explaining to someone recently that my spiritual walk as an evangelical is very different from most of my fellow evangelicals. I don’t believe in ideas of feeling led or a call to preach as being normative. I don’t deny that God can do what He wants, but I always have to ask, “What does Scripture say?”

I see my fellow Protestants going on and on about how the Bible is central to our faith and practice. I agree with that. What confuses me is when it comes to this idea of how we live our day-to-day lives, it seems that our experiences rank above what Scripture says. If you want to know how someone knows that being called is a Biblical concept or how to know if a feeling is from God, they will point to experiences.

Now someone can ask “Well what about someone like Saul on the road to Damascus.” Sorry, but I don’t think many pastors who are in the pulpit have an experience of walking down a road, being knocked down and blinded by a light, and having the voice of God speak audibly. If anything, it’s quite arrogant to compare our experiences to Paul’s.

What do we have instead in Scripture? Let’s look at a passage like 1 Timothy 3. If anyone desires to be an overseer, he desires a good thing. In this case, it is talking about deacons in the church. The desire isn’t enough. Paul lists out the requirements. If you don’t meet them, you don’t get to be a deacon. In Titus, the same applies to elders. Paul lists the requirements for an elder and what an elder must be able to do.

Nowhere does he ask “Is the person called?”

What about something like giving to others? I remember being in a church where the pastor would regularly tell us to give as you feel led. Really? Go look at 2 Cor. 8-9. That is the longest passage we have in the New Testament about giving. Nothing is said in there about a feeling of being led. The only such similarity is that it is said that God loves a cheerful giver. Give and give joyfully. How much do you give? You use wisdom to determine that.

One of the great dangers of the normal way is that we can have any number of situations affecting our feelings at any one time. It could be that you’re hungry or that you overate. It could be that you’re sleepy. It could be you’re worried about something or you have a stomach bug or some other illness. It could be you just had a bad argument with your spouse or just spent the last hour stuck in a traffic jam.

So that system that can fluctuate on anything is also where we want to say God is telling us what to do? What on Earth happened to Scripture which is NOT like that? Are we truly people of the book?

And if we go this way, we will pay less attention to Scripture anyway. Not only that, we will give divine authorities to our inner impulses. I remember reading somewhere recently about someone talking about a program they did to service their community. It sounded like it went quite well, but what got me nervous was when they were talking about how God gave them such and such an idea.

Isn’t it presumptuous to say that God is the source of your idea? He might be, but do you want to just give divine authority to something like that? That one isn’t a Protestant thing. I’ve seen Catholics and Orthodox do the same thing.

I also think about how people talk about doing work and saying “I led so and so many people to Jesus” and then stopping and saying, “Well, no. God did it actually.” It sounds humble, but really, it isn’t. Consider 1 Cor. 9. Paul says he becomes all things to all people so that by all means possible “I might save some.” No one thinks Paul is thinking he’s the savior of these people, well aside from ignorant Muslims and atheists who I have seen making that argument. We all know Paul is saying he is the instrument. Yes. God is at work whenever someone comes to Christ, but is it honoring to deny that God used you? Be humbled by it. Accept it and admit the reality that you are a good speaker to these people to lead them to Christ and be thankful. The false humility says that the person and their willingness ultimately doesn’t matter.

God can use you and He can use your preparation and training. If someone asks me a question today about Christianity, they might think the answer only takes a minute or two. It doesn’t. It took several years. Those are just years of having the experience of studying and knowing how to answer.

Also, another aspect of all of this is how we are in our walks with God should not be dependent on our feelings, which again fluctuate. You can be miserable and close with God and right with God. Job was. You can be happy and be far from God and not right with him. Do I need to point out how many people this can apply to today?

So what would be the standard I’d use? Beyond just asking if you hold to a biblical faith, which even the demons believe many of our core doctrines, I could add in something the demons definitely can’t do. Growing in walking like Christ and trusting in God every day. Is your day-to-day living better than it was in the past? Are you having more victory over sin? Are you loving your neighbor well?

If you base any relationship in your life on your emotions, it will be doomed to fail at some point. If you’re married, you should know this. If you’re a parent, you should definitely know this. (How many mothers wake up with joy at 3 A.M. when they have to get up the next day because their baby is crying and needs something and won’t go back to sleep until he gets it?) Emotions come and go. Enjoy and learn from them, but don’t take them as divine. They are not.

Go back to the book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

The Feeling Will Be Gone

Do those feelings last? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

She came into the seminary post office where I was working and was talking to me and a co-worker. They were talking about marriage and how she was still a newlywed. She said she still was in that honeymoon stage and that she hoped this feeling would last forever.

“It won’t,” I said.

Hey. I cut to the chase.

I then went on the explain that that’s a good thing. If that feeling lasted forever, you would never be able to function. Who could go through their lives with a lovesick attitude going on around them constantly? When you enter the stage of falling in love, you can’t think of most anything else and the person is the most perfect individual God ever made.

However, because those feelings fade, that allows you to move into a deeper stage. This is a stage that transcends your feelings. I told her that one day if you haven’t already, you will wake up and ask yourself, “Why did I ever marry this bozo?” When you wonder why you married someone, you have to remember that you did marry them and your responsibility to the covenant doesn’t depend on your feelings.

After all, anyone can do loving things when they feel like it. What accomplishment is that? It’s when you don’t feel like it that you are definitely acting out of true love. True love is not demonstrated in the feeling, but it is in the absence of the feeling.

Could this also indicate a danger in our situations today that we are often chasing after perpetuating a feeling, which never lasts forever, instead of building up the covenant the feeling is about? We also do the same with Christianity. How do we know what God is telling us supposedly? Look at your feelings. Do you feel led? Do you feel like you are being called? Then someone feels like God is angry with them or has rejected them and all of a sudden the feelings aren’t reliable. When the feelings are what we want, we trust them. When they’re not, they’re not reliable. Wonderful system.

This is not to be opposed to emotion either. It’s to say that it can’t be our diet. C.S. Lewis said that emotion can be the explosion that starts the engine, but it can’t run on that emotion. It needs to get locked into something steady and unchanging. Something firmer than that. It’s realizing you’re locked into something greater than yourself. You have a commitment to more than just your immediate happiness. You refuse to do what is wrong just because you want something for yourself.

Of course, in any marriage, it’s okay to have disagreements and even fights if you will. I get concerned when I hear of couples who aren’t having those. What will be remembered in the times when the relationship is the hardest is that you made a promise regardless of your feelings. The same applies to your Christian walk as well. Our feelings can be powerful motivators, but they are horrible guides.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Truth or Happiness

Do we want to live true lives or happy lives? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Recently, I wrote about reading James Rebel Jamias’s book, which I did enjoy, and one idea that stuck with me on there was something that I have recently concluded. Our culture consists of people who care about happiness more than they care about truth. Aristotle began hisĀ Metaphysics by saying all men by nature desire to know. Today, the modern equivalent would say that all men by nature desire to feel.

We can all relate to this on some level. There have been times all of us have had something that we want to avoid being true because of the pain that we will feel, a state we call denial. My first major encounter with death was a sunday school teacher who I had a close relationship with. To this day, I can still remember being at the church for his funeral service and thinking, “This still has to be a joke. He’s going to jump up and tell everyone the truth soon. He has to.”

Sometimes, this can even be lethal. How many people have avoided going to a doctor because they think they might have a condition and they don’t want to hear that they have it? In reality, they do and it goes untreated and it becomes something untreatable and fatal when if it had been caught early, it could have been treated.

This also has severe moral consequences. With marriage, which I have been writing on, how many people are entering into marriage and doing so because the goal is that marriage is meant to make them happy? It is all about them. Now don’t get me wrong on something. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be happy and there is nothing wrong with wanting a good for yourself in marriage, but it’s not just about you.

Hence, too often when the feeling fades, which it will, we think the marriage has faded and it’s time to move on. It’s not about a greater commitment to something beyond ourselves. Instead, it’s about what is expedient for us at the moment. When divorce is too easy an option, it is the option that will most often be chosen.

In many of the daily lives of people today, it’s not often asked “What is the good thing to do here?” Instead, we are asking what will bring us the most happiness at the moment. When was the last time you heard someone talking seriously about virtue?

Is our Christian community any different in the West? Hardly. If anything, most of our emphasis seems to be on how we feel in our relationship to God. If we feel good, yay! Christianity is true and God is real and we want to worship and praise! If we don’t, then Christianity could be false and God might not exist, but if He does exist, He hates us, and why bother with worship and praise?

In reality, a Christian life is supposed to have all of these. You are not meant to be happy in all of your Christian walk. Jesus wasn’t and it’s the height of arrogance to think we should have something that Jesus never did. Jesus was sad sometimes. Jesus was also happy, but if we look at Isaiah 53, Jesus was a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering.

This is not to say bad feelings and emotions don’t matter. It’s not to say that for chronic problems you shouldn’t consider therapy and possibly in addition medication. With my divorce, I have both going on. Definitely if you are experiencing strong suicidal feelings, get help right away.

One great hope for our culture is when we all strive to be people of truth. In our religious debates, it’s easy to claim the other side is going with emotions. There are emotional benefits to each side. If you’re a Christian, you can claim you will get to live forever and that you will see loved ones and never die and spend eternity in a place of joy and happiness. I think even a lot of atheists would like for something like that to be true.

On the other hand, a Christian can say an atheist has reasons for them to not want God to be real. One big reason could be a life of sexual liberty in that you get to pursue sexual happiness and do what you want in that area. Another could be one doesn’t want to live under the authority of God. One could also not want to believe in something the rest of their social group will consider foolish. There are many more on both sides we can think of.

Also, in both groups, there are sadly people who don’t really care about truth and don’t want it. These are people who only read what agrees with them and base their arguments for their position on how they feel about something. The first question we should ask about Christianity is not if it makes us feel good or if we like it or if it’s beneficial to society. The first question we should ask is “Is it true?” If it is, then we should believe it even if all the other questions are answered no. If it isn’t true, then we shouldn’t believe it even if all the other questions are answered yes.

It is my hope that we can begin working more on a truth quest instead. Our emotional quests are more often centered on looking within and finding something for ourselves. When we look for truth, we are looking for something outside of ourselves and what we can submit to and ultimately, what we can live our lives based on.

It’s up to you which you choose.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

The God I Want

What if we made God in our own image? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

N.T. Wright has talked about finding a book in a secondhand bookstore that he didn’t buy, but the title was intriguing. He hopes there is no misrepresentation of the book, but it was calledĀ The God I Want. Wright states that God is not the God that we want. If He was, He would be quite different.

It’s an interesting thought exercise. I decided to think about the god that I want. I was thinking today that the omni qualities would still be there, but maybe not. What if God being all-knowing meant He did not give me something that I really wanted because He knew it wasn’t good for me? Would I be willing to have such a god to get what I want?

So if I was making this god, what would he be like? Well, this god would definitely care about my prayers. He would jump to whatever request I made and be ready to meet me. I would get to be the superhero in the drama of my life, my health would be great, I would be well-known in my field, I would have a photographic memory, and he would be honoring the requests of my wife as well, provided, you know, they fit in with my requests.

This god would assure me that I enjoy a good life. Odds are I wouldn’t have to wait for a return of Christ because this god would keep me alive and young and in great health. I thought more and more about this god and realized something.

I would not be wanting to serve this god. This god would be serving me. This god would not be an object of worship. He would be a personal butler. Ultimately, this god is not god. He makes me god.

So what do I learn from this exercise?

First, this doesn’t reveal hardly a thing to me about God. Instead, it reveals a lot about myself. It also reveals a lot of things I don’t like about myself. I don’t see anything about other people so much as I do about myself. This is also our nature. Consider a movie like Bruce Almighty. When Bruce gets the power of God, he focuses on his own wants and doesn’t care about all the prayers of the other people.

Second, if Christianity were something we were making up, this is the kind of god we would likely make up. Who would really want to make up a god like YHWH? Yep. Guys would love to make up a deity that tells them they need to give of themselves and love as Christ loved the church and maintain a sexual relationship with only one woman. We would make a God who would tell us to give some of our hard-earned money and esteem others better than ourselves.

Third, it reminds me that we don’t need to go to our feelings and experiences to find out who God is. That is where we usually go. It doesn’t work. We judge God by our own subjectiveness instead of His objective revelation in Scripture, Christ, and the world around us.

Ultimately, if we had the god that I wanted, perhaps I would be happy, but most everyone else would be miserable. God may not be the God that I want. In many ways, He isn’t because of my fallen sinfulness, but He sure is the God that I need.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Experiencing the Love of God

What does it mean to experience the love of God? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last night, my wife and I were with our church small group and we started talking about the lesson on experiencing the love of God. Now keep in mind in all that I say that I am not questioning God’s love for us. I am also not doubting that some people have very deep and profound experiences, but on the other hand, I think there are many of us out there that aren’t really experience and feelings oriented and that doesn’t strike us the same way.

And that’s okay.

When my wife and I go to church, many times I could be fine with skipping or greatly reducing the music time. The music often seems to me like a concert meant to get us to an emotional high. I also think a lot of times, we’re just saying the words and such because there are so many lyrics I hear where people sing about how valuable God is to them. Color me skeptical when I hear people talking about how excited they are about the love of God and don’t often seem to live like they know what it means.

Sometimes, it can also be a self-centered thing too. We can think about how much God loves us to make us feel better about ourselves, which to an extent is fine, but then we don’t go and do anything in response. When we do that, we’re essentially a taker in a relationship. We are in it for what we can get out of it, but not what we can give.

Many people do have profound feelings and experiences about the love of God. I would count my wife as one of them. These feelings are not constant and these experiences are not every day, nor can they be. Your goal in your walk with God is not to maintain a feeling and keep it going perpetually. It is to do the right thing for God every day and serve Him the way you ought to.

Consider it also like a marriage. Your goal is not to maintain feelings of being in love with your spouse. Those are nice when they come and you should enjoy them, but if they are not there, you are still to do the right thing. The question we have to ask ourselves in our walk with God and if married, with our spouses, is if we are treating the other one the way they deserve consistently.

I said that for me, I could cut a lot of the music. Instead, I want to get to the sermon. This isn’t to say the sermon isn’t important to others, but for me, it is the main event. Yet when I get to that sermon, I have high standards. I want it to give me more than just the basics.

The best church we had at this was The Point back in Knoxville. It was a Lutheran church and the pastors were always diligent researchers into the Scripture. I would see a serious exegesis and deep insight followed by a chance to ask questions. It was also enough that my wife, who does not get into the intellectual stuff like I do, did not think things were going over her head.

Most sermons I hear from preachers today are fluffy. They most often seem to jump immediately to application. There’s nothing about what the text meant to the hearers of the time or the historical background. Instead, it’s all about helping you be a better person. There’s nothing wrong with being a better person of course, but the Bible is more than self-help. It’s about the Kingdom of God.

You see, I am willing to admit many people are feeling-oriented, and that is okay, but sometimes I think when we talk about the love of God, we can make it awkward for others in a way that could hinder them. Those of us who are more intellectually stimulated as it were can be given the impression that we are lesser Christians. Some who are not Christians could think that if they don’t feel something, then they shouldn’t come into the Kingdom.

By the way, while we’re at it, let’s talk about this love we’re supposed to know. What is it? If love means warm fuzzies of some kind, then it’s not really an outward act. Love becomes about the way you feel about someone else and if you feel something, that is love. Love can have feelings that come with it, but love is an action. Love is seeking the good of the other for the sake of the other. That is what God does for us. That is what we are to do with our fellow man.

Some of you reading this have deep and profound feelings about your faith and what you would say are experiences. That’s fine. I’m not knocking that, but I would say don’t let them control your life or make a diet out of them. Make sure they result in actions. Many of us are intellectually oriented. That’s okay. Your charge is similar. Don’t let God just be an idea, a piece of trivia that you study with no change. Let it result in action.

If someone responds differently than you do to something, that is okay. One person is moved to act towards God by good music. One is moved by the beauty of creation. One is moved by a theological insight. One is moved by showing that Jesus rose from the dead. We’re all different, and that’s okay.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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