Why do we confuse these two? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I remember I was in Bible College about two decades ago when I started noticing this trend. It was definitely going on before that. The first time it happened, I remember being in the student center and I don’t know if I was going to stay down there or just passing through and there was a sports talk program on and one commentator on a panel said to another, “How do you feel about that?” The other proceeded to talk about his opinions on the matter.
What has happened is we have taken the realm of feeling and made it be part of the realm of thinking. Nowadays, we often think that our feelings tell us something true about the world outside of us. This also affects how we do evangelism.
I used to have Jehovah’s Witnesses come to see me when my ex-wife and I lived in Knoxville together. The first few times, they would read a passage of Scripture and ask “How do you feel about that?” I would give some answer like “Happy.” Before too long, they came to realize they needed to ask me “What do you think about that?”
When I describe how I feel, I am talking about the emotional state I am in at the time. I can have thoughts about that emotional state, but the state itself is a feeling. When I am asked what I think, I am meant to give an idea. The idea could generate some feelings, but it is itself an idea. Confusing of these two leads to unclear language and consequences for how our society works today.
Consider evangelism. Often, we seem to rely on getting people to feel guilty about something. This is a Western approach that’s foreign to much of the world. Not only that, but many of us don’t feel guilty about things that are wrong and many of us do feel guilty about things that are not wrong.
The Bible does talk about guilt, but look at what it is really saying. It’s not describing an internal feeling. It’s describing an objective reality in that someone is guilty of wrongdoing or not. They could be fully guilty and have no “guilt” feeling whatsoever. How the person feels in this situation doesn’t matter.
Today, we are instructed to not do anything that will hurt someone’s feelings, which is an odd thing to do. How can I be responsible like that for someone’s emotions? We also have people who are convinced that they are of the opposite gender based on their feelings. If we live in a Christian culture where we point to feelings like guilt being “true” then we are put in a dangerous position when all of a sudden people have feelings that we know are not true, but on what grounds can we deny it? Feelings are true indicators of something when they point to what we want to be true?
Also, along these lines, no one can make you feel anything. You can’t make anyone feel anything. Asking how something makes you feel or telling someone they make you feel X or having them say it to you is nonsense. I can’t even make myself feel something all the time. How could I possibly do that to someone else? Now I can be a contributing factor, but no one is responsible for a feeling except the person who has that.
The first action here is find out if you agree with me on the opening point by just watching people in conversation. How many use think and feel like synonyms? Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. Then to start being clear with your words and realizing thoughts aren’t feelings and vice-versa. This is not saying one is superior to the other. Both have their purpose, but they are different.
Our second action though will be that while we do agree that someone feels something, and that they feel it cannot be disputed, what we can disagree with is if their feelings correspond to reality. We can strongly feel something that is false. We can not at all feel something that is true.
Ultimately, it all comes back to reality. Reality doesn’t care about how we feel. It should be our goal to try to live as real as possible and not to resist reality.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)