Friday, August 29, 2008

enjoying God (6) do I really have to feel it?

"Why do you keep going on and on about joy?", I hear you ask. "Just how important are feelings anyway?"

Faith isn't a feeling. When I fly in an aeroplane, I'm putting my faith in the pilot, but I don't feel anything about him one way or the other. Do I?

Obedience isn't a feeling. The whole point of obedience is that I obey God however I feel. Don't I?

Well, yes and no. Feelings come and go. They're not particularly reliable. When I put my faith in Christ, I may not feel anything much. But it's hard to imagine a drowning man grabbing the hand of his rescuer without joy! Peter assumes faith brings joy "that is inexpressible and full of glory" (1 Pet. 1:8).

And there will be times when I obey without joy. Times when, feeling nothing, I pray, love, or serve. But obedience isn't better when it's done through gritted teeth. In some ways, I honour God more when I obey with joy because I love to bring him glory.

It's a bit like marriage. Marriage is a fact, not a feeling, and I stay married however I feel about it. I can choose to love my husband even when I don't feel loving. But a healthy marriage will include feelings. I may tell my husband "I love him" from a sense of duty. But my husband is more honoured if I say it not just from duty, but because I really feel he is precious to me.

If I'm not feeling anything about God - even though he sent his only Son to die for me! - there's something wrong. This "wrongness" may be out of my control (illness, depression, mood). But more often than not, it's the result of unbelief, patterns of disobedience, or choices I've made.

Maybe I've cherished my moods, until I'm permanently stuck in anxiety, bitterness or despair. Maybe I've been unwise about caring for my body, and lack of sleep and exercise have plunged me into discouragement. Maybe I've neglected the Bible, prayer, or obedience, so it's no wonder I no longer feel joy in God.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who insisted truth mattered more than emotion, still saw feelings as essential to true Christianity: “If you and I have never been moved by our feelings, well, we had better examine the foundations again.” J.I.Packer described the Christian life as like a 3-legged stool: doctrine, practice, and experience. If you lack one, the stool won't support your weight very well.

Feelings come from faith, not faith from feelings. We begin with truth, not with feelings (Rom. 12:1-2). On their own, feelings don't tell us much (2 Cor. 7:10). They're not accurate indicators of the health of our relationship with God. Their intensity and expression depend on personality, health, upbringing, and a host of other factors.

But feelings will generally accompany a healthy and lively faith.

For how can we receive such a great salvation without joy? How can we see God send his own Son to die for us without tears in our eyes? How can we not sing to such a God with hearts overflowing with thanks and praise?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones quote is from Spiritual Depression, p.110; J.I.Packer comment is from Rediscovering Holiness, p.61; images are from stock.xchng.


mattnbec said...

Hi Jean,

I have found this enjoying God series great. It has reminded me of the hymn writer, William Cowper. He was a man who experienced deep, deep depression and yet wrote some wonderful hymns of faith and even joy in the Lord. I must confess I can't specifically remember any of them right now though...actually, I'm sure you'd know far more about him and his hymns than I do, with a PhD in Puritans enjoying God!


Jean said...

I don't know Cowper well at all, only through Piper, but I'm planning to post one of his hymns some time soon!! Glad you're enjoying the series, Bec.