Feelings: Yours and Mine

Christians often have a difficulty time with feelings, especially those feelings that they consider to be sinful. After all, didn’t Jesus talk about lusting in the heart is the same as committing adultery? So, doesn’t that mean my feelings can be sinful? A good question that I have been asked several times. The question usually comes from people who have a sense of guilt about feelings they have or have had. Or, they have feelings that have trapped them in the past.

First, you need to understand that your feelings are important. Without them you would be less than human. Your feelings can show what is going on inside of you and indicate either wellbeing, or, that something is amiss and needs attention. Feelings are important in understanding your personal relationships with other people. Your feelings motivate you to respond in various ways to your environment. These feelings are all essential to your day-to-day living.

Sometimes our feelings can be difficult because we can be trapped by painful feelings. Our minds remember unpleasant things that have happened in the past. We think about things that were said that should not have been said. We remember slights. Our memories can create feelings that trap us in the past and our feelings are in control.

By allowing our feelings to take control we can sometimes act and speak in ways that we later regret. Feelings can keep us from doing what we need to do. This is especially true when we have “the blues” or even deeper depression. Our feelings can affect our health, for the mind-body connection is very real.

Our feelings are not under our conscious control. They come in response to the way we perceive the world at any given time. This is a function of our mind. We interpret what is happening where we are and what others say and do. We make value judgments about what we see and hear. Our feelings arise in our mind and are produced by the way our mind is working in a given situation. Feelings are not good or bad, right or wrong; they are just feelings.

Though we can’t control when we have feelings, we can control them once we have them . We can choose to deny them, bury them, express them, and/or control them. In Psalm 32, the writer understood the danger of denying and burying his feelings. In his case, he had unconfessed sin that had been buried. He said, “I was worn out from crying all day long” (v.3), and “my strength was completely drained” (v. 4). The psalmist was having physical reactions from buried feelings. You and I will also have physical reactions from buried feelings.

Home, school, and society have programmed us in such a way that we are reluctant to express our feelings. We don’t want the possible fallout from others. We don’t want God to punish us for our feelings. To control your feelings instead of letting feelings control you is difficult, but you and I can learn to express our feelings in a responsible way. In verse 5 of Psalm 32 is how our friend solved his problem:

Then I confessed my sins to you;
    I did not conceal my wrongdoings.
I decided to confess them to you,
    and you forgave all my sins.

The writer connected his feelings with unconfessed sin. That is not always the case with you, or with me. I would not even suggest that your painful feelings are caused by unconfessed sin. You can be harassed by feelings that have nothing to do with something sinful. The writer of Psalm 42 asked, “Why am I so sad? Why am I so troubled?” He didn’t know why he felt the way he did, and the same can be true of you. You just feel sad and troubled, and want help.

Regardless, if you will let them, the painful feelings you have can make you aware of how much you need God’s help. Just as God helped the psalmists, He can help you to accept and to deal with your feelings in responsible ways and to revive whatever joy and peace has died in you. God can enlighten what’s dark, strengthen what’s weak, mend what’s broken, bind what’s wounded, and heal what’s sick in you.

The writer of Psalm 42 concluded: “I will put my hope in God, and once again I will praise him, my savior and my God.” That can be your conclusion, too.

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Is It Unchristian to Grieve?

Everyone has grief.  Some have grief over a longer span of time than others.  Sometimes grief lasts only a short while.  Grief can be more intense at holiday times than any other time of the year.  We have memories of holidays past and the sharing of happy times with loved ones.  We grieve because we have lost people and good times.  We grieve because we know that at some point in future we, too, must die

Grief is a feeling of loss. We have lost part of ourselves, we have lost something or someone that we identify with personally.  A child grieves over a broken or lost toy.  People grieve over a lost job.  Perhaps the deepest grieve is losing someone through death that you dearly love, especially if it is our child. “But,” you might say, “I am a Christian and Christians are not supposed to grieve.”  There are those who are teaching this, so let’s think a bit about it.

In John 11 we read the story about the death of Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha.  It is recorded in the shortest verse of the Bible that Jesus wept [v. 35].  Jesus was weeping publicly because he had lost a friend.  He was weeping with empathy for the pain and sadness of Mary and Martha.  Jesus’ tears were not a sign of weakness or lack of faith.  Jesus’ tears were natural and normal under the circumstances.  He was showing us that grief is Christian.

In Isaiah 53 there is a poem about a suffering servant.  Christians read this as referring to the coming Messiah, Jesus.  In the King James Version of the Old Testament he is scribed as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” [Isaiah 53:3b].  This man Jesus lived to show us how to live as children of God.

In Colossians 1:15 Paul wrote: “He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”  The divine Son of the Father knew grief as God knows grief.  You do not lack faith because you grieve.  We can do no better than to follow the example of our Savior and grieve, for we have the hope of eternal life.

If you are grieving this Christmas because someone you love has gone on to be with the Lord, it’s OK.  It’s normal.  It’s Christian.  Let God help you use your grief to grow spiritually and socially.

In your grief, may God restore to you the peace and joy you have had, and strengthen your faith in the One who wept over a friend’s death.

The Irrationality of Evangelical Logic

A story was told of some teenagers who mixed the price tags on items in a jewelry store window.  The result was some very expensive pieces were tagged as very inexpensive, and the reverse with some very inexpensive pieces tagged with extraordinary high prices.  Though this was a gag, and the story is probably apocryphal, it does illustrate both the biblical concept of iniquity and the irrationality of our modern society, especially among some evangelicals.

Iniquity in the Bible means “crooked thinking” – high price tags on cheap goods, reverse values and standards.  The Old Testament minor prophets spilt a lot of ink condemning the twisted thinking of the people in their generation.  It would be nice to say that with all of the scientific advances we enjoy and all of the information available for us that we would no longer have our values mixed up.  We should be able to be consistent in our values.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  None of us is capable of always having our values consistent with one another.  That is because we are human.

So, while we think we are being very logical and that we are consistent, the opposite is often true.  The problem with logic is the premise upon which we build our thinking.  Logic does not prove or disprove the basic premise, so we can construct a very logical system built on an irrational premise, or a premise that does not conform to reality.  We need to call time out from time to time to test the validity of our basic premises.

Current instances of irrational logic are evident in the reports of evangelical Christians refusing services for homosexual weddings.  Their premise is: we are opposed to homosexual marriage because it is wrong and violates our conscience, so we will not show approval by providing services.  It is their right to hold that belief.  However, the premise is irrational because it is limited to homosexual marriage. If it were logical, that Christian conviction would need to be applied to those who are living together without marriage, those in an adulterous relationship, those who are sexually promiscuous, yea, and even to those who have lustful thoughts.  It would mean checking the lifestyle of every potential customer to see if it matched their Christian convictions.  To be completely logical, it would limit the customer base to Christians only, and further logic would require them to limit customers to Christians who believed exactly like they did.  They might even discover that they don’t live up to their own convictions!  Surely not!

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  Yet, this is typical of a lot of evangelical thinking today.  No thought is given to all the consequences of a particular idea, both good and bad. We need to take heed, though, for no one of us is immune to being caught up in an emotional issue, substituting the emotion for thoughtful conviction, and wearing our irrational logic as a badge of Christian witness.