Believe What You Know, Not What You Feel

Ok, so the title of this post is a bit misleading but I could not think of a title that fit well and that was fewer words than an entire thesis. There is an old song I was thinking about that says “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” These lyrics got me thinking about things Christians say they believe but that do not always reflect how they feel. For example, the Bible teaches that Christians will suffer for their faith, today Christians say they expect to suffer for their faith, but (especially here in America), Christians don’t really want suffer for their faith.

The Bible also teaches that Christians should give thanks in ALL circumstances, but in reality, we don’t always feel like giving thanks, especially in the midst of life’s trials.

So while the title of this post says to believe what you know and not what you feel, in reality, our feelings often dictate how we think about our circumstances and situations. That being said, feelings SHOULD play an important role in our beliefs. To separate our beliefs from our feelings is to downplay the role of God given convictions. Furthermore, it is to claim that one way in which God made us in his image is somehow flawed.

God is an emotional being. He displays feelings of sadness, joy, jealousy, and much more in Scripture. So to be created in his image is by necessity to be emotional beings.

How do we think through our beliefs in such a way that does justice to our knowledge and our feelings?

Should we always align our feelings with what we know, or are there times when our feelings should give us an indication that what we think we know might not be accurate?

To illustrate this point I will use the concept of the Lord’s Supper.

Some congregations observe this right every week, some every month, some every quarter, and some only once or twice a year. Some churches use crackers, some unleavened bread, and some regular baked bread. Some churches use wine and others use grape juice. To make things more interesting, some argue that the act is completely symbolic. Others argue that the meal provides spiritual nourishment, and others still argue that the elements spiritually or literally become the body and blood of Christ.  Some groups allow visitors to partake, others only allow members to partake. All groups argue that the Lord’s Supper is something that believers are to observe together.

Each group has a series of Bible verses they believe supports their specific tradition. Each group also has feelings associated with that tradition.

So who is right? Are any of the groups completely right?

In this example we see that there are a number of varying views all held by good Christians who wish to follow the teachings of the Lord and who believe they are doing that to best of their abilities.

These differences have often led to harsh criticisms, cut ties, broken fellowship, and even condemnation between Christians.

This is a sad commentary on how Christians have in many cases chosen to live out their faith.

But here is where the head and the heart must work together.

I am in no way suggesting that there are no right or wrong ways to do things. I think there are, and in some areas there is only one way to do things. Seeing Jesus as anything less than the God man, is to view him for less than who he is and in the end to hold a belief that is anti-Christian. But the areas of greatest importance are typically shared across denominations with little variation.

The way to help the head and heart work together is actually pretty simple in theory, but it can take a lifetime to master.

First, know what they Bible says about a specific teaching and understand what it says as much as possible in light of its original audience (historical context). Second, learn how the church has understood the issue throughout history. Third, listen for the Spirit’s conviction about how to believe with regards to the issue. Follow your conviction so long as it does not contradict anything you know the Bible clearly teaches.

Now, concerning things like suffering and giving thanks. We may not want to suffer, but we know suffering will come. We trust God when we suffer because he is greater than anything in this world. That does not make it easy, but because we known God has a range of emotions, we can also know that he walks beside us in our suffering. Unlike people, he DOES know exactly how we feel. And for this we can give thanks. God is with us in the trying times. We may be heartbroken, we may be downtrodden, we may be at the end of the road asking when the present pain will end, but God is there with us. Giving thanks does not always mean being happy, but it does mean trusting God in all circumstances.