How many times have you heard, “As a Christian, you can’t go by your feelings … you have to go on faith!” What does that even mean? It makes my head spin.
Imagine asking a man who is recently wed, “How do you like marriage?” Suppose he says, “Well, I’m not feeling anything, but I know I’m married because I’ve seen the marriage certificate. Besides that, the food is pretty good and I’m learning how to work on the house.” I think you’d be shocked — as you should.
But people talk about their relationship with God that way all the time! “Well, I’m not feeling anything, but I said the sinner’s prayer and I go to church and I try to read my Bible. So I guess I have a relationship with God.” We ought to be shocked. Yet we hear all the time, “You can’t go by your feelings!”
I’m thinking if there’s no feeling — something’s not right! Our relationship with God was never meant to be limited to some kind of heavenly transaction or an abstract idea that we ascribe to. Jesus said He and His Father would come to us and reveal themselves to us. How could that not have some kind of impact on who we are, let alone how we feel? I need to say it again — if we’re not feeling something, maybe we need to find out why.
The only grain of truth in this strange belief about emotion is that we should never allow our feelings to rule our life. Dallas Willard says that emotions are great servants, but terrible masters. That’s true. But it does not follow that emotions have no meaning at all. They are actually great signals as to what is going on deep inside us. If I am trying to “love my enemy” and I find myself trying to keep a lid on my rage while I’m baking him a cake, I think that means there is something going on inside me that needs God’s help. Baking a cake while I’m raging inside is not a sign of spiritual maturity — it’s denial. I need help.
Trying to believe that my relationship with God might not have any bearing on my emotional life is terrible theology. Please do not misunderstand me. We all have times when we feel little to nothing in regard to some relationship in our life. That’s because we are fickle creatures. But we do not usually think of that as the standard to go by. When I feel estranged from someone I want to be connected to, I do some digging to find out why — I ask for help — I seek out the person I’m not feeling connected to and spend more time with them to rekindle our joy. I have days when I cannot seem to find God at all. When that happens I may spend a few hours running from my awareness and my need. But at some point I need to cry out to God like the psalmists and ask, “Where are You, O God? Why can’t I see You?”
Because feeling God near and actually experiencing a real connection with Him is normal. May we seek God more whenever we feel Him less.