One of my favorite fictional characters is Father Brown, the humble priest who also happens to be an incredible detective, and who lives in dozens of short stories from the unmatched mind and imagination of G.K. Chesterton. There is a modern take on the stories right now on television, but as I refrain from making any sort of public commentary on how true to the character the new shows are, I do encourage you to read the original Chesterton short stories. They are brilliant and thoroughly enjoyable.
Father Brown always knows who is guilty of the crime for two reasons. First, he is invariably able to put himself into the shoes of the guilty party. He knows that all of mankind suffers from the same fallen, sinful nature, therefore he can always imagine what the miscreant did. Without God’s love and nature in his heart, the priest knows he also could be capable of every awful, evil thing. The second reason is tied to the first - he has already heard all there is to hear in the confessional. In one story, Father Brown points out, ““Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men’s real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil?”
This is an interesting part of the ministry. Eli and I are coming up on thirty years as university campus pastors, and in that time we have had the honor of knowing and ministering to many hundreds of young people. A significant part of this is that we have helped people walk through some horrible and difficult times, sometimes due to accident or illness or losing a loved one, but many times because that person has made a very poor decision and must suffer the consequences. There is a singular thread that connects all of these poor choices - acting on feelings rather than truth and reality.
lf there were a single, defining characteristic of this age, it could be said that this is an era which worships feelings. Society tells us that we should pay close attention to our feelings - they are the very thing that should guide our relationships, plans, and actions. This line of thinking says that if something feels right or good, we should do it, no matter what; conversely, if something feels wrong, then we should just walk away, regardless of what it costs anyone. The pressure is now building that we should encourage everyone to follow all of their deepest feelings, no matter how wild, though the bitter end of this path is yet to be seen in full. Feelings rule the day.
But what are feelings? They seem so powerful and sometimes almost overwhelming, but they have no substance at all. They are very difficult to describe or categorize, and so many things can impact them. We might eat too much spicy food late at night, and wake up the next day feeling rotten and melancholy right out of the gate. We might receive a bad piece of news and feel that the world is coming to an end. A loved one might treat us differently than we expected, and we might feel that the relationship is lost. But none of these things is reality. The rotten day is actually packed with promise and potential; the bad news is truly not the end of the world; the family relationship cannot be lost.
All of these scenarios prove what our friend Winkie Pratney has said...
Feelings are never the true test of reality. Feelings are just feelings, and will change frequently with time and circumstance.
An interesting thing to note about feelings is that they can become just as much a habit as anything. If we give into them enough, feelings - no matter how unreasonable - can dictate our lives. Say you live in Huntsville like I do, but you work in Houston, which is 70 miles south of here. Without consulting a map, you might feel like going west to College Station and then turning south to Houston. This gets you where you need to go, so you do that every single work day for a year, and that becomes your habit. If you had only taken the time to consult the map, you would have clearly seen that your habitual route was adding at least an hour and half of driving time to work for just one way. If you had simply taken the interstate south, you could have cut off three hours of driving time every day. This silly example serves to make the point that living by feelings is a horribly inefficient way to live. You can let them direct you, but feelings are very unreliable guides.
When my girls were young, and occasionally misbehaved, I noticed that I would often say, “Please act right.” What an interesting thing to say! It is essentially saying, “Look, you are not behaving the proper way. Please stop doing what you are doing and, even if you do not feel like it or want to, behave this other way instead. Pretend and go through the motions if you must.” Of course, we say that because there is a standard of conduct that we expect and strive for. As Christians, we all aspire to live like Jesus lived - a beautiful, sinless, unselfish life lived entirely for the glory of God. In 1 Corinthians chapter 11, Paul says this plainly and urges the church, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”
Even if we do not feel like it, we should live like Jesus lived and do the things Jesus did because it is the right thing to do. I think it would be proper to say, especially if we do not feel like it, we should choose instead to act like Jesus would have. Jesus always chose unselfishly; His life consistently pointed people towards God and eternity with Him in Heaven, and that is how our lives should look. We can know the way Jesus lived by studying the Word of God consistenly. We can know what is real and true by knowing and memorizing the Bible, and by heeding the voice of God.
-Tomorrow, if I wake up feeling full of doubts and fears, I can remind myself that the Bible says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
-If I feel like a failure and a mistake, I can remember that Psalms 139 tells me, “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.”
-If I feel like doing something really selfish and wicked, I can recall what Galatians 5 informs, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
-If I feel like blowing up and letting someone else just have it, I can recall what Jesus said again and again, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
-If I feel like I cannot possible bear the circumstances in my life without the help of some other substance, I can recall the truth of 1 Corinthians 10, "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." Instead of using a crutch, I will start looking for God's help.
After all, going forward and acting on my feelings of gloom and despair will not help anyone know God better, least of all myself. Acting on my feelings of selfishness or anger will likely lead me to do or say something I will regret, and might cause pain to someone else. Numbing myself when I feel overwhelmed will make me miss so much in life. Giving in to feeling that myself or anyone else is unworthy and unloved will not lead anyone at all towards eternity with God. Feelings certainly seem powerful, but they have no power in the face of truth.
Our society is trying in vain to live by feelings, which is all you have left once you throw away truth and reality. Christians used to be called People of the Book, and this is something we should strive to become again. We do not have to be lead by ever-changing feelings. We can be guided by truth and love, which never fail.
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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