|Volume 2||December 1, 2003||Issue 20|
Hooked on a Feeling
Does a child know that a parent loves him or her even when the parent is not physically present to affirm that love? More important, do we know that God, our Father loves us only if and when we sense his presence? Is a feeling of His presence proof of His presence or is He present because he is the omnipresent God?
Much is said about feelings and the warm fuzzy feelings that are associated with the understanding many people have about love in today's world. There seems to be great emphasis on the role that feelings play in evaluation of whether or not God is with us.
Some thirty plus years ago, while sitting on a mountaintop in South Viet Nam, I could look in one direction and see a peninsula gorged with 80,000 refugees who had fled North Viet Nam. In another direction I could see a colony of lepers. I was the sole member of my unit on that mountain and had been sent to do a job that would take five or six weeks. There were some other people there, but they had their jobs to do and there was little or no interaction with me. I worked from early in the day into the late afternoon for several weeks in the hot sun. My workplace was a small platform perched on top of telephone poles on the highest point of the mountain. The solitude of this setting gave me a lot of time to think. My thoughts frequently centered around the days that were passing with no letters from Sherri. We had made a promise to each other to write every day while we were apart, and to my knowledge we faithfully kept that promise. The first few weeks passed and I didn't receive a single letter. Not once did I question whether or not she had written. Neither did I wonder about her feelings for me. I had absolute confidence that she had kept her promise. I was so confident that I threatened my immediate superior that if I didn't get my mail brought to me, I would be coming down from the mountain to get it myself. In a few days I received a big stack of letters that I meticulously sorted into date order before reading every word of each letter. I never doubted whether or not Sherri had kept her promise to write and my letters continued to go out each day. My feelings did not enter the picture. I simply knew!
As children of God, He promises in His Word that He is with us and hears and answers our prayers. Many people today must have an emotional feeling or a physical event to give assurance to their belief in God. This can become dangerous. The Devil is active and able to do many things to alter our feelings either in a way that makes us "feel like" God is not with us, or perhaps give us a false feeling of His presence. Our feelings are not reliable as a measure of God's involvement in our lives. Consider the story of Job for a moment. After suffering in so many ways, Job might surely have taken his wife's counsel to "...curse God and die" (Job 2:9) if he had relied only on his feelings.
We need to consider the role of our feelings and the impact they can have in our relationship with God. It's important that we understand that God has not made the validity of our relationship with Him dependent on our feelings. Instead, we must rely on the reality of His presence because of the truth of His word. He is because He is! His presence does not depend on our feeling like He is with us.
"...In the beginning God..." (Genesis 1:1 KJV; NIV; NASB)
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning." (John 1:1-2 NIV)
"...and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20 NASB)
God always was and always will be. Whether or not an individual "feels like" there is a God, does not change the fact that God is. Those who have accepted salvation and have become joint heirs with Christ, receive a special presence of God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38 clearly promises that those who accept Christ in baptism will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of their sins. Those are promises and we should accept them as such with absolutely no doubt. Those who constantly need to be reassured that God keeps His promises, by experiencing some physical sign or emotional feeling, are not only lacking in faith but also doubting the very words of God.
The world today is all about the physical physical appearance, physical sounds, physical expressions of affection. Many present day Christians are so caught up in the physical, that the more the senses and emotions are touched, the more convinced they are of God's involvement in their lives. As we said earlier, this is dangerous. Near the beginning of this article I related a story of my confidence in the fact that letters existed from Sherri. Physical evidence, other people, and feelings would have failed to give me confidence in my assurance that she had written the letters. In the same way, if Christians rely on their feelings, they will fall short. What if like Job circumstances or events that have produced a positive feeling that God is with us were to suddenly disappear? Would belief and trust in God also disappear? If as Christians, we believe that the more physical or emotional evidence there is, the more convinced we are that we belong to Christ, then does it also hold true that the less physical evidence there is, the less convinced we are? Again, what if Job had "operated" on that basis? Would his faith in God have remained secure? When he was tormented by the Devil, everything physical suggested to him that God had left him to be destroyed. It is in the absence of physical or emotional stimulus that our absolute faith in God and knowledge of His Word keeps our relationship sound. Having this faith and knowledge instead of relying on feelings was the source of strength for many Christians who have preceded us many even to their deaths, never doubting God's involvement in their lives.
It is true that there are, in the Old Testament numerous instances where God displayed physical proof of His presence and His existence. Let's look at one of those examples where someone did question whether or not the Lord was with him because of the series of events he had endured. He was so in doubt that he asked the Lord to prove to him that it was really God who was speaking to him. Let's read the account from the book of Judges.
"When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, 'The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.' 'But sir,' Gideon replied, 'if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, 'Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?' But now the Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.' The Lord turned to him and said, 'Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?' 'But Lord,' Gideon asked, 'how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.' The Lord answered, 'I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.' Gideon replied, 'If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me." (Judges 6:12-17 NIV)
"Gideon said to God, 'If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.' And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew a bowlful of water. Then Gideon said to God, 'Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew.' That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew." (Judges 6:36-40 NIV)
The Old Testament is filled with examples of God proving His existence. A couple of the more spectacular ones might be the plagues on Egypt in the book of Exodus (chapters 7-11) and the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel in I Kings 18:16-39. God frequently proved His existence and presence in a variety of ways including signs and physical demonstrations. We must understand however that the Old Testament or Old Law was a teaching tool to prepare the way for Christ's arrival. God no longer needs to prove that He is or that He is God. We have the written Word that is ours to accept or reject. That Word includes all of those Old Testament demonstrations of God's power and presence. We are to learn from it. In fact we are told in Romans 15:4 that
"...whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." (KJV)
Galatians 3:24-26 tells us that the Old Law was our "schoolmaster." The New King James Version and the New American Standard Bible use the word "tutor" in place of "schoolmaster."
"Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." (KJV)
God no longer needs to prove His presence or existence by giving us signs in the form of warm fuzzy feelings or any other form that we might need to indicate God is with us. We must believe the promises in His Words rather than require constant affirmation. The New Testament makes it very clear that God's Word is sufficient for us to accept His presence based on His promises. His Son came to earth, died on the cross and three days later rose from the dead. Jesus Himself, made it clear that His own Resurrection was the sign that all generations could look to for any proof they would ever need.
"Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, 'Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.' He answered, 'A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.'" (Matthew 12:38-41 KJV)
When it becomes necessary for Christians to experience some sort of "feeling" to provide them with the emotional or physical evidence to "see" that God is "there," Satan has deceived them and they no longer have faith.
"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible." (Hebrews 11:1-3 NIV)