Idolizing Our Feelings

Emotions are a wonderful gift from God. In them we experience the delights of joy as well as the pain of loss. They drive us to pursue good things and repulse us from the undesirable. Our emotions allow us to connect with people as well as keeping us from connecting with people. They are complex and, many times, fickle, but to live life without them would be dull. Who really wants to be Mr. Spock with his cold logic? God didn’t create us Vulcans.

But emotions are tricky. They make good servants but terrible masters. Because we have been radically corrupted by sin, our emotions have been distorted. We desire to do things that will destroy us, and we are repulsed by that which is good for us. We delight in evil at times and experience pain in righteousness. We are motivated to pursue that which is to our hurt, and we are repulsed by that which is ultimately good for us. This is our reality as emotional beings. 

Nevertheless, some people live their lives guided, to a large degree, by their emotions. We hear it in everyday speech. People don’t “think” this or that about a certain person or subject. They “feel” this or that about a certain person or subject. Many tend to make judgments based on almost purely visceral reactions rather than good, well thought out information. While emotions will (and should!) play a role in our lives, there are times that they become our guide to good and evil and what we should do and not do. 

The problems with this should be obvious. Our feelings change so much from day to day. Those changes come with age, hormones, and the state of the weather. Making judgments about the worthiness or unworthiness of a person or situation based on my feelings is dangerous and unstable. 

We need something much more stable than our feelings to guide us; something in which our feet can be solidly grounded so that we are not tossed about by every change of feeling. God has given us that firm foundation: his covenant word. It assures us when we are feeling low and unworthy that we, nevertheless, belong to him and need not fall deeper into despair. His word puts boundaries on our lives, protecting us from the harm that comes from following after sinful pursuits. So, even if our desires to pursue that which would destroy us–sin–are strong, we have his word and Spirit to guide and strengthen us to say, “No” to the sin and our desires. Our emotions, like every other aspect of humanity, must be conformed to the image of Christ. 

However, there are times when we idolize our feelings. To make an idol of something is give to some part of the creation that which rightfully belongs to the Creator. To turn to idols is to turn to something or someone besides God to give you guidance, to tell you what is good and evil, to place the boundaries on your life, and to judge you according to those standards. To idolize something is to seek its love and approval above the love and approval of God himself. We do this with ourselves every time we sin. We set ourselves and our feelings up as “Lord” over our lives. 

Through his word, Jesus tells you to “be kind.” We say, “I don’t feel like being kind.” Then we justify our lack of kindness by saying, “If acted kind, I wouldn’t be true to what I’m feeling right now. It would be a lie. It would be inauthentic.” This is tantamount to saying, “Jesus, I don’t care what you told me to do, I don’t feel like it right now, so I’m not doing it!” This is a case of idolizing your feelings.

Jesus tells you to forgive your brother. “Well, I’m not comfortable dealing with that right now.” You have exalted your feelings above the word of Jesus. That is idolatry. We are commanded to “be compassionate” and “tender-hearted.” We respond, “But I don’t feel compassionate or tender-hearted.” We have put our feelings above the commands of Jesus and bowed to our emotions as Lord. Husbands are told to love their wives, and wives are told to respect their husbands. Our feelings aren’t to be the condition of our obedience to these commands. These commands are to determine what we do despite how we feel about it.

We are never commanded, “When you get around to feeling like obeying, obey.” Sometimes the actions of obedience precede the actual desires to obey. To act in obedience without the feeling is called faith. Faith is trusting the word of God above everything else ... even my own feelings. Only when our feet our firmly ground in his word and we act in accordance to it, in spite of our feelings at times, will our emotions come in line and be formed into the image of Christ.

If we have been allowing our comfort or discomfort with the commands of Christ dictate whether or not we actually obey, now would be a good time to recognize that and repent of our idolatry.