“Always trust your feelings.”
This is one of the great “untruths” of our time. Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt penned a book last year entitled, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. Even though this book isn’t written from an explicitly Christian perspective, it’s a thought-provoking work that deserves wide circulation. They address three great “untruths” and one of them is: always trust your feelings.
I’m guessing this modern, American value isn’t surprising to you. We’ve been fed the message “indulge your emotions” for decades. It was only a matter of time before someone finally connected the dots. “If satisfying my emotions is good, then my emotions must be right.”
Lukianoff and Haidt draw on ancient classics to demonstrate how radically different the mantra “always trust your feelings” is from centuries of previous cultures. Summing up writers such as Boethius and Epictetus, they state, “Sages in many societies have converged on the insight that feelings are always compelling, but not always reliable. Often they distort reality, deprive us of insight, and needlessly damage our relationships.”
While the Bible discourages stoicism (read the Psalms!), it also raises suspicion as to the trustworthiness of our emotions. (Numbers 13-14 and is a superb case study in our emotions’ ability to distort reality.)
But perhaps the clearest way to think of this is to look at the life and ministry of Jesus. If you grant that Jesus loved all people really well, then what do you do with the hoards of people who did not like the way Jesus loved them? There were times when Jesus frustrated religious leaders and even enraged mobs – to the point of them killing him. But he loved them well. This reality confronts us with an interesting disjunction: feeling loved and being loved are not the same thing.
It is possible for you to love someone truly, but they don’t feel loved by you. (If you’re a parent, you get this!) Understand that in a society that holds to the unwritten value of “always trust your feelings” such situations will be challenging to walk through because the charge is easily made: “if I don’t feel loved by you, you are guilty of not loving me.” This “emotional blackmail,” as one pastor describes it, is an unjust device.
The conclusion of the matter is relatively straightforward: we need something outside ourselves, outside our thoughts, outside our emotions, outside our cultural values to turn to in order to understand what love is and isn’t. We need God’s Word. We need to read it frequently, thoroughly, thoughtfully, and with a posture that says, “This is the very Word of God – each syllable is authoritative.” Only then will we be able to truly love and feel like Jesus.