Too often we worship at the throne of our feelings. We are far more prone to say, “This is how I feel, therefore, I will do . . .,” rather than, “this is what I think, because the Bible says . . .” Today’s emotion-driven Christianity desperately needs the wisdom of this prayer from the Puritan age: Lord, Help me to honor Thee by believing before I feel, for great is the sin if I make a feeling a cause of faith. Stop! Go back and read that again. The only proper ground of faith is the never-changing, always-enduring Word of God. Take the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, the “faith chapter,” for example. Notice the relationship of God’s Word to faith; i.e., how biblical faith is a response to God’s objective revelation, rather than the result of something we feel.
By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised (Hebrews 11:7, 8, 11).
Do you see the pattern? These heroes of faith believed before they felt. If the opposite had been true, we can be assured they would not be members of the Hall of Faith. If Noah had waited until he felt like building a large boat, having never seen rain, he would’ve never driven the first peg. If Abraham had waited until he felt like leaving his parents to obey God’s call, he would’ve died of old age in his father’s house. If Sarah had waited until she felt like believing that a ninety-year-old woman could have a baby, she would still be laughing. What makes these people stand out is their act of obeying God’s revelation even if (especially if) their feelings did not agree. That is biblical faith!
What is so desperately needed among Christians today is a return to the Word of God as the objective standard of truth and the final authority of “what God said” and, therefore, what we must believe and act upon. Far too often we hear things like, “I just know this is God’s will; it just feels right,” when any objective person looking in from the outside can clearly see it is not possible. God has “made an eternal covenant with His Word.” He will not break it because He is true and His Word (His mind in written form) is Truth. He will never lead His children contrary to its clear teachings or general principles—even when our feelings convince us otherwise.
I am not advocating a denial of emotions, for it is God who created us as emotional beings; rather, I am calling us to return emotions to their proper place—as responders to truth, not judges of it. Douglas Wilson says it well: The Bible does not speak of subordinating the emotions to reason, as the rationalists desire, or even of subordinating reason to the emotions, as the romantics want. Rather, the whole man—body, soul, spirit—should be subordinated to the Word of God. The greatest commandment…requires that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4–9). In other words, reason and emotion should stop squabbling like cantankerous siblings and learn to obey their parents directly. Reason must submit to Scripture. The emotions must be brought under the authority of Scripture. And it is the task of true education to see that both do so.
This is what we need. When this is not the habit of our lives, as the Puritans well knew, “great is the sin if [we] make a feeling a cause of faith.