Date: September 13, 2015
Theme: TRUST THE WORD–NOT FEELING!
We live in a “touchy-feely” society that places emphasis on thoughts and emotions. Individuals desire to share their emotional experiences with others and have others share theirs. Beware! Frequently emotions (feelings) lack substance. Emotions can be rubbed raw. Emotions wane. Relationships or friendships built on no more than emotional attachment are built on sand and are subject to change.
We were recently reminded of the fallacy of this mentality as it relates to one’s spiritual life. Bible Class at church and a mini-devotion on the Immanuel Lutheran College web site addressed the subject recently.
The Lord created us with the capacity to be emotional. Happiness is an emotion. We can be emotional at the wedding of a young couple, perhaps even weep at a wedding as well as at the birth of a child. Sadness is an emotion, as are fear and sorrow. We express sorrow at the death of a loved one. Lawyers frequently appeal to the emotion of jurors to win a case. It would indeed be a cold world if humans did not have feelings or have the capacity to be emotional. There is a place for emotion in our faith-life. We have an emotional response to a sermon that has particularly touched a chord in our heart, or when we hear a choral rendition of a Gospel hymn. Emotion is not sin.
How can we not feel a sense of emotion when we have been assured in the words of absolution that our sins are forgiven, particularly if we have felt the burden of a particular sin that has weighed heavily upon us. It is difficult to think of Peter being without emotion when Jesus looked upon him. We expect there was some emotional adrenalin that made Peter run to the empty tomb. Thomas surely felt emotion when he saw the risen Lord. We may feel emotion when we hear children make their confession of faith at confirmation, or when a new member joins our church family. Emotion in our faith-life is not sin. But here is where caution is also in place.
When it comes to the substance of our faith, and to the confidence of salvation, we will want to lay aside emotion which can be as fickle as the wind. We look to Christ and to his Word. So what do you desire when you come to church? A sermon and hymns that edify you unto salvation? Or are you looking for an emotional jag that makes you feel good? The purpose of preaching is to edify unto growth of faith and confidence of salvation. If the Gospel message of forgiveness and life in Christ, as well as the words of a substantive hymn create emotion fine and good, but the hearer is blessed who goes away from the service comforted in heart and mind through the message of God’s love, and strengthened for the life outside the church walls. He is anchored for life and salvation by the Word, not by the resultant emotion and feeling! “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).
Therefore in our Lutheran worship the substance of the sermon as well as the music sets forth the Word of God. Hearers in the worship service will thank the pastor at the end of the service for the Word, not the temporary good feeling they may have had. If the result of the service is simply that everyone goes away with nothing more than an emotional high, it has been a waste. One person in my experience mentioned that in her former “touchy-feely” fellowship she felt a high during the service, but when she walked out the door “it was like the air went out of the balloon.” The hope that we have as an anchor of the soul is God’s word and promise rooted in Christ Jesus, not the good feeling of the moment.
Because emotions and feeling change they cannot be trusted. In this connection C. S. Lewis said, “Though our feeling come and go, God’s love for us does not.” Surely as a fruit of our faith we will love God, but our confidence of salvation does not and cannot depend on how much we love God or even how good we feel that God loves us.
Our confidence of salvation (faith) lies in the fact that God loved us, and still loves us, and always has loved us. That love was manifest in His sending the Lord Jesus Christ to bear our sins in His body, die in our place on the cross, and rise again for our justification! “All the promises of God in Him (Christ) are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God …” (2 Corinthians 1:20). The Psalmist said, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance” (Psalm 42:5) And where are the promises of God found, and through what does He speak to you? His Word! The confidence is not a personal feeling, but a foundational word from God, who says of faith, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17)..
Hear now Luther:
The question now arises, ‘If Christ has taken away death and our sins by his resurrection and has justified us, why do we then still feel death and sin within us? For our sins torment us still, we are stung by our conscience, and this evil conscience creates the fear of hell.’
To this I reply, I have often said before that feeling and faith are two different things. It is the nature of faith not to feel, to lay aside reason and close the eyes, to submit absolutely to the Word, and follow it in life and death. Feeling, however, does not extend beyond that which may be apprehended by reason and the senses, which may be heard, seen, felt, and known by the outward senses. For this cause, feeling is opposed to faith, and faith is opposed to feeling.
Therefore, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews writes of faith, “Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.” For if we would see Christ visibly in heaven, like the visible sun, we would not need to believe it. But since Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification, we cannot see it or feel it, neither can we comprehend it with our reason. Therefore, we must disregard our feeling and accept only the Word, write it into our heart, and cling to it, even though it seems as if my sins were not taken from me, and even though I still feel them within me.
Our feelings must not be considered, but [rather] we must constantly insist that death, sin, and hell have been conquered, [even though] I feel that I am still under the power of death, sin, and hell. For … in spite of all our feelings, we accept the Word, and … unite our hearts and consciences more and more to Christ.
Thus faith leads us quietly, contrary to all feeling and comprehension of reason, through sin, through death, and through hell. Then we shall see salvation before our eyes, and then we shall know perfectly what we have believed, namely, that death and all sorrow have been conquered. (Hendrickson Publishers: Through the Year with Martin Luther, 356-357:12-13)
The Word of God creates faith. The Word of God creates emotion. But take away the Word and there is no faith. Therefore “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly”(Colossinas 3:16), for the Word of God, “it is spirit and it is life” (John 6:63). Whatever moments the dying thief had on the cross before he died, it was not a good feeling that saved him, but faith in Christ and in His promise, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
So then, trust not your emotions or your feelings. Even our faith is sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker. Therefore don’t trust your faith. Christ and His Word never change! Therefore trust in Christ and His Word. That is the faith that saves.
Written by Rev. Daniel Fleischer, 4/2015