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Ask A Pastor: Faith vs. Feelings?

The Question:

Feelings (emotions) vs Faith. For example: How do I fight the struggle of always saying I “feel” really close to God right now, Bible verses come easy etc. Then the next week say I “feel” so far from God, I don’t get the same guidance and I’m struggling and feel like He’s not there.

The Answer:

Thanks for this question. It’s a great question and one that all of God’s people wrestle with to various degrees. This would be a great discussion topic to bring up with your pastor/elder and some of God’s people some Lord’s Day evening! Here are a few brief things to consider.

1. Feelings are a Part of Faith

First, the life of faith certainly includes feelings. If you read the Psalms you find a wide range of emotions: love and hatred, sorrow and joy, anxiety and confidence, hope and fear etc…. I would encourage you to prayerfully read and study the Psalms and I’m sure you will find your own experience there. If you think of Psalm 42, for example, the Psalmist is reasoning (even preaching) to himself: “Why art thou cast down O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God” (Psalm 42:11). There is quite a range of “feeling” even in this verse: everything from being “cast down,” “disquieted” (anxious, restless), to feelings that result in “praise,” and “health of countenance.”

2. Feelings are Often Unreliable

Second, it is important to realize that our feelings are often very unreliable. Our feelings, even after regeneration, still often come under the influence of sin. You have it in the Psalm above – the Psalmist realizes there is something inappropriate about his current feeling. If God is “the health of my countenance,” if the LORD is “my God,” then what reason do I have to be cast down? To feel disquieted (restless, anxious)? But you can also think of the other side of this coin: There is also a danger that people “feel” that God loves them, “feel” that everything is well with my soul, when it is not. Look at Psalm 73:3-19.

3. Faith Holds to the Lord in Spite of Feelings

Third, faith always holds onto the Lord and His word even in spite of feelings. Our feelings are unreliable, but the word of God is not. It is sure. It is always reliable. This is why Solomon says that the person who “trusts” (puts faith) in his own heart (feelings) is a fool (Prov. 28:26).

Think of Isaiah 50:10. Here is a person who fears the Lord and is obedient to Jehovah’s servant – a godly man or woman. But look at their situation and imagine their feelings: even though they have godly fear and live an obedient life, this verse says, “they walk in darkness and have no light.” What kinds of feeling do we associate with darkness? Fear. Uncertainty. Anxiety. Doubt. Loneliness. In this case, the godly person “feels” as if God is far away. “Where is the Lord? Why am I here? Has the Lord forgotten me?” But look now at the counsel such a person is given: “Let him trust in the name of the LORD and stay (lean) on their God.” Now, it’s true, isn’t is, you can’t lean on someone who is far away? Feeling says, “I’m all alone, God is far away”; Faith says, “The Lord has promised never to leave or forsake His people, so I will lean, I will trust in Him.” This is the triumph of faith! The Psalmist did the same thing in Psalm 23: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death (dark, foreboding feelings), (yet faith says) I will fear no evil for thou art with me, thy rod and staff comfort me.”

Indeed, Jesus Christ is the greatest example of what it is to exercise faith even when feelings say something entirely different. What darkness and loneliness and pain he really did feel and suffer when he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me, why art thou so far from helping me?” (Psalm 22:1). And yet, if you look through Psalm 22 (which is certainly Messianic), you will see all these actions of faith that hold onto God and His covenant promises:

• He holds onto God as his covenant God: “My God my God” (v1), “O my God” (v2)

• He appeals to God’s past faithfulness: “Our fathers trusted in thee and thou didst deliver them”(v4)

• He appeals to God’s faithfulness to him since childhood: “Thou art my God from my mother’s belly” (v10)

• He finds his strength in God: “O my strength, haste thee to help me” (v19)

• He appeals to God alone for help and deliverance: “Be not far from me for trouble is near” (v11) “Haste thee to help me” (v19), “Deliver my soul from the sword, my darling (my precious life) from the power of the dog,” “Save me from the lion’s mouth” (v20)

• Gloriously, after the long silence, he experiences the Lord’s salvation: “Thou hast heard me” (v21)

Therefore, the great answer to our unstable and uncertain feelings is to continually look to Jesus, the author and finisher of faith (Heb. 12:2).


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