“Feelings, nothing more than feelings,” goes the 1974 classic by Morris Albert, and sometimes our actions seem to be governed by nothing else.
How many marriages have ended because “I just don’t feel like I love you anymore”? How many people have committed suicide because they feel that life is not worth living? How many people are addicted to various substances because “it makes me feel so good”?
Our physical feelings are essential to life. Hunger, thirst, tiredness and pain are all part of the body’s warning system to ensure that it stays alive and avoids damage.
However, our emotional feelings can be very deceptive and are often influenced by false information from our senses (like an amputee’s ghost pains), hormone imbalances (ask any woman with PMT!), sleep deprivation (ask any parent of small children), chemical influence (like drugs) or environmental manipulation (like advertising).
What we feel is not necessarily the truth: a person may feel they are a girl when every cell in their body is declaring they are a boy; a runaway may feel no one cares for them when their parents are distraught at home; a drunk may feel witty and interesting when others see them as babbling and pitiful.
Toddlers are entirely governed by their feelings and well-known for the tantrums when those feelings are challenged. However, with maturity comes the understanding that we have some control over our feelings. Adults get up and go to work even when they feel like sleeping in; they listen politely to a speech although they feel bored; they don’t eat the whole tub of ice-cream although they feel greedy; and they don’t lie down in the supermarket kicking and screaming although they feel frustrated with the queue.
Controlling one’s feelings is not only a sign of maturity, it is praised in society. We celebrate long marriages, where people have no doubt had to overcome feelings of misunderstanding, boredom, sexual temptation, unforgiveness and resentment in their many years together. War heroes overcome their feelings of fear to save others, great athletes overcome feelings of exhaustion to break records, and people like inventor Thomas Edison make breakthroughs by overcoming their feelings of failure and disappointment, to keep trying.
Morality, at its core, is about overcoming our natural feelings – not scratching every itch, not taking what is not ours, not giving into our fury at someone else etc.
In post-Christian Western society, however, morality and duty are giving way to a hedonistic world-view where everything is justified by “because I want to” or “because I feel like it”.
People leave their families because they “feel trapped”, sue others because they “feel slighted” or commit crimes because they “feel uncontrollable anger”. Everyone is very quick to jump on their high horse if their feelings are offended in any way.
In the Bible we see that God, in Whose image we are created, also has feelings. He displays anger, jealousy, joy, pride, compassion and regret, among other things, and we learn that our feelings are God-created and important. However, we are also instructed not to be blinded and controlled by our feelings.
One of the promises of Christianity is that, because God puts His Holy Spirit within us at conversion, we have access to a power greater than ourselves to help us manage our feelings. While our feelings are often involved in bringing us to Jesus – for instance regret at our past and hopelessness at our future – once we make Jesus Lord of our lives, He becomes Lord of our feelings too and we are no longer a slave to them.
Not only does God give grace to control negative emotions and impulses but He gives Christians new feelings and desires that they wouldn’t have had naturally.
That is why many Christians have forgiven great offences, loved society’s unlovables, spent their live in service in inhospitable places and bravely stood up for their faith in the face of torture or death.
The world may ‘feel’ that they are foolish but the truth is they have exercised their will and self-control over their feelings to serve a higher purpose – making the name of God great.