Something to Feel About

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son,
who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
~ John 1:14

[What I’m about to write I submit for consideration. I’m exploring things here and would welcome responses.]

TRUTH is true whether you realize it or not.

GRACE is undeserved kindness for you whether you trust it or not.

Our thinking and our feeling about such objective (from outside of us) things as grace and truth are real and important, though not ultimately more important than the grace and truth themselves. Where these meet – our thinking and feeling, and objective truth and grace – is messier than any of us would like to admit. Where these meet is in the personal God – Jesus in the flesh – dwelling with thinking and feeling people in their sin.

The tribe from which I hale (we call it our “confession”) is that of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS). I have looked into the confessions, beliefs, and teachings of many other Christian denominations. My heart is always drawn back to the posture of the LCMS toward the “truths” of scripture: word alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone. One of the things I love about my tribe is that when scripture says something difficult or in tension, we don’t seek to resolve the difficulty of tension, but receive it as mysterious, trusting that God’s ways may not always make sense to my way of thinking.

we don’t seek to resolve the difficulty of tension,
but receive it as mysterious, trusting that God’s ways
may not always make sense to my way of thinking

This by no means keeps people in my tribe from thinking deeply about these issues (baptism, Lord’s supper, election, justification, salvation, etc.). In fact, we are rather cerebral in our approach to the truths of God’s Word! We also have a saying that seeks to keep our thinking in its proper place: “the ministerial use of reason.” This simply means that we use our God-given, yet corrupted reason to understand the ways God reveals Himself to us, but our reason always remains in service to God’s revelation, not in command of it. I love this!

our reason always remains in service to God’s revelation,
not in command of it

At the same time that I love this part of my heritage of faith, I have always sensed that my tribe has a tendency, a strong tendency, towards heavy-handedness and a judgmental posture that doesn’t seem to fit with the beautiful Gospel truths of Jesus we so ardently and thoughtfully write about…and defend.

I would propose that my tribe, and me personally, don’t only think deeply about God’s truths in His Word, but also about His grace. We’ll think about it all day long. But we don’t allow ourselves to feel about it. We don’t allow ourselves to feel about much of anything, because feelings are bad and will mislead you. We have no “ministerial use of emotions” anywhere that I can find. More than that, we bury our emotions and our feelings, believing they are detrimental to our faith (more on this in a minute).

We don’t allow ourselves to feel about much of anything,
because feelings are bad and will mislead you.

Jesus is full of truth and grace.

My experience in my tribe is that we are mostly full of truth.

We have received and kept the clear, beautiful gospel truths of God. For example, we don’t make God’s gifts of baptism and the Lord’s supper into works that we do, but keep them mysterious gifts of God coming to us.

However, we have very little patience for emotions. Not only the emotions of others, but even our own.

We have very little patience for emotions.
Not only the emotions of others, but even our own.

We would find it very difficult to become a “man of sorrows” (see Matthew 26:38) for someone else, but easily be a man of truth to them. We would find it quite impossible to be a man of grace to an emotionally unstable person, but gladly tell them to stop feeling what they are feeling and just believe. Honestly, all of this (truth and grace) is impossible in our own strength. But that’s not my point. In my tradition, we gladly receive the gifts of truth and grace from God through our intellect. But we often avoid any semblance of receiving truth and grace from God anywhere that smacks of our feelings and emotions. Because of this, in my estimation, we are terrible at giving grace to people who don’t have their emotional acts together (or at least look like it).

We are terrible at giving grace to people
who don’t have their emotional acts together
(or at least look like it).

 How long, Lord, must I call for help,
    but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
    but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
    Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
    so that justice is perverted.
~ Habakkuk 1:2-4

Imagine somebody like Habakkuk emotionally complaining in one of our Bible studies about God’s inaction in our day. I would start sweating and do anything I could to get Habakkuk believing right, and quick!

“I don’t have time for you to gush your emotions about God, the world, and your experience! I’m a man of truth (and I think that equals grace). I need you to accept my truth fast, because if you don’t, my own emotions I’ve artfully ignored and covered over will bubble up through the cracks. And I know this is sinful to have these emotions (sarcasm intended), so to shove them back down where they belong I’ll let you see my anger, and I’ll call it ‘righteous indignation.’  I’ll call it ‘sharing the truth in love.'”

I need you to accept my truth fast,
because if you don’t, my own emotions
I’ve artfully ignored and covered over
will bubble up through the cracks.

Am I crazy? Tell me this isn’t the way we Lutherans think.

Why are we so afraid to tell God what we are really feeling? The Psalmists do it over and over again. Habakkuk did it. Nehemiah did it:

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept.
For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
~ Nehemiah 1:4

I actually think that this might be more behind our long-standing conversation about the role of women in the church than the fear of women’s ordination is. We men stuff our emotions better than women. We think that is a commendable spiritual aptitude. But its the opposite! It’s presenting a false self to God, who (by the way) sees right through us! This makes us afraid of women in much of any role, unless they act more like men in being emotionally detached. (Maybe I opened a can of worms here. So…moving on…)

I’m not saying that we should become a big lalapalooza-feelings-fest of emotions throwing up all over everyone. But set foot inside most of our churches and you will be hard-pressed to find many environments where people are honestly sharing their feelings to God and a few other trusted friends, especially men. Most of how we’ve set ourselves up makes sure that emotions will not come close to our gatherings, except when we sing “A Mighty Fortress” or “Thy Strong Word;” or, annually at our Good Friday Tenebrae service. By keeping emotions away, we keep people away…and God away.

By keeping emotions away, we keep people away…and God away.

I’m exaggerating a little, yes. But not that much.

Jesus was not afraid to bring the truth of Himself into the messiness of people’s thinking and feeling. He actually pitched His tent right in the middle of it. And He did it to make the grace of God real to people’s faulty thinking and their faulty feeling.

The Gospel is not a proposition. It is a person. Jesus, ready for you to beat on His chest in anger at God. Ready for you to break down in tears at the mess you’ve made of your life. Ready for you to tell Him how you hate another person. Ready for you to confess that you don’t want to spend time in His Word because you think He doesn’t care about you.

He already knows these things. You acting like you don’t feel this stuff isn’t fooling Jesus. It’s fooling you into a purely reasonable, heady faith, where you don’t have to really trust Jesus. And when you live there, you’re bound to be mean to anyone who openly expresses the same feelings you are covering up in your own power.

Just something to think about and maybe…feel.

Author | Steve

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4 thoughts on “Something to Feel About

  1. Steve, you know it’s true. We “feelers” have learned to keep them hidden because feelings are suspect. I have been teaching a Sunday school class on Luth worship, and, of course, had the usual discussion about contemporary music. “Those songs are all about feelings!” one participant objected. I, too, am theologian enough to want my hymns to have content, but really, what is wrong with feeling? Our tribe is still in reaction against Pietism, which was about excess in feeling, or confusing feeling with objective truth. Here’s another very now example. I have been reading about wearing a safety pin as a signal to “despised” people that they are safe with me. How sad that wearing a cross does not communicate that kind of love and non-judgmental compassion! Uh uh! People might get the idea that I thought their sinful messy lives were acceptable.

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    • Thanks for the thoughts (and feelings) Kris. Cool thing is, in Jesus, we are free to suffer abuse on behalf of the Gospel. We don’t have to pretend, or stuff our feelings, or throw out our intellect (as flawed as they are). We can bring exactly who we are to Jesus and let Him redeem every part of us.

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  2. Just a thought–do you suppose this has something to do with our German heritage? I remember as a child that my very German grandmother would shake my hand rather than giving me a hug or a kiss when it was time for me to go home. We even have movies of her shaking my baby brother’s hand. I don’t ever remember hugs, kisses, or tears from anyone in my father’s family. Not even at funerals.

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    • Nancy,

      Great question. I do think it is somewhat a German thing, but probably more of a Lutheran distrust of pietistic faith (which Kris Bruun mentions in her comment). More than that, I believe it is the enemy’s move to lie to us about our emotional being, which is a creation of God. Just like anything else which God created good, the enemy tries to get us to think, or feel, in the dark. The more we bring our real emotional self (and rational self) into the light, the more we get to see the amazing miracles of God redeeming and transforming us…and others too.

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