I’m not talking about “fuck” or “faggot.” I’m talking about “feelings.”
One of the first lessons I learned as a young high school aged Christian was “feelings are the F word in Christianity.” My high school pastor, who was pivotal in my spiritual journey, was pretty adamant about this and incorporated the concept regularly into his teaching. As a youth worker, you always hope at least some of what you say will catch and stick, and this one definitely caught and stuck with me.
It makes perfect sense from many perspectives. As Christians, we can’t just do something God has told us not to do because we feel like it, and we can’t not do something He has told us to do because we don’t feel like it. When ultimate authority and absolute truth are involved, our feelings, ultimately, are absolutely irrelevant.
I recently watched a sermon by well-known pastor, speaker and author Francis Chan in which he expands on this concept. He said if God tells us to do something, even if it seems completely irrational within our own understanding, whatever we feel should not impact our obedience. If God for some reason said that all Chinese people have to stand on his head, he would stand on his head, just because he’s Chinese- something he didn’t choose and can’t change. It might not feel right, or fair, or whatever else we might feel about it, but feelings are the F word in Christianity.
I’m part of the Millenial generation, which seems to have elevated personal feeling above all else. We’re one of the first generations that will be able to look back at all our online records and see just how opinionated we’ve been about all our F words. I have to admit, it is definitely out of control, and I can definitely recognize that I’m no exception to the stereotype. I’ve been doing a lot of F-ing lately.
One of the arguments that’s starting to emerge as part of the reasoning for full inclusion of LGBT people in the life and ministry of The Church is this idea that exclusion is hurting our feelings and causing negative emotional consequences. The fact that exclusion and discrimination occurs based on something that most people now accept is as much of a choice and is as unchangeable as skin color is undeniable, but most Christian leaders seem to still feel like “Who cares?” If we want to get down to the nitty gritty, most would say that the exclusion is based on the choice to participate in gay sex, but in reality that’s really not what it’s about at all, because gay people are still excluded and treated differently whether they have, currently do or plan to have gay sex at all, anyway. But there’s still this argument like gay people feel The Church should change just because it hurts their feelings. In some sense the argument almost feels similar to the idea of reparation, or paying the descendants of African slaves for what their ancestors endured, because it caused generations to be stuck in the cycle of poverty. The Church does not owe LGBT people anything based on how it has mistreated LGBT people in the past, or even how it treats LGBT people today. I can totally understand how The Church and its leadership can legitimately find the hurt feelings of gay people irrelevant, because the mentality is that they are trying to love us out of what they believe is sin, and they believe any unhappiness caused is the result of sin and not of rejection. The argument that gay people are owed inclusion due to hurt feelings is almost as equally as weak as the whole “everyone’s a sinner, so I can be a gay sinner” argument.
What’s interesting is that our faith seems to revolve quite a bit around our feelings and emotions. The most appreciated speakers are those who can expertly share articulately from their own experiences well enough to stir up feelings within their audience and elicit an emotional response that will resonate outside of the church walls and beyond Sundays. The presence of the Holy Spirit is a feeling that feels a certain way, and although it’s indescribable our best efforts all sound pretty similar. When we pray, we feel like God is speaking to us, and we have to be sensitive to those feelings for continual leading and guidance. When we read The Bible, we trust that what we feel is a spiritual gift from the Holy Spirit, enabling us to discern truth and further understand God’s Character.
That’s quite a lot of F-ing.
Everything we feel should be tested with Scripture to determine if it is something that God would really call us to do. The ultimate determining factor is typically the simply complex “What Would Jesus Do?”
If you were a pastor, what would you say if a member in your church told you something like this:
“You know, Pastor, I really feel like God has been working in my heart and life lately in way that feels pretty uncomfortable. What I feel God calling me to do feels way outside of my comfort zone, and I feel if I am obedient, it will be very difficult. I feel being obedient to this call will cost me a lot- maybe some relationships, maybe some reputation, maybe even financially, but I feel I can’t ignore this strong burden God has placed on my heart. I feel God has called me to reach and serve a group that many might see as ‘the least of these,’ and to communicate God’s love for these people to them directly and to larger Body of Christ. The way I feel God has called me to do this might seem to contradict what many religious believe, and it may even be seen as heresy, but I genuinely feel that’s what Jesus did, and would do. I want show and teach love for these people unconditionally, meeting them exactly where they’re at, walking with them, eating with them, speaking with them, including them, and calling them to ministry, because I feel that’s what Jesus did, and would do. I feel particularly called to this particular form of ministry because I feel like I may understand this group of people more than most, because I am also a member of this group.”
I feel that most pastors would say something like, “Feels right to me. Sounds like something Jesus would do.”
Then imagine you’re that pastor, and that member then says, “I feel like that group is the LGBT community.”
Somehow that changes things. That’s when all that good, well-discerned Christian feeling becomes nothing more than F-ing. You can’t feel that. That feeling is absolutely irrelevant, because that pastor has never felt what it’s like to be gay, and that member needs approval from a pastor. Ultimate authority and absolute truth comes from people, not from God and The Bible, don’t you know. Some feelings are right, and some are wrong, because I say so, just as much as you do. Who knows? Well, God knows, and I’m not God, and neither are you.
When it comes down to it, we are all just one of 7.125 billion people in the world at the moment, and just one of the estimated 107 billion people in the history of the world. We live on one planet in one solar system. Science suggests that there are approximately 100 billion solar system in the Milky Way galaxy, which is just one of an estimated 100 billion galaxies in the universe. If we look at it that way, we might realize just how irrelevant our feelings and emotions really are. We can feel whatever we want, and channel those feelings into whatever action we feel like God would call us to, we can teach what we feel is right, we can make whatever difference we feel is necessary, and we can feel as satisfied or dissatisfied with the results as we want, but we are here today and gone tomorrow.
Life is the longest thing we will ever do, but The Bible teaches that our lifetime is just a breath and is like nothing to God (Psalm 39). That can definitely cause a lot of apathy and feel like real downer, but it is actually really beautiful. Many of us, including myself, often get caught up with what we feel is our God-given calling in life, but understanding and accepting our extremely minute position in the God’s creation can actually release a lot of the emotional F-ing of what we feel God has created us for.
When Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, one account, seen in Luke 22, He was overcome with such strong feeling and emotion that He began to sweat blood. Hematohidrosis is an extremely rare clinical phenomenon that only occurs in cases of extraordinary stress and anxiety; Biblical authors would not have understood this phenomenon at all, despite all the God-Breathed Holy Spirit inspiration, but modern science and medical understanding helps us to further understand this ancient context. Imagine that. Knowing what was coming up had Jesus feeling all kinds of ways. Many pastors might suggest to their church members that something that causes so much F-ing stress and anxiety could never be from God, but The Bible and the life of Jesus always teach us that what God calls us to do can result in some pretty powerful feelings and emotions before, during and after we demonstrate obedience by doing it.
I feel pretty thankful for Jesus’ example. How do you feel?