As human beings created in the image and likeness of G-d, we are all endowed with these wonderful things called emotions. We have been given the incredible privilege of possessing a very wide range of feelings which ebb and flow in response to the circumstantial climate we are in. Emotions are an internal thermometer inside of us which activates a neurological sensory response to the world around us. We also have 5 fantastic physical senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch through which we interpret our surroundings as well as communicate and interact with others. I realize that this moment is probably not the first time this whole idea has been introduced to you and I imagine you probably already know that you possess these things. No news flash here.
Even though we know these are things we all have built within us and we probably have been using them for a good number of years now, we are by no means experts on what to do with them or what they are really all about. The truth is that because our senses and emotions are things G-d created and put in us, He is the supreme authority on how they were designed to be used. He holds the owner’s manual on our hearts. He knows the depths of our inner person because he formed us and designed each cell and atom to work together in a beautifully orchestrated symphony of anatomical genius. (Ps 139)
In our ignorance, we often misuse these innate little gifts and when used inappropriately they can be highly destructive to our hearts and lives. This is especially true when it comes to our spiritual lives.
The vast majority of what I see being called faith today and what I hear being labeled as a “move of G-d” is rooted not in truth but in experience. Closeness to the Father is measured in feelings, sensations, impressions, “divine hunches” and the way a certain spiritual encounter made one feel. The closer we feel to G-d, the closer we think we are.
Now as I said at the beginning of this post, emotions and senses are truly awe inspiring things but when they are mis-directed or used to navigate our lives and choices, they have a power and will all their own and become fueled by the soulish drives of our carnal humanity. Emotions and senses can be manipulated. They are like the variable “x” in an algebra equation. When they are not under the direction of the Spirit of G-d, by default, they become yielded to the flesh…which is Satan’s playground. When we do not submit ourselves to the L-rd and filter our experiences through the truth of His word, we all too easily will yield to the temptation of trusting what we felt or experienced over what scripture teaches to be immovably solid and true. Emotions, thoughts and sensory experiences that are not completely yielded to the L-rd become loose canons and we will be deceived when we use these highly unpredictable wild cards to navigate our choices and beliefs.
It seems in the present day religious culture of our nation that one can hardly set foot into a service or pick up a book without hearing some very distinct messages about what I will refer to as “feel good faith.” It is in effect not truly faith at all because it is based upon the foundation of personal spiritual experiences and emotions. True faith is to put our total and complete trust in Elohim…the creator and sustainer of all life. It is a trust in the nature and character of the one true G-d who is the same yesterday, today and for all of eternity. It is not a trust based upon feelings, warm fuzzies or senses. We trust because He is supremely trustworthy and binds Himself to His own covenant and fulfills to the letter every word He says He will do. His love and faithfulness are everlasting and He is not like man that he should lie or wake up one day and have a personality makeover.
Having a “faith” built on emotion or sensory-based experiences is like taking refuge in a port-a-potty during a tornado. That sounds ridiculous of course…who would want to risk being pulled up in a cyclonic vacuum? In the same way, how do we expect to withstand the storms of life if we are not rooted and grounded in the truth of G-d’s word and placing our full and complete trust in the immovable anchor of His character? Where did we get the idea that our “experiences” were a safe thing to place our trust in to define reality? How can we prove the accuracy of our experiences when they dwell in the realm of emotional variables?
Herein lies one of the greatest dangers of having an experienced-based faith. It is our human nature to base reality on feelings. If we felt it, then it must be real. We become one with our experiences and when someone disagrees with our experience then they have disagreed with us. Tracking with me? So if our spiritual lives are defined by the “spiritual experiences” we feel in a service and we have decided that because we felt it then it must be real and if we think it’s real then it must have been from G-d then we are now in a dangerous predicament. It’s dangerous because if someone challenges what we are sure we have experienced and that experience is the foundational basis of how we relate to G-d then one tiny kick to the side of our “faith” will send that house made of straw falling down around us. It then becomes a game of my experience vs. your experience.
This is especially sticky, for example, when you encounter a situation where someone has justified a bizarre action or decision with “the L-rd told me to do such and such”. Your spiritual antenna buzzes, a little red flag goes up and you now are in the realm of trying to determine the accuracy of someone’s said experience based on the fruit of their bizarre behaviors.
Here is the other side to this deceptive coin: there is the one who proves their faith by their experiences which automatically creates the flip side of the one who, by contrast, thinks they have no authentic relationship with G-d because they lack these feelings, manifestations, experiences, etc. So if they didn’t feel warm fuzzies or have goosebumps or feel a warm sensation or the like, then “something must be wrong with me.” Can you see what a dangerous dichotomy has now been created because experiences have defined reality?
Like I said earlier in this post, emotions and experiences can be moved and manipulated. You can be having a glorious and wonderful day and feel on cloud nine and one bad experience in a grocery store line, a traffic jam, a hurtful conversation with a family member or a myriad of other life circumstances can immediately and involuntarily alter your emotional state in a fraction of an instant. If natural events can manipulate emotion and change how we feel about our lives (even momentarily), how much more potentially destructive can a change in feeling or experience rock our spiritual worlds when we let that define our reality in G-d?
So if not from warm fuzzy feelings and experiences, where does true faith come from? How do we know if what we are defining our relationship with G-d by is truly accurate?
We must put our wholehearted trust in the nature and character of G-d and allow the truth of His word to be the plumb-line which we measure our experiences up against. In the same way that we hold and handle different things in different ways in the natural, we are to treat spiritual things the same way. The grip you hold on a hammer when you drive a nail or the way you hold the leash on your Rottweiler is different than the way you would hold a baby or catch a lightening bug. In the spiritual sense, we should hold hard and fast to the truth of scripture for it is our foundation. It is strong, solid and immovable. It is what we should anchor our lives to. Teachings of man, warm fuzzy spiritual experiences, prophetic words that people give, etc. we should hold a bit more loosely and open-handed to allow the L-rd to show us what is of Him and what is not. These are the variable factors–not the constants. These are the things we have to test, sift through and watch the fruit of to see if they truly be from Him. Sometimes things that appear to be “of the L-rd” are not. Just because you felt it, doesn’t mean it was reality.
We have a responsibility to diligently guard and keep our hearts in check and filter our emotional and experiential messages through the truth of scripture which is never wrong and will never change. This produces a trust that is not easily shaken because it is built on the foundation of a G-d whose faithfulness never changes, whose love never runs dry and whose character is more dependable than the sun that pierces the horizon and heralds each morning. He is our rock and the fortress upon which we must build our lives. Experiences will change. Emotions will fluctuate. If we evaluate reality based on things that move, then we will totter to and fro based on this variable environment. If we are firmly rooted in truth, we can build a trust that is tried and true and that will carry us through any storm we face in this life.