Have you noticed how everyone today seems to tell us what and how they feel? “I feel like we should pray about that before we do it.” “I feel like Hillary Clinton would make a terrible (or wonderful) president.” “I feel like that’s an unfair statement.” I could be wrong here, but aren’t these “I feel” statements more common than they used to be? It may be a matter of mere semantics or a matter of the evolution of the English language. But it may just be more than that. It may just point us to something we ought to consider.
There is a hierarchy when it comes to the ways we express ourselves and our convictions. There are some things we believe, some things we think, and some things we feel. The terms are hierarchical rather than synonymous and over time we ought to see a progression from feeling to thinking to believing. We should want to elevate more of what we feel into what we think and more of what we think into what we believe. I will grant that there can be fine distinctions here, but there is still value in distinguishing them, at least for our purposes.
The things I believe are the things for which I have the highest confidence. They are the things I am convinced of, the things I hold to be absolutely true, even though you may disagree. I believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead. I believe democracy is superior to fascism or communism. I believe marriage is meant to be a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman.
The things I think are the things for which I have a little bit less confidence. These are the areas in which I am in a process of growth in understanding and conviction. These are the areas in which absolute right or wrong may not be quite as clear. I believe God tells us to assemble with other Christians to worship him each week, and I think it is best to do this on Sunday (especially here in North America).
The things I feel are the things I am unsure of, the things I am encountering and responding to on an impulsive or emotional level. I feel that it would be a bad idea for the government of Canada to shut down the office of religious freedom. I feel that because I have only the barest knowledge of the office and its functions and I would need to learn more in order to develop thoughts and then beliefs about it. I feel that it would be a good idea for the Blue Jays to offer a contract extension to Jose Bautista, but I have not read or researched enough to have well-formed thoughts.
In this way I believe, I think, and I feel have different meanings. And I believe (not “I feel”) that these meanings are consistent with how they have typically been used. So why, then, do we speak so much of feelings today?
I think that our preference for “I feel” may just unmask our culture’s fear of strong convictions and confident self-expression. “I feel” may be a way of safeguarding ourselves in an age that elevates faux tolerance and political correctness as the highest of all virtues. It proactively softens the blow for those things we would otherwise declare to be true and right and good. You may be offended by my thoughts or beliefs, but surely not by my feelings!
Yet we as Christians must know what we believe and we must believe these things with strength and confidence. It is not wrong to feel, but it is not enough. Feelings will not sustain us when the world turns against us. Feelings will not sustain us when enemies rise up to oppose our faith. Feelings will not sustain us in the face of compelling arguments against the Bible, against creation, against the resurrection. Only strong convictions grounded upon well-formed thoughts will be enough in that day. In fact, only strong convictions grounded upon well-formed thoughts are enough for this day.
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