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Feelings: A Lousy Idol

It’s so easy to look down our 21st-century noses at the “primitive” peoples of biblical times, especially Israel’s problems with idolatry in the Old Testament. “WE don’t bow down before idols and false gods,” we think. “That was when people were less evolved intellectually and spiritually, but we modern people are so much better than that.”

I’m wondering if God agrees. I don’t think so.

I think that idolatry is at least as rampant in our society, but it’s more pervasive because it’s so subtle; the idols we worship aren’t physical, tangible items. We could create a long list of the abstractions we worship, but today I just want to focus on one.

Feelings.

Our culture treats feelings as if they were an inerrant internal compass that always points to truth and reality. “Follow your heart.” “What does your gut say?” “You can’t help who you fall in love with.”

High school and college students flunk out because they don’t feel like getting out of bed and going to school. Then they become people who lose their jobs because they don’t feel like going to work.

Young people of all ages dress, act, and talk in ways that will make them feel popular and accepted by their peers.

Married people find themselves attracted to someone other than their spouse, and they feed the marvelous feelings of infatuation because it makes them feel so alive and magical.

We indulge bodily appetites, whether for sweets or drink or overeating or sexual pleasure, because they feel so good and because refusing to indulge them feels so bad.

The materialism porn of magazines and newspapers starts an internal burning desire to buy and to accumulate. It feels so right to go out and get what we want! If we don’t have the money, we put it on credit because, hey, “I should have what I want.”

We are happily addicted to our comfort because we believe that feeling comfortable is a basic right of life. So we don’t give ourselves away in service projects or missions trips or going without in order to use the money for someone who has less than we do, because then we wouldn’t feel so comfortable.

Why is this? Why do we make our feelings into idols?

I believe it’s because the toxic “pickling brine” of our culture puts a much higher emphasis on the immediate, the here-and-now, of the physical world (which our feelings are part of). The majority of Christians, the research shows, think just like the non-Christian world around us, and that includes ignoring the unseen, eternal world and focusing on the visible, temporal world.

When we recalibrate our focus to include the unseen sphere of life, we are aware of the spiritual dimension of life and not just the physical. It makes us more balanced people. We can put feelings in their place: they are like lights on the dashboard of our car, indicating what’s going on “under the hood.” But if we focus on the dashboard lights while we drive, instead of on the road, we’ll run off the road—or worse, crash. We can acknowledge them but refuse to let them lead us.

For example, Hebrews 12:2 tells us that the Lord Jesus “for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame.” He focused on the eternal (the joy set before Him) instead of the temporal (the shame of the cross). Corrie Ten Boom wisely said, “Don’t pray when you feel like it. Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it.” This lady really understood how to put feelings in their place. This survivor of the WWII death camps also said, “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”

Feelings are not evil; we have feelings because we are made in the image of a passionate God who experiences a robust range of feelings. But they are fallen because everything about us is fallen ever since sin entered the world.

That’s why feelings make lousy idols.

 

This blog post was originally published on May 10, 2011.

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Sue Bohlin

Sue Bohlin is a speaker/writer and webmistress for Probe Ministries, a Christian organization that helps people to think biblically. She loves teaching women and laughing, and if those two can be combined, all the better. She also loves speaking for MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) and Stonecroft Ministries (Christian Women's Clubs) on the topic How to Handle the Things You Hate But Can't Change, based on her lifelong experience as a polio survivor.

She has a freelance calligraphy business in her home studio; hand lettering was her "Proverbs 31 job" while her children were young. Sue also serves on the board of Living Hope Ministries, a Christ-centered organization that helps people struggling with unwanted homosexuality and the family members of those with same-sex attractions.

Sue never met a cruise ship she didn't like, especially now that God has provided a travel scooter for getting around any ship! She is happily married to Dr. Ray Bohlin, writer and speaker on faith and science with Probe Ministries, and they have two grown sons. You can follow Sue on Twitter @suebohlin.

6 Comments

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    Sheree

    Guilty!

    I am so guilty of this! Man the enemy is insidious. The culture of our youth is quickly becoming a slave to feeilngs. Feelings of inadequacy and unpopularity cause students to go on killing sprees. My friend says everyday we should something we don't want to do. I agree with that!

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      Sue Bohlin

      Slaves to feelings

      Thank you, Sheree. I appreciate you bringing up the additional illustrations of feelings of inadequacy and unpopularity as engines that drive destructive choices. . . instead of oppressive but live-able aspects of life in a fallen world–like high humidity that makes one uncomfortable. Particularly with these two feelings, it's essential to teach youth what God thinks about them (e.g., "accepted in the Beloved," Eph 1:6 KJV) so they have something other than feelings to fall back on!

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    Sharifa Stevens

    Um…This Doesn’t Feel Good…

    …to read, because it's just so convicting. And true. Yikes! I have indeed worshipped a false god. Thank you for doing your part to turn our hearts away from idolatry and towards the One True God.

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      Sue Bohlin

      Idolatry. . .

       . . . is hard to be convicted of. And boy does this one in particular permeate our culture! Tonight I talked to a youth pastor who told me of several students in his group who didn't want to be baptized because "I'm just not feeling it." Arrgghhhhh!

      Thanks, Sharifa!!

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