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Do not trust your feelings

January 1995 | by John Dickamer

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The other day I was trying to explain the principle of sola Scriptura to someone. It was not going very well. She did not have a problem with Scriptura. Her problem was with sola. Her problem was not with the Bible itself. It was with the Bible’s uniqueness.

She readily agreed that the Bible is God’s Word. She had no problem with verbal inspiration, nor with inerrancy. She said that she did not want to claim chat others besides the prophets and apostles received direct revelation. The problem was chat – though she did not want to used the word ‘revelation’ for it – she actually was claiming that she received direct communication from God daily.

The Bible’s uniqueness is that God gave the prophets in the Old Testament and the apostles in the New Testament the very words that they used in writing the Bible. The New Testament uses the term ‘inspiration’ only for Scripture-not for anything else (see 2 Timothy 3:16). There are great promises that God will work through the Word he has given to the prophets and apostles. Perhaps none of those promises is more touching than the words of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20.

There is no promise anywhere in Scripture that God will give anyone any specific revelation or communication other than the Word he has already directly given to these men whom he directly called. He has given that Word through them to us. The only other revelation is the general revelation through creation (see Psalm 19, for example). We know Christ only through the specific revelation in Scripture.

So what communication from God did this woman want to claim? She did not claim that it was verbal. Thank God for that! But she still said that she walks around with God directly infusing into her good or bad feelings about this, that and the next thing.

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I will direct your path

It is true that the Lord guides us in many ways. The Good Shepherd leads us and directs our paths spiritually through his Word. In his providence, he also directs us in many ways which we do not understand or perhaps do not even perceive. But where is it written that God will use our feelings to tell us to do this or to avoid that? There is no such promise from God. In the absence of such a signed, sealed, written and guaranteed promise in God’s Word, there is no reason why we should believe or trust that God communicates through our feelings.

Where are we told to trust our feelings? In the movie Star Wars, Luke Skywalker was trying to bomb the dreaded Death Star. He turned off his targeting computer and successfully completed his mission when he took the advice of the disembodied spirit of Obi Wan Kenobi: ‘Trust your feelings.’But Star Wars is thinly veiled propaganda for Hinduism and the New Age movement (‘the force’ of which it speaks is the impersonal false god of pantheism). This mystical, magical, ‘trust-your-feelings’ nonsense is an empty superstition at best. If there is any communication going on, we have no reason to believe that it is from the true God.

This modern notion of trusting one’s private feelings is part and parcel of contemporary subjectivism and age-old fanaticism, but not biblical Christianity. It is at home in the New Age movement’ not in the church that trembles at God’s Word (Isaiah 66:2).

Martin Luther
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A two-fold cause for concern

Why be concerned at what this woman thinks about divine communication? Should I not be satisfied that she confesses faith in Christ? Is it not, at worst, a harmless delusion that she thinks that the Lord directs her decisions by giving her positive and comfortable feelings about one choice and negative and uncomfortable feelings about another choice?

There are two dangerous problems. She may be led astray by her feelings in either of two ways. She may be led away from the faith – the truth of God’s Word. Or she may be led away from her faith – from personal trust in Christ.

All the centuries of Christian history show that, whenever anything is given any authority along side God’s Word, the Bible is subordinated to that other supposed authority. That is true whether the other authority reason, emotion, tradition, or anything else. The history of theology is largely the account of how rational speculations or emotional flights of fancy have distorted the clear truth of God’s Word-and how God used men devoted to the sola Scriptura principle to recall his people to the simple truth. The greatest example of the latter is Martin Luther.

Feelings or biblical truth?

I do not want this woman – or anyone else for that matter – to be disturbed by reason or emotion, by logic or feeling, or by anything else. I do not want her moved from the solid revelation, from God’s clear Word, to follow any other thoughts, ideas, or directions. In true Christian theology, anything that is not biblical must be rejected.

Suppose a doctrinal controversy arises in this woman’s church. Pick any issue you like. Say that people are arguing about what the Bible says on that issue. What attitude will this woman take? Will she have been sufficiently grounded in God’s Word so that her thoughts are captive in obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5)? Will she have that Christian mental discipline in the renewal of her mind? Or will she be confused by competing claims? Will she then fall back on what she says is almost reflexive in her daily life – and go with her feelings? I hope for the former – but I fear for the latter.

If she learns to trust her feelings in theology, this woman may be led away from the truth of God’s
Word. If she learns to trust her feelings for her personal faith, she may be led away from trusting God and believing his Word. For any feelings of ours may be just as mistaken as any thoughts of ours.

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Broken on the rocks of trouble

This woman may lose her  personal faith-and so deny her profession. She may go along for years trusting her feelings as if they represented a direct communica­tion from God, without doubting her faith in Christ. She may go along happily convinced that her feelings lead her to the right decisions and see those decisions work out well for her and her family. But what will hap­pen when things do not seem to go well?

Trouble is rather com­mon in this life. The danger this woman faces is that trials, troubles and tribulations may cause her to question her feelings, to doubt that God is directing her life through such injections of emotion. That would be good if, deprived of faith in feelings, she returned to the sure foundation of the Word God has already given through the prophets and apostles (Ephesians 2:20). It would be good if she recognized that emotions are quicksand and then listened in spiritual matters only to what Jesus actually has said (Matthew 7:24-25).

But it would be bad if it led her to doubt about Christ and despair about having the right relationship to God through faith in Christ. To the extent that her faith is built and based on her feelings, to that extent her faith can be shaken when her feelings fail her – as they will. This is why her faith must be based on the gospel of Christ crucified, not on human wisdom, nor on human emotion, so that her faith will survive weakness, fear and trembling (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

The tripwire of logic

Perhaps you are not the type who will easily be led astray by emotions. The greater danger for you may be that of being led astray by logic, reason and supposed human wisdom. That is just as dangerous and just as wrong. That danger is always present, but it is not as prevalent now as in some centuries (such as the thirteenth and the eighteenth centuries: scholasticism and rationalism respectively).

The danger of being led astray by emotion is always present. The conflict between faith and feeling is more prevalent than almost any other danger today. The temptation to trust feelings comes today in all forms of mysticism, subjectivism, pentecostalism, charismatism and the New Age movement.

Even people who clearly confess faith in Christ and gladly learn and hear his Word face the danger of being infected – as if from the very air around us, from the pervasive atmosphere of our times – with faith in feelings. That is why it is so important today to speak against any faith in feelings. That is why it is as important as ever to insist on the principle of sola Scriptura, Scripture alone.

We may know God’s law to some limited extent from general revelation. But the depth of our sinfulness is taught only by the Holy Spirit through the Bible (Romans 3:19-20). It is only and exclusively through the gospel, the good news revealed in Scripture, that we know about Christ, about forgiveness, life and salvation for his sake, because he kept the law we have broken and because he suffered, bled and died for our having broken it (I Corinthians 12). He rose to prove that he has actually, factually earned and won God’s grace for us. To try to relate to God in any other way, on any other basis – reason, emotion, tradition, whatever – is to try to build without any foundation at all (Matthew 7:26-27).