How Do You Feel About That?
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The emphasis of this study has been on repentance — how you think and what you think about. To repent is to change your mind. We have considered how this will affect your standards, priorities, perception, attitudes, and so on. But there is one other area that we have not addressed specifically that falls within this domain, and that is how repentance will affect your feelings.
Maybe all of this discussion of “mind” subjects and the rational way we have treated repentance — reprogramming yourself, controlling your thoughts, and so on — has led you to conclude it is irrelevant to the way you feel. It is, however, extremely relevant. Maybe you view people as either left- or right-brain, rational or emotional, objective or subjective. The principles we have examined actually apply to all people, regardless of how they think or whether their feelings are more important to them than rational thought. All believers need to repent, regardless of their orientation.
Where do your feelings and emotions come from? Even if you are strongly intuitive, emotional or subjective, your feelings and emotions still coincide with what you think and believe. And your approach to repentance is the same as a rational person’s.
A wide variety of factors can influence your feelings. You are a highly integrated being, in which your spirit, mind and body interact with each other. Consider some ways in which your spirit and body affect your mental state.
Your spirit has a major role in determining your character and many personality elements are actually spiritual in nature. Examples include whether you are an extrovert or introvert, an optimist or pessimist, what aptitudes you have, and so on. If this is true, then your spiritual nature will strongly influence your mental state. That is, your natural disposition and the extent to which you have redeemed your character will strongly influence your feelings.
The condition and general health of your physical body also affects your mental state. If you are ill or have chemical imbalances, hormonal imbalances, injury or discomfort, your attitude is likely to be affected.
The environments you spend time in, your responsibilities and the demands others place on you can affect your mental state directly. They also can affect you indirectly because you may have to do tasks that do not come naturally to you, therefore your performance will not reflect your true nature.
Our culture has swung from a strongly rational, analytical posture during its scientific age to one that places great emphasis on feelings. We may have swung from one extreme to the other. We now are very concerned about how we feel and whether we are enjoying ourselves. There are many indicators of this: the booming entertainment industry, extreme sports and in-your-face behavior, to name a few. Some people would even warn us not to invalidate another person’s feelings, and suggest that it is acceptable for them to feel the way they do.
Are your feelings sacred or beyond evaluation? No more than your thoughts are sacred. Are all feelings acceptable? No more than all thoughts are acceptable. Let me offer some examples, which you may feel are rather extreme but demonstrate my point.
What if someone broke into your home and stole your television, stereo and computer? And when the police caught him, the thief complained that he only had a 13-inch black and white television for entertainment. He said he really wanted better equipment and even dreamed about having the latest home entertainment center. When he saw your equipment, he really wanted it badly, so he took it. How would you respond? “Well, if you really wanted it that badly, it’s yours. I won’t press charges”? Not likely!
What if your spouse committed adultery and when you confronted them they explained they had an insatiable desire for the other person. They were sure you would not object since they wanted the other person so badly and had such strong feelings for them. What would you do? Try to be sympathetic and understanding? I don’t think so!
What if someone did not like what you said and slugged you in the face? They explained that you made them really angry and they just felt like breaking your nose. Would you respond, “Oh well, since you felt so strongly about it, it’s okay”? Never!
Or imagine offering this explanation to the Lord: “I know you wanted me to change my attitude. But being the way I am makes me feel good. Besides, changing seems like a lot of effort and I just didn’t feel like working that hard.”
Granted, these are extreme examples, but they help us see the principle. Feelings are not sufficient justification for action, and not all feelings are acceptable. Consider the following statements: “That’s just the way I feel. I can’t help it;” “I don’t care. I really want it;” and “I can’t get over what you did. You made me really angry.”
These statements are pretty common and are widely accepted by most people. They express feelings, desires and emotions, and most of the time we use them to close discussion on the topic at hand. They communicate an attitude that honors feelings above all else. Is it possible they also reveal that the person is unwilling to accept responsibility for themselves by passing the buck and claiming victim status?
Consider the third statement, “You made me really angry.” That statement simply cannot be true, because no one can make you angry against your will. What they do may cause you to have initial feelings of anger, but whether those develop into full-blown anger is up to you. You generally are not responsible for the initial thoughts and feelings that pop up; that is, unless they spring from an attitude you have been nurturing. Otherwise, you need not feel guilty for thoughts of anger, self-centeredness, lust or any other sin that suddenly pops into your mind or affects your emotions. You still have thoughts and feelings from your previous life as a sinner, and Satan is eager to exploit them. The question is what you do with the original temptation. If you nurture that feeling or entertain that thought, then you accept ownership of it and you become responsible for it.
No one can make you angry against your will. When someone hurts you, your old sinful thoughts and emotions pop up, and these are what motivate you to feel sorry for yourself, get angry, retaliate or whatever. As soon as that happens, you must consciously overcome that initial response by replacing it with appropriate thoughts and attitudes. You cannot simply erase those thoughts and stop feeling that way; you must replace them with legitimate ones. Transforming your mind is a continuing process, because your old way of thinking will continue to produce temptations for you to overcome.
What if I hypothetically told you, “I don’t believe God loves me, because he doesn’t do for me what the Bible says he will do, and because he doesn’t answer my prayers. I feel like God either doesn’t exist or care about me.” How would you respond? Would you assure me it is okay to feel that way or would you try to convince me otherwise? And if you did try to persuade me that God loved me, would you not be invalidating my feelings? No, you might demonstrate that my feelings are not valid, but that is not the same as invalidating them because you did not make them invalid. If my feelings are based on incorrect assumptions, unreasonable expectations or bias, they need to be changed and I am responsible for changing them.
At this point, anyone who knows me might be thinking, “Come on, Larry. You’re a rational, logical, analytical kind of guy. What do you know about feelings?” Actually, I know quite a bit about feelings, emotions and desires. I am an intense person but not very demonstrative, so a lot can be going on inside with very little showing on the outside. I have a wide range of emotions and many of them are intense. Certain human situations make me cry, whether I see them in pictures and videos or in person. I can feel elated about a success or discovery. I can be ecstatic or furious; I know emotions and the feelings that accompany them. I understand desires and have a lot of them, some acceptable and some not. I am not a machine; I am human.
You cannot know how many times I have said to myself, “I really, really do not want to do this. But I will do it because I need to do it.” Quite frankly, I sometimes felt that way about working on this article. Even today, I had blocked out some time to work on this but kept thinking of other things I would prefer doing. I had to force myself to open this document in my computer and begin reading it. Sure, I believed I knew God’s will on this matter and even knew some ideas I should include in the text, but I had to battle my feelings before I could get started. As I read what I had drafted earlier and saw the reality of it, my feelings began changing radically.
The point is this: you are responsible for your thoughts, your feelings, your desires, your perspective and your priorities. Repentance includes everything related to your attitude, including your feelings, emotions and desires.
Your feelings and emotions coincide with what you think and believe. Therefore, you can expect the way you feel to change as you repent. God calls on you to repent–whether you are objective or subjective, intuitive or rational–knowing that your attitudes, standards and priorities affect what you do and how you feel.