“Feelings, as Eugene Peterson once said, are remarkably unreliable guides to the state of your relationship with God, and are indeed seldom very reliable as guides to the state of your relationship with others.”
Ben Witherington III
I received a discouraging email this week from a friend in Pennsylvania. The email spoke of another friend who has decided to drop out of his weekly Bible Study. The reason was that he simply could not “feel” God. This man was weary of chasing a relationship with a God that seemed absent in his own life. What surprises me about this particular individual is the regular, disciplined approach he took to reading the Bible. His love for the Bible and hours given to its study each week would make most church folk blush. My surprise, therefore, is that given all the time he has spent reading the Bible he must have discovered that it is replete with characters who have felt the absence of God. Chief among them is Jesus, “My God, My God, why have You left Me?” (Matthew 27:46 Common English Bible)
Where did my friend ever get the notion that relationships must be built upon “feelings?” Not from me. I have been married too long, I know better. Certainly, I love my wife. And for most of the twenty-five years of our marriage I have “felt” that love for her. That is to say, of course, that there have been moments where I have felt other things than love. To be fair, there have been more than a few moments when my wife has felt much about me other than love. What has kept us from walking away from each other in those moments is a commitment to the relationship. “Feelings” is simply too fragile of a foundation to build something as important as a marriage. The same is true for a relationship with God.
Ben Witherington III makes another observation I believe is useful to the conversation, love in the Bible is an action word. “It is your ethic, what you do and how you act toward God, others, and self. It is not really meant as a feeling. Doing loving deeds is what the Great Commandment is about. I am rather certain that the greatest loving deed of all time, Jesus’ dying on the cross for all of us, was not accompanied by warm fuzzy feelings. On the contrary, the story in the Garden of Gethsemane suggests that Jesus faced that prospect with icy dread. (Ben Witherington III, A Shared Christian Life, p. ix.)
What I know for certain is that God hasn’t given up on my friend. I have been praying for him since receiving the disappointing email. But my prayer has been less out of worry for him and more from a position of confidence in God. In the Garden of Eden story Adam and Eve hid from God out of shame. Yet, God pursued them. And God pursues us. We all experience those moments when we lose our grasp of God. What we must never forget is that particularly in those moments, when we lose our grasp of God, God does not lose His grasp of us.