“Religious man was born to be saved, psychological man is born to be pleased.”
[Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud]
Who hasn’t cried watching “Old Yeller” or reading “Where the Red Fern Grows?” C’mon man! Admit it, you cried your little eyes out. Just because tears and snot are flowing, does that make those stories true? Of course not, they are fiction! Our emotions don’t make something true. How you or I feel about something does not indicate whether it is true or not.
Understanding this cultural moment
Over the last 100 years, western culture has shifted away from commonly held understanding about how an individual sees himself in relationship to his society. The modern individual’s gaze is now directed inward. Modern man is a “Psychological Man on an inward quest for personal psychological happiness.” (Carl Trueman). This cultural shift did not happen over night. It’s been underway for a couple hundred years. We live in a post-modern culture where all human experience has been psychologized. The Christian nor the church is immune.
Today, many Christians place feelings (emotions) on equal footing as truth. Then, they construct a false equivalence to support their position. At best it’s mistake, at worst it’s an appeal to emotion.
“When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)
“Compassion” in the original Greek is σπλαγχνίζομαι, splanchnizomai – meaning, to have the bowels yearn, – to feel sympathy, to pity.
When emotion (e.g. compassion) is given equal footing as truth, it easily becomes a modern heresy. A psychologized hermeneutic that serves the psychological well-being of modern man results in moralistic weekly therapy sessions on Sunday mornings and we call it ‘church.’ In other words, we make the Bible all about ourselves. We unintentionally shift the story of the Bible away from God and toward ourselves to feel better about ourselves.
Truth is not an experience… Truth just is.
John 18:37 is crystal clear. Jesus was born to bear witness to the truth (not our emotions). “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.” The truth is Christ is King, not me.
In John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…” Jesus did NOT say “I am the way, and the feeling, and the life…”
I’m convinced that Jesus “had compassion” (Mt 9:36) because he fully understood the ugly truth about sin, the fallen human condition and what he was going to do about it. His emotional reflex to reality was grounded in truth. Our emotions should be grounded in truth as well. Not the other way around. When I see a fallen situation for what it truly is, it should create in me a proportionate emotional response.
One danger we modern Christians face is unintentionally psychologizing scripture to align or validate our feelings. Then we claim “because I feel this way, this must be true!”
The good news is that we can point each other to the truth of God’s Word. His Word is the truth about reality. Nothing can or will ever change that. The truth we believe is grounded in an unchangeable God who loves us and sent His only Son to bear witness to the truth and save us from the ugly truth of sin. Jesus Christ demonstrated real and raw emotions – yet was without sin. His emotions were grounded in truth because that is who he is (he is the truth). We need to help each other remember that!
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
– John 1:14
*This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of my employer or my church. The opinions of expressed by guest authors and commenters do not necessarily represent my opinions.