Tuesday, June 3, 2008

More Than a Feeling: Feeling Bad, Feeling Wrong

Recently, I wrote about "When to Sympathize with Women." Wow, did that generate some comment. The topic bopped back and forth in the virtual badminton match was emotion. Can your feelings be wrong? - not in the correct/incorrect sense, like when Marge Simpson says her "woman's intuition is acting up, Homey." But can a feeling itself be, well, wrong? Like when it's wrong to lie or steal.

So, we're not going to clear the dust on this anytime soon - but it's worth asking. And my first question is, how do you know things? Well, you know from sensory input - you see, hear, smell, touch, and feel things. You know from rational thought - you know, "I think, therefore I am" kind of stuff. And you know from...the gut. Inside you. Now, that may be a subconcious reaction from your senses, or thoughts, or it might just be....ugh. Gesture, hesitate, try to explain. Intuition, feeling, emotion. You could possibly call this the "mystical" side of knowing, too, like when you just, well...know.

And of course if you're part of a religion, what you think guides how you interpret what you see or know through your feelings, or what you feel guides how you view the world, and so on. And many religions put forth that there's some kind of revelation from a higher Being to us humans - and we may know that revelation through our senses, or the way God has made our minds, or through our feelings or emotions.

Now, from the simply human side of this, personality enters in: some people process experiences by how they feel about them - "oh my goodness, that ride was so scary, I was hanging upside down in a roller coaster and thought I was going to die," - welcome to my amusement park experiences. And some people process experiences first by what they think of them - "the engineering on that ride was amazing. Do you know the G-force on that sucker? It's a 300 foot drop!" Everybody, of course, uses both of these - I feel things and I think. So do you. The question is, like my friend Krista, do you stop to "think about how I feel"? Or do you feel something and decide what you think as a result? Or maybe both trip over each other's heels as you feel and then automatically analyze what you feel and why (me).

So how do you know? Or, enter postmodernity, can you know? Or, like the show "Lost", do you really know what you think you know? "The Truman Show" is a great example of that - the movie tells the story of a guy who's lived in one place all his life, has a wife, a job - and then finds out that it's all a set of a reality tv show that he never knew about - the corporation had adopted him as an infant and he had lived his whole life in a giant tv set. But then, accidentally, he found out - and whole different world presented itself to him - the real world. And how he felt was based on what he thought.

Now, can you have a poorly ordered feeling? That is, can a feeling be based on something faulty rather than something true? When a five year old screams "you never, ever, let me do anything fun," I'm sure he means it - but that, in fact, doesn't reflect the truth. Is every desire you feel legitimate simply because you desire it? No - I desire dark chocolate every day of my life. To indulge every day would involve several wrongly ordered loves.

Just because a feeling is genuine doesn't mean it's in line with Truth that transcends thought, senses, and emotion. I can genuinely feel abandoned by God - but maybe my perceptions of God need altered, and then I will feel differently about Father, Son, Holy Ghost.

So if conversion - which is a turning from self-interests to Christ's redemption - involves the whole person, as a created being - your past experiences, your thoughts, your attitudes, your emotions - what does God want you to do with your emotions? Does God care about them?

Surely so - hate is both attitude, thought, and rage. Surely self-righteousness involves muddied thinking, inaccurate self-perceptions, and the feeling of pride.

Some days I feel impatient. And - get this - it's wrong for me to do so. Let's not consider only the negative though, but the positive: is it wrong for me to feel love for certain things?

I hope so! I hope it's wrong for a grown man to feel certain kinds of "love" for a five year old child, no matter how genuine he feels. It's wrong to love your country more than you love God. It's wrong to love yourself to the detriment of loving others. But I use "love" here loosely, because Trinitarian love is one thing, but broken, faulty love of humans, quite another.

If you think God brings "rightness" to the world - righting wrongs, righting disorder and chaos, righting attitudes and hearts and minds and loves - then you likely think there exists in the world some "wrongness." It is contact with God that helps us to truly love. God's sustaining providence means there's still some good in the world - parents love kids, kids love dogs, dogs love everybody. But when grace pounds on your door and you find yourself spring cleaning your soul, mind, whole self with the Holy Spirit, you find sometimes that God's love looks very different than yours. Maybe your love is faulty, or broken, or imperfect - everyone's is, after all. But love transcends emotion and feeling, because the Trinity is love - a standard never to be met with all the Valentine cards in the world. And if Christ-Love transcends feelings and emotions, then it's possible that Christ-Love will shape, mold, and conform our feelings to love what God loves, think as Christ thinks, feel as Christ feels. So that there is an objective, true, pulsing, vibrant, live Love guiding and establishing our thoughts, feelings, emotions, perceptions, and interpretations.


Unknown said...

I'll say it again - hear, hear!

Recently, someone I respect said, "You can't help what you think, but you can help how you act. How you act determines your character." And I thought, "Well said, sir."

Then another person I respect said this about words: "Don't change your speech; change your heart. Then everything you say will be good." I thought again, "Well said, sir," but this seems to contradict what my other friend said. I think that both are true in a sense, but the second person understood the truth better.

I believe that emotions can be wrong. True sanctification comes from the work of the Holy Spirit and from the Holy Spirit alone. When he changes our hearts, the rest of us follows.

Anonymous said...

I really like what you thought through and wrote. I think in your last entry I got caught up in the "gender issues" side of it and was frustrated by not being able to adequately express the importance I feel in gender roles, particularly femininity. However, holiness and sanctification are a call on ALL our lives, male and female. Thank you for the reminder. ;-)

Bob said...

RE: Emily's quote of someone saying "How you act determines your character", I have this to say, "How you act REFLECTS your character." What you think and feel determines your character (or, how you act in certain situations). And I believe you CAN help what you think. Otherwise, how could we ever change our minds about anything?

Jeffrey Rudy: said...

Two notes: The Truman Show is one of the greatest movies. I have watched it upwards of 15 times. There's something about that happy-go-lucky guy oblivious (one one hand] to what's going on but aware that there is something not right about the reality with which he is presented [on the other].

Second, in regard to "love," and maybe I'm more Lewisian than Wesleyan, but I remember Clive suggesting that you cannot love someone or something too much. It's possible to love inordinately and/or improportionately something/someone in respect to your love for God (i.e., if you think you're loving something/one too much, the truth is you are not loving God enough). Don't know if this belongs as a comment to this post, but it came to mind.

Lewis (re: "trained emotions"): "all emotions and sentiments are alogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason [note cap.] or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it."