003 Affections and Apparatus: The Connection of Faith and Learning: Part 2
April 4, 2017 | Permalink
Q: What can we look forward to as we read of your articles and studies in the bible?
Our time together studying God’s Word will emphasize themes and theology and their application to and in our lives, and also cover such introductory issues as authorship, setting, date, and literary structure for Bible books. For some of you this will be a taste of heaven. For others, it will be “uh oh”! For the latter group, I hope that “even” these things will be attractive to you! And to the former, I pray that Christ doesn’t get lost in the details and practice. In a nutshell, we will get to issues that relate to our mind and our will; two important aspects of our lives. But there is more to it than data and information, practice and exercise. As important as these issues are, there is something that surpasses mind and will, even our attitude.
Q: Something more important than our mind and will, something more important than our attitude?
Yes! We’ve all met people who have brilliant minds but we come away sometimes feeling uncared for. And, we’ve all met people who have a strong will even to the extent that its’ their will or the highway! And, as suggested, let’s include the matter of our attitude: that is, our manner, disposition, feel, and position with regard to Christ. I should state that issues of the mind and will are important. They are necessary within the integration of faith and learning. So too is attitude. But let me give this thought. All persons have at some time or other experienced a poor attitude from someone else – and it’s not a great feeling! Indeed, with such thought we might be tempted to state that attitude is the most important act of our lives. Sure, many a sporting coach will tell you so! But, what surpasses mind and will and even attitude is something far more important: it’s love. The mind is important, so too is the will, so likewise is attitude. But none of these are premier. Let’s stay with attitude a moment. When we experience a poor attitude in another, what we find at the core, would we agree, is a lack of love. For example, they don’t want to join in with what you hope for. They have, well, a bad attitude. Why so? Well, ultimately they are focused on themselves, and that is hardly loving. But even when someone has a good attitude, guess what, they might not still love you. They do everything right, but it’s still not because they love you; instead, they have other motivations. I agree that attitude deserves some recognition, but love is premier. If Christ, Himself teaches that we should love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength* then our devotion to Him should be fully toward Him. Yes, the mind is important, and so too our will, but first in the list is the call to love with our heart. And, if we love so, we might see a change and rise in our attitude.
* In Mark 12:30 we find the Greatest Commandment to love God with all… our strength. The idea here is to give over to Him all of ourselves; not just as much as we can give but even more – our full strength, our muchness. I believe that happens fully, when we fully love.
Q: So, just to get this right, attitude is important, but not as important as love?
If our love to Christ is not pure and true, by which I mean it is adulterated with other loves (put more starkly, idolatries) we will never have the full impetus for a true attitude to Him. This might make us feel that we just need to “have the right attitude”. That’s true to an extent, but I’ll still ask ‘what is the source of that attitude?’ Something solely from within, or is it a response to the one who loves us? The apostle John made a theological truth to assist us when he stated that, “we love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19)”. He didn’t say, “we love, because we got our attitude right”! Our truest sense of love is when it is a fully realized response to the love which He imparts to us. If it’s just from our own self, then what kind of love is it at all?
With a true affection to Him, the mind, I believe, in turn, will faithfully find itself focused on the knowledge of all things God. And, with a mind growing in the knowledge of Him, fueled by a powerful dynamic devotion, we will find ourselves living in truer practice.
Q: But what if you don’t have the right feelings for God, what if you don’t have the right attitude? Many times, we hear the exhortation “do it and then the feelings will come” isn’t there a place for that?
Some will indeed say, “do it and then the feelings will come” but is that axiom really true? I think that such teaching is not that helpful. I don’t mean to say that we shouldn’t “do something”; we should. But I’m cautious about that. We should keep in mind that doing something is always based on feelings, right? After all, if you have an aversion to something (which is a strong feeling) no matter how much people tell you to do it, no amount of prompting will get you to do it and have the right feelings!
“Drink cockroach juice? I don’t think so!”
Likewise, if you say to me “eat ice-cream” I’ll have no problem with my attitude: “how much you got?”
If I may say, perhaps true feelings for God are already in place and providing a place for practice is all that is needed; though I still retain a level of caution, even about that. We should exercise our feelings and “do” something, fair enough, but to say “do it and then the feelings will come” might lead the person into a stunted relationship. How so? If I am asked to dress up in a ballerina costume (something I definitely don’t want to do) then if that person keeps pressing me, I might start to even resent them and not just the tutu! When I was a young boy my eldest brother pressed me into helping him on his paper route. After a few days of getting up at 5:30am in the middle of winter, I soon began to resent his chiding and goading me to go quicker. No matter how much I “did it” no feelings ever came, even though he told me “it’ll be good for you!”
I think we all have feelings. We shouldn’t discount them or just do things, I think we should explore them and discover what we really feel about the person with whom we are to interact with. Imagine saying to your child, “well, I don’t have any feelings for you daughter, but I’ll play ball with you in the hopes that I’ll feel more for you.” Ouch! The reason a father spends time with his child surely should be because his feelings are rightly thriving. And if they are not, I’d say that that father needs do something simple: behold his child. As he does, other loves that have derailed him will lessen (hopefully) and the right feelings will begin to occur. Masking it in action only is easily picked up by a child… “so, you don’t really want to be with me, do you dad?” Ouch!
Much is said, even in the church, of forgetting one’s feelings. Such notions often occur and in place of feelings the mind and will and everything knowledgeable and pragmatic assumes primary importance. Such philosophy promotes that it is the cognitive and the volitional over and above the affections. The thinking goes that affections, feelings and emotions are not to be trusted! But should we be so quick to relegate that which is powerful, for that is what affections are! The issue at hand is that we don’t trust emotions, because it is believed that they lead to wrong actions. Doesn’t such a philosophy, though, prove how powerful affections and emotions are? We are too quick to relegate and discount them – but that’s interesting when God is the one who gave us feelings! Instead, our faith and learning can encompass the truth that God does not want us to jettison our feelings, but to live out our strongest affections and feelings… toward Him. The problem with emotions is not the emotions themselves, but the objects that they are attracted to and why we are attracted. The notion: “just do it and then the right feelings will come” is problematic. A person can “do it” over and over and still the feelings won’t come. What then? Instead, a careful encounter with what we feel about God should happen first.
Remember my encounter with my eldest brother and his poking me to do his paper-round? Recently, I lost my brother to cancer. I deeply loved him. Those old resentments about the paper-round had long since vanished. Here’s my point. If my brother were still alive today, and if, hypothetically he’d want me to do the paper-round with him again, what do you think my response would now be? I’d do it! Why? Because I love him. Before, I was only focused on myself and, as I mentioned, no amount of prodding was going to get me to love the paper-round nor him. But once, love flowed and was evident, then, I’d lovingly do that work with him. Why wouldn’t I? I love him.
What does God Himself say about the affections? A redirect to the narrative and the message of the Bible should prove helpful. Throughout the Bible, we see responses related to our emotional life. We’re meant to feel! Here are a few of the many examples that relate to our feelings: contentment (Exodus 20:17), peace (Colossians 3:15), zeal (Romans 12:11); sorrow and joy (Romans 12:12; Philippians 4:4), desire (1 Peter 2:2), gratitude (Ephesians 5:19,20), not to mention, heart-felt love itself (1 Peter 1:22)! We are not to relegate affections and emotions; we are to have them re-directed by the Lord. They should be powerfully exercised – exercised in response to Him.
We have feelings, but the truth is our feelings are not rightly aligned toward Him. They are attracted to other things. I think that’s why people state, “I don’t feel like studying the Bible.” I think they say that because they perceive that there are more interesting things out there. But like a train on its side, they’ve been derailed.
Q: What derails us from God?
Recently, I was given insights by one of my many mentors, Dr. Randy Furushima, that all humanity has been infected with the disease of seeking the spectacle. I concur. Humans love the spectacle and the spectacular. We prefer to see the shooting star over the static star. We prefer to see the car crash rather than the beautiful horizon ahead of us. We are attracted to news headlines rather than interest stories. And sadly, in the church we prefer the spectacle even to the displacement of a true affection in and for Christ. Simply put, we prefer the show over the Savior! On a particular Sunday in the US calendar ask the general populace if they’d prefer to see the Super Bowl or listen to the words relating to, say, God’s sovereignty? Taking a look at the parking lots of American churches on that Sunday morning will prove startling. See, I’ve used the spectacle to grab your attention! The irony is that we might find people ‘practicing church’ or ‘doing church’ thinking it is the right thing to do. Their mind and will are engaged, they’ve learned the typical fare of ‘three things to do’, which are all well and somewhat good, but is there a heart affection to worship Christ? Regrettably, our true affections show, in quality and in quantity, that in general, we’d rather wear out the couch for four hours serving ourselves, than spending time serving Christ.
Q: We’ve gotten attracted to the wrong things then?
Yes, (me included) and that is why it is my hope that our time in the Word is a mutual relationship of teaching and studying, how wonderful it will be! Yet, I also hope that even as we discover the grand vistas that each book of the Bible presents, taking in each magnificent view; that as we discover profound and comprehensive theological truths in word or phrase, in sentence, paragraph or chapter; that as we learn and are molded in discipleship, we will find ourselves elevated to the richer horizons of seeing Him in all His true glory; that we will see the Father and understand who He is and what He has given us and wants to give to us; and, that we will be touched and enlivened by the Holy Spirit with such powerful force that all our affections crescendo in ever-loving devotion. Paul knew a thing or two about the mind and the will and even about knowledge, but note what he felt was more important when he directed his beloved brothers and sisters in Ephesus, “to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:18.)” [my emphasis added]
I want to have knowledge of God, of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, but I’d rather yet know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.
I hope you are beginning to see that having knowledge of God and having an understanding of what to do, while important, is never as important as love. This is the kind of teaching I hope to engage in. I do so hope we can study together in His loving hands.