FEELINGS, by which we mean emotions, are a part of living. We are not dispassionate machines or soulless automatons. To various degrees and at various times we feel happy or sad, confident or anxious, disappointed or satisfied, angry or pleased. Situations and conditions about us-our own thinking, and the fluctuations of our biochemical make-up-engender certain feelings to which we respond to greater or lesser degrees. Our response depends upon how much self-control we have, on the conditions of our nerves at the time, on the habit patterns we have developed with respect to them, and so on.
Because feelings are so intimate, so very pervasive, so potentially preoccupative, so influential, over our thinking and our actions and reactions, the Christian wants to know what his attitude must be toward them.
Some people have stronger feelings than others. And some are directed by their feelings more than others. Often this is not so much because they have stronger feelings as that they have not learned to control them. A defendant on trial who pleaded with the judge that he had acted from "an uncontrollable impulse" was told by the judge that an uncontrollable impulse is simply an impulse uncontrolled.
There are, of course, two broad categories of feelings, good and bad. Even the good need to be controlled. For example, generosity is a good trait. But one may be generous to the point where he impoverishes his own family. In this chapter we are concerned with bad, undesirable feelings, from the perspective of Christian victory. For there are feelings that the worldling, and even the nominal Christian, would see absolutely no need, or no possibility, of overcoming, which the victorious Christian-by which I mean one who conquers every inherited and cultivated tendency to evil--will overcome in Jesus' strength.
Undesirable feelings (as well as desirable) spring from two sources or causes: personal or internal, and external. The personal may itself be separated into two categories: physical and emotional. The physical causes may be sickness, headaches, hunger, improper diet or overeating, lack of sleep, tiredness, or merely one of the many cycles the human body undergoes. The emotional may be, as an example, from a disturbed conscience with its accompanying sense of guilt.
External causes may include members of the family, friends, neighbors, or fellow workers. It may be occasioned by a job situation, finances, and many others. 55
When We're Hungry We Eat
Dealing with the physical causes for undesirable feelings may be fairly simple. Generally, when hungry, we eat. Tiredness may be corrected by rest. (Ellen White warns against becoming overly tired, if it can be avoided. Because of our tendency to irritableness, et cetera, when we are tired, Satan can use it as a means of tempting us.) 56 A headache may be caused by the violation of some elementary law, and be quickly corrected.
Satan, who is always on the watch to catch us off guard and to attack at our weakest moments, will without doubt attack under these circumstances. He attacked Christ when the Saviour was weakened by forty days of fasting. But as He overcame, so may we overcome in His strength.
A guilty conscience is less simple to correct, often because we are not willing to take the steps necessary to make right the things that occasioned the feeling. A guilty conscience can find true relief only in Jesus.
When guilt oppresses the soul and burdens the conscience, ... remember that Christ's grace is sufficient to subdue sin and banish the darkness. Entering into communion with the Saviour, we enter the region of peace. -The Ministry of Healing, p. 250.
Sometimes equally difficult, sometimes more difficult, than getting rid of guilt, is dealing with problems we have with others. (Often, of course, they are tied together.) But we can always remember that if, having done all we can, we leave the matter in God's hands He will do the rest.
Depending on the situation, our undesirable feelings may be disappointment, depression, self-pity, hurt, resentment, irritability, impatience, jealousy, dislike, hostility, malice, envy, remorse, anxiety, or just plain moodiness. The name is legion. We may also remember that "many are unhappy because they are unholy" (ELLEN G. WHITE, in Review and Herald, June 30, 1891).
These feelings may result in a short temper, cynicism, gossip or backbiting, undermining another, uncooperativeness-the list is long. Worst of all, unhindered, they result in the death of any spiritual experience one may have; or in the withering of the developing one.
Dealing With Undesirable Emotions
How is the Christian to deal with those undesirable emotions, which he knows to be rooted in sin?
Can a person really control his reactions to his feelings? Moreover, can he eliminate the wrong feelings themselves? For every person desiring to be a Christian knows that, even though he may control his reactions to a sinful feeling, the feeling itself is spiritually defiling.
The answer to the first question is not difficult.
Many who profess not the love of God do control their spirit to a considerable extent without the aid of the special grace of God. They cultivate self-control. This is a rebuke to those who know that from God they may obtain strength and grace, and yet do not exhibit the graces of the Spirit. -Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 336.
At one time I worked for a man who had one of the most even tempers I have ever witnessed. Many things happened on the job to fluster and upset him. But never once did I see him manifest even the hint of irritation. On one occasion I remarked to him about his self-control, stating that I supposed he was naturally of a placid nature.
"I used to have a volcanic temper," he answered. "But I knew I had to overcome it, so I went to work on it with the help of Jesus." The result was apparent. 57
No one will enter the kingdom of God unless his passions are subdued, unless his will is brought into captivity to the will of Christ.-ELLEN G. WHITE, in Review and Herald, April 28, 1891.
No impatient man or woman will ever enter into the courts of heaven. We must not allow the natural feelings to control our judgment. ... Many who profess the truth, do not seem to realize that it is an essential part of religion to become meek and lowly, tenderhearted and forbearing. -Ibid., Feb. 21, 1888.
There are some feelings that must be eliminated from the soul, because they are sinful. There are others that are not sinful, but the result of human weakness. They will dog the steps of the Christian until he puts off this vile body in exchange for a glorified one. Hatred, envy, self-pity, irritability, impatience, resentment, jealousy, malice, and all kindred feelings must be eradicated from the life. They are of the type Paul lists in Galatians 5: 19-21. They are un-Christlike. They mar the character; and only the unmarred character will be admitted into the pure kingdom of our Lord. "Purity is demanded not only in the outward life but in the secret intents and emotions of the heart." -Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 308.
Emotions That Are Not Sinful
Discouragement, depression, 58 gloominess, and emotions of that order are emotions that must be decidedly and determinedly faced and conquered. They are not sinful in themselves. But they undermine faith, weaken resolution, and thus lead to sin.
Your feelings might not always be of a joyous nature; clouds would at times shadow the horizon of your experience; but the Christian's hope does not rest upon the sandy foundation of feeling. Those who act from principle, will behold the glory of God beyond the shadows, and rest upon the sure word of promise. They will not be deterred from honoring God, however dark the way may seem. Adversity and trial will only give them an opportunity to show the sincerity of their faith and love. When depression settles upon the soul, it is no evidence that God has changed. He is "the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever."-ELLEN G. WHITE, in Review and Herald, Jan. 24, 1888.
If you would know the mystery of godliness, you must follow the plain word of truth,-feeling or no feeling, emotion or no emotion. Obedience must be rendered from a sense of principle, and the right must be pursued under all circumstances. This is the character that is elected of God unto salvation. -Ibid., July 17, 1888.
It is plain, then, that emotions are not to be consulted as a dependable barometer of our relationship with God. They are like the tides that rise and fall at the pull of sun and moon. Some incident, some remembrance, some word, some look, some bodily reaction, may raise your feelings to heights of joy or depths of gloom. In this connection Spurgeon said, "I looked to Jesus, and the dove of peace entered my heart. I looked at the dove, and it flew away." A Christian must not be a spiritual hypochondriac, watching every pulse of feeling. 59
It is not your feelings, your emotions [good or bad], that make you a child of God, but the doing of God's will. -Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 515.
A pleasant, self-satisfied feeling is not an evidence of sanctification. -The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on John 17:17, p. 1146.
In the heart of Christ, where reigned perfect harmony with God, there was perfect peace. He was never elated by applause, nor dejected by censure or disappointment. Amid the greatest opposition and the most cruel treatment, He was still of good courage. -The Desire of Ages, p. 330.
So it may be with us.
As we must not look to our feelings as the indicator of our relationship with God, so we must not talk of them to others. Expressing a feeling but confirms it, strengthens it, and makes it surer. To tell another that we are depressed, gloomy, disappointed, hurt, and so on, only makes it worse.
If you do not feel light-hearted and joyous, do not talk of your feelings. Cast no shadow upon the lives of others. A cold, sunless religion never draws souls to Christ. It drives them away from Him, into the nets that Satan has spread for the feet of the straying. Instead of thinking of your discouragements, think of the power you can claim in Christ's name. Let your imagination take hold upon things unseen. Let your thoughts be directed to the evidences of the great love of God for you. -The Ministry of Healing, p. 488.
When we talk discouragement and gloom, Satan listens with fiendish joy; for it pleases him to know that he has brought you into his bondage.-ELLEN G. WHITE, in Review and Herald, Feb. 27, 1913.
Feelings Fought, Fade
It is, then, the firm duty of every Christian troubled by feelings to resist decidedly every wrong and harmful emotion. This will often mean resisting the thought, the desire, the motivation, the attitude, behind the feeling. For example, moodiness may be caused by jealousy, envy, or thwarted ambition. Unless the cause is discovered, candidly admitted, and in the strength of Christ, repudiated, there is only a small gain in fighting the feeling itself. The root of bitterness must be destroyed. Feelings that are tackled in this way will gradually fade and be forgotten.
One final word of caution:
It is not wise to look to ourselves and study our emotions. If we do this, the enemy will present difficulties and temptations that weaken faith and destroy courage. Closely to study our emotions and give way to our feelings is to entertain doubt and entangle ourselves in perplexity. We are to look away from self to Jesus. -The Ministry of Healing, p. 249.