Feeling Thougtful

Some years ago I sat in my study with a middle-aged, moderately successful, single Christian man I’ll call Mitch (not his real name of course).  He had made the appointment to discuss his frustration with life in general and his confusion about God’s guidance.  He was articulate, outspoken in his faith, regular in attendance at an evangelical church.  He was also a veteran of several marriages and affairs.  As we talked I asked him if he was sleeping with his current girlfriend (whom he recently met at church by the way, because he wouldn’t dream of dating anybody who wasn’t a Christian).

 “Yes,” he said, slightly surprised at my blunt, personal question.  “We know others might disapprove, but sometimes one thing leads to another and, well, you know … it’s a part of life.”

“Hmmm,” I murmured.  “So, why did you make this appointment with me?”

“Well, I need some perspective on where this relationship is going,” he said.

“Which relationship?” I asked.

Mitch frowned slightly but pleasantly with that Haven’t-you-heard-a-word-I’ve-said look.  “The one with Phyllis, of course.” (not her real name)

“Oh,” I responded.  “I thought perhaps you were wondering about your relationship with the Lord.”

“No,” he said. “That’s fine.  I’m wondering if the Lord wants me to marry Phyllis.”

“I don’t think so,” I said flatly.

His eyes widened as he sat back in his chair.  “Why not?” he asked.  It was obvious that my role in this conversation was to affirm his strong walk with the Lord and his deep desire to marry yet again, which, being God’s primary purpose for his life, would make him supremely happy … finally.

“Well, you’re not very good at marriage,” I said.  “You’ve had three, in between your girlfriends, and have not seemed to get the knack of it.  If a pilot who had flown several planes into different objects asked me if he should buy a new flying machine, I’d advise him to take up jogging.  He’s not a pilot; he’s a wrecker of aircraft.”

Mitch was speechless for a moment.  “But,” he exclaimed. “What shall I do about dating?”

“Stop,” I said simply.

“What?!” he exclaimed, leaning forward across the table.  “I have needs for companionship, intimacy.  What about that?”  He was becoming agitated now.

“I don’t think there is a biblical mandate for you to date,” I explained.  “And you’re constantly falling into evil when you get emotionally involved with women.  There is a mandate about that.  So, I’m advising celibacy instead of marriage for you.”

You would have thought I had suggested amputation (It crossed my mind actually).

“Well, I’ll have to pray about that,” he said.  He sat still, hands flat on the table between us, eyes down, scanning like a line of lights on a computer with too much data to process.

After many seconds of silence, I suggested praying.  He nodded blankly.  I prayed.  He didn’t.  He shook my hand and thanked me for my time.

I heard several months later that Mitch had married, but that things were not well.  They were seeking counsel, Christian of course.

How can a person be so well conditioned to church life that he seeks advice from his pastor, but live so immorally that the idea of celibacy seems utterly foreign?  It’s about what we consider real knowledge.  The tip-off to Mitch’s mind-set, his worldview, was in the first part of his conversation, when he essentially excused his sexual evil by assuming that this was “a part of life.”  It may be a part of life in a sense, but is God’s will not a part of life?  Apparently God’s word was not as ‘factual’ a part of Mitch’s life as his own need for intimacy.  He obviously ‘knew’ that his needs were paramount and must be met.  But God’s instruction was not quite so convincing, so ‘factual.’  Why is that?  Because Mitch’s mind has been trained in the ‘fact’ of his psychological needs, but is deficient in the perspective God presents on these needs.  He simply didn’t believe God’s view of relationships.

People always do what they truly believe, and they tend to believe what they think most about.  Thinking and believing eventually blend to form the mind.  Which is why Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”  It does not say that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of faith, but of knowledge.  The presence and power of the Lord is apparently a fact God wants us to put at the front of everything else we call knowledge.  Mitch had relegated his faith in the Lord to the area of feeling, opinion, while firmly grounding his life-choices in the ‘facts’ of his needs.

The mind is the central organ of faith.  J. P. Moreland, professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, points out that the Bible says more about knowledge than it does about faith.  He’s right.  But the statement sounds strange to our ears because most of us have been taught since we were young that vibrant faith and factual knowledge are two different things.  With our hearts we “feel and believe” and with our minds we “think and learn.”  It becomes possible then to ‘think’ one way and ‘believe’ another.  Jesus didn’t think so.  In Matt 22:37, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, he says we should “… love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind.”  He is equating these three, not dividing them.

In the biblical worldview God presents real knowledge, which we should absorb mentally and use to interpret everything else in life.  Wisdom (the ability to live faithfully and well) grows organically out of God’s revelation in His word and His world.  Scripture sees no distinction between the mind and the heart, like we assume when we say things like, “My mind is telling me one thing but my heart is telling me another!”  Or, “Don’t think about it, just do it – follow your heart.”   These statements reflect not a difference between feeling and thinking, but a conflict between desire and virtue.  The mind is very active in all such decisions.  The only question is whether it is thinking faithfully, based on God’s wisdom, or crookedly based on fallen presuppositions.

So, we must think and feel like Christians.  To do that we must treat God’s word as factual in a way that puts all other knowledge into perspective.

When a person says, “I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”  I ask, “Is that a fact …?”

Just a Thought,

Pastor Rick