Recently at the gym, I started talking with a college student. “You spoke at my school’s chapel, right?” he asked. I said yes, and we fell into some theological dialogue. After a minute or two, I could tell that his pressing concern was rising to the surface: “Honestly, I don’t feel God,” he shared.
How to React to the Words “I Don’t Feel God”
“So, I guess the thing I keep coming back to is, everyone else seems to feel God, whether they’re feeling his presence, or they just have some emotion which I’ve never had.”
The student impressed me by quoting Pascal’s wager, which states that logically, the believer is safer than the atheist. That was a driving force in his faith. He reminded me of the Bereans in Acts, who were constantly searching the Scriptures to test what the apostles taught them about Jesus.
I told the student, “I feel ancient saying this, but you honestly remind me of myself when I was your age.” I told him I was with a mission organization where everyone else seemed to be feeling God constantly. Yet I never seemed to have the same experience. I could relate to the complaint, “I don’t feel God.”
One guy even told me he’d listen to sad music or watch a sad movie before every worship service “to soften my heart.” It seemed an awful lot like a ploy to make him cry and supposedly have a more authentic experience with God. This despite the fact that what he was crying about wasn’t necessarily God-related.
The problem for me at that organization was I never felt any emotion about those things. I never teared up when I thought about the gospel, nor could I recount specific episodes of “feeling the presence of God.” I feared that something was wrong with me, and I wasn’t really a Christian because I wasn’t having these monumental experiences.
Emotion Tends to Follow Truth
I didn’t cry for more than four years. Then one day at church, I did. And a month or two after that, I did again. I wouldn’t say I’m at the Jude-Law-in-The-Holiday-level yet, but my emotion toward God expands the more I learn about him.
Recently I wrote about the dumbing down of Christianity, or the fear of intellectual theology. Maybe we’ve replaced learning about God and the Bible with emotion and awe-inspiring performances at (larger) churches. Theology often isn’t sexy.
In a way, we can draw parallels between “emotional-pull churches” and one-night stands. We want the emotional high without committing time to build a real, meaningful relationship. We want a shortcut to ecstasy. The person in the bar who wants sex with a stranger wants feelings of intimacy without the patience and work.
Theology also takes time to build to an emotional crescendo. Or at least, that’s been my experience. All those years ago, I could’ve tried to squeeze the tears out, and I did try. But they would’ve been false tears. I’ve found that my emotion has followed truth. The more I learn, the more I feel in regard to Jesus and his relevance in my life.