Monday, May 22, 2006

Christianity: heart above the head

What if faith is more about feelings than it is about mental assent?

If you ask Christians what being a Christian is all about I have a feeling most of them would tell you that being a Christian is believing that Jesus is God and that he came to Earth as a human, died on a cross to pay for our sins and then rose again from the dead three days later. All these things are true but what if all these truths are only there to supplement something deeply more important. Christianity is a call to faith not to intellectual decision and mental assent to the truths of Christianity doesn’t give us faith. Faith starts and finishes somewhere beneath the skin of what we believe. A lot of people believe all the right things, know a lot about the Bible, and yet are never really changed. All their knowledge leads them nowhere. What really changes you is much deeper than intellect. At the heart of Christianity is faith and at the heart of faith is a feeling, a deep feeling that there is something bigger than all of this.

The great german theologian Frederick Schleiermacher called this feeling the “feeling of absolute dependence.” Whether or not you agree with some of the details of his assertions Schleiermacher was on to something and I think we have a lot to learn from him. For him this feeling of absolute dependence was the foundation of all religion and every ritual or act of worship was sprung forth from this feeling. It unites all spirituality. No matter how much we act upon the world we have limitations. We all have moments where we come to the realization that we are dependant upon something. We have needs which need to be met and we cannot meet them on our own. We are dependant upon something or someone to respond to our need and that someone or something is also dependant upon someone else or something else. If you follow this line of dependency it will lead you to the realization that there must be something bigger, something upon which everything is totally dependant. This realization is the feeling of absolute dependence. Religion is the acting upon of this feeling. Ultimately you will place your faith in whatever satisfies this feeling, in whatever gives us hope.

So if Schleiermacher is even close to being right then what are the implications on belief? What is the role of belief in a life of faith? If our religion is about the head and not the heart then it is meaningless. If the Christian faith is not a response to this feeling then where are we to find the response? Surely we will find it somewhere else. Our beliefs are what shape the way we live our lives but without being built upon what is truly in our heart they’ll lead us nowhere. So why is it that we are so quick to call people to belief before ever calling people to faith? Maybe we should spend more time responding to what is already in the heart than adding to what is in the head. It can be so easy to acknowledge God with your lips while at the same time your heart is far from him. It is the heart which matters to God and it will always be transparent to Him. But our faith reveals him to us.

Saint Augustine said “What is there in me that could be hidden from you, Lord, to whose eyes the abyss of my conscience are exposed, even if I were unwilling to confess it to You? In doing so I would only hide you from myself not myself from you. My groaning is witness to the fact that I am dissatisfied, but you shine forth and satisfy.” (Confessions 10.2) All of us who know God know this groaning. This groaning is common among us all but the shining satisfaction of the One God “in whom we live and have our being” (Acts 17) is only found in faith. It is in the feeling, the groaning that faith begins and ends and so that is where ministry begins and ends. The needs of the world are met in the heart.

5 comments:

Maryellen said...

"a feeling, a deep feeling that there is something bigger than all of this."
yes and amen to that.
so often in Churches you hear that we can't count on our feelings, feelings change, but then we can't just ignor our feelings...
there is compassion, and joy, and sorrow, awe, and comfort...
If believeing with your mind and not your heart saved, than wouldn't satan be able to claim salvation?

Dan McGowan said...

I am totally with you on this one, believe it or not... I knew we'd find some common ground... I am so tired of the church being so hard on the emotional aspect of our love relationship with Jesus. Yes, come get carried away. But you can get just as "carried away" with your brain as you can with your heart - - God's word tells us to love him with ALL (the totality of) our HEART, SOUL, MIND and STRENGTH. None of those four are more important, more sacred, more holy, or more needed than another. It is a total love for a total God with our total being... or something like that...

Danny said...

How would you compare this to "kiss of betrayal?" In kiss of betrayal you seemed to say how we act in everyday life is more important than emotions

WES ELLIS said...

Maryellen,
You bring up a good point. Satan knows a whole lot about Jesus but there's something very wrong with their relationship.

Dan,
I am very excited that we agree on something. Your comment reminded me of one of the greatest (yet sometimes totally misunderstood) statements in the history of theology: "restless is the human heart until it comes to rest in you." _Saint Augustine (Confessions 1.1)

Danny,
Your emotions and how you live your life are not two mutually exclusive concepts, rather, one has very very much to do with the other. If you think about it your feelings are what orchestrate the quality of your actions. Even the choice to act against your emotions is prompted by a feeling, possible a feeling that doing so is the right thing to do. And why do what is right in the first place except because you feel that you have some duty to do so? No I did not mean to imply that action is more important than feeling.

SteveW said...

Most of us have been taught that we can't trust our feelings...just like we can't trust our hearts because they are deceitfully wicked.

So, even though we may be hearing a still small voice speaking softly but confidently from deep within us, we are conditioned to distrust it and depend on only what the professional religious experts tell us.

As I stated in my last post, I am slowly learning that some of the things said by some of those trained professionally is great stuff. And I might add that some of the things said by us untrained and yes, even unchurched minions, is also worth hearing.

The great thing is that, in my freedom to follow Christ, outside of tradition, I am learning to trust His direction enough that when the criticism comes from those who disagree, it no longer intimidates me...because I have One abiding down deep in a heart redeemed in love making it entirely acceptable to follow my heart even above all of those things planted in my head for so many years.

Peace Wes. Good post.