One time, we had this cable guy over to our house, and I really liked him — at first. He was doing everything he could to figure out why we couldn’t get the Internet to work, and while he did, he talked a lot about Jesus. But then things got weird.
We joined my wife, Raquel, in the living room, and shortly thereafter, he began prophesying over her — telling her all these things he could allegedly see in her and what she had to do if she really wanted to hear from God. It seemed strange to me to have this guy who barely knew either of us begin speaking into my wife’s life in such an unsolicited and intimate way.
After he left, I told Raquel I regretted not stopping him and saying I thought he was out of line. But I probably got sucked into tolerating his speech because of three magical words: “I feel like … ”
If you’ve spent much time in an evangelical church, you’ve probably heard “I feel like” in a number of quasi-spiritual ways which may include:
“I feel like God is saying …”
“I feel like God wants me to …”
“I feel like God is telling me to …”
This is an improvement on the Christianese power-phrase, “God told me,” but a minor one. “I feel like” is a conversation-killing power play for reasons explained by Molly Worthen in her compelling New York Times essay, “Stop Saying ‘I Feel Like.’”
Worthen explores how “I feel like” turns “emotion into a cudgel that smashes the distinction … between evidence out in the world and internal sentiments known only to each of us.”
That’s evermore so the case when we use “I feel like” to claim spiritual authority that may not actually exist. In doing so, we not only smash the distinction between objective evidence in the world and our internal feelings — we smash the distinction between God’s will and our subjective desires.
The satirical news website The Babylon Bee recently lampooned this Christian tendency in its story, “Everything Local Man Feels Led To Do He Coincidentally Really Likes.” It tells the story of Don Farmer, age 43, who “reported Tuesday that he was recently ‘led by God’ toward several things he really likes — and in fact, as a general rule, everything he feels spiritually moved to do he coincidentally enjoys very much.”
Sound familiar? If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably justified and spiritualized all kinds of things in the name of your “feelings.” Some of those things were probably genuine responses to the leading of the Spirit, some of them were probably guesswork and some may have been outright manipulation. But it’s so hard to tell the difference, because we often use the same “I feel” language to describe them all.
Here’s an idea: From now on, let’s stop using our feelings to project God’s approval onto whatever we want to do. Or as Worthen concludes in her essay, let’s “argue rationally, feel deeply and take full responsibility for our interaction with the world.”
Yes, the Word tells us that we are God’s temple and His Spirit dwells in us (1 Corinthians 3:16), so the Holy Spirit will undoubtedly influence our thoughts and feelings. But those thoughts and feelings should always be subject to the Spirit-inspired Scripture and a community of Spirit-filled believers around us. Otherwise, we may run the risk of deifying our emotions and expecting everyone else to bow down with us — even when the only god we’re actually hearing from is us.