By Jon Anderson
There has been an interesting change over the past few years in the way we speak. And though it could be argued that it is just a “manner of speaking” or an empty linguistic fad, I suspect that it is more than that. And it is something Christians ought to pay attention to. The change is this: no one ever thinks anymore. Listen for it. Eavesdrop a little and once you catch it you will begin to hear it everywhere. We seem to have unanimously agreed, culture-wide, to take any statements of truth, logic or certainty and reframe it in terms of emotion. And the result is the infiltration of the words “I feel” into every conceivable conversation. What people used to support using logic and conviction they now couch in vague terms of individual “feeling”. And most dangerously, this language has even crept its way into the church and into conversations surrounding faith and theology.
I suppose the new language makes sense. As a culture, we have swallowed the poison of postmodern relativism and have given up on any sense of objective truth, or at least the ability of any individual to ascertain that truth. And so the order of the day is an oppressive sense of forced humility; no one individual having the ability to claim any superior knowledge over another. Because who could ever claim to know anything with any amount of certainty? But there is also an underlying passive aggressive nature to this language. If I claim to Think something about God, that only welcomes you to respond with statements of fact and the application of logic to show that my thinking is flawed. But if I say that I feel that something is true about God, then there can be no application of reason or fact. My statement does not, so the lie says, deal in the world of truth and logic, but only in my own feelings. There has been no claim on reality, only on subjective emotion and with that, you cannot argue. Once again the response could be made that this is simply a linguistic idiosyncrasy and nothing more. But as George Orwell once noted, “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought”. And, of infinitely greater importance, 1 Peter 3:10 says “For ‘Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.” Or as James says of the tongue “how great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!”
Our words matter. And the question we must ask is, does this supplanting of the language of logic and confidence with the language of emotion and doubt reflect a biblical worldview. The first thing we must draw out into the light is that the supposed humility that is vaunted by our society is not a biblical humility. Yes, it refrains from thinking more highly of self than one ought, but it is not rooted in a reverence for God but in an omnipresent sense of doubt. Our culture says everything is to be doubted but God’s Word never honours doubt. Doubting Thomas is gently rebuked and told “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (the opposite of doubt)” (Jn 20:29). James chastises that “the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6b-8). It was a doubt, a lack of confidence in God’s Word, that was exploited by Satan in Genesis 3 when he whispered in Eve’s ear “did God really say…” ushering the first sin into the world. Doubt is no virtue in God’s economy.
Secondly, we must see that this worldly way of thinking elevates emotions and feelings over and above reason and intellect. Scripture is clear that our hearts are fallen and flawed. Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Disney’s constant refrain of ‘follow your heart’ is about as counter-biblical as you can get. On the other hand, though the intellect and reason are also fallen and tainted by sin, it is through that capacity that we take hold of God’s Word and appropriate it in our lives. Christianity is by no means a religion of the mind to the exclusion of the emotions, but it is by the use of intellect that we understand the truth of God’s Word. The call to “believe,” “trust” and “confess” are all acts of the mind which should then inform and transform the emotions. Hence, we are called to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rm 12:2) and to “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rm 6:11). A biblical worldview always relies on the mind informed by scripture to rule over the emotions of the heart.
As Christians then, we need to be aware of the sin-soaked culture around us and how it affects even our own thought and speech. We ought to put off this worldly way of thinking and speaking and stand against this erosion of the very concept of our ability to know the truth with certainty. True, we ought to “put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3). But that should not drive us to endless doubting and hopelessness. Rather it should drive us to a humble but robust and steadfast certainty in God’s Word. When God has spoken it is not humble to continue insisting agnosticism toward the truth; that is nothing but subversive arrogance. The remedy for doubt is faith and “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Rm 10:17). This is the faith, the certainty, upon which Paul could stand saying “for I am convinced” (Rm 9:38) and on which John could stand saying “by this we know” (1 Jn 2:3) and “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 Jn 5:13). We must stand with unshakable and immovable confidence and contend for what Jude calls “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Not because we feel that it is true, not even because we think it is true, but because God has spoken and we are certain that it is true.