Friday, October 28, 2011

No, Jesus doesn't really care about your feelings

Now that I have your attention, you may be thinking, "What do you mean Jesus doesn't care about my feelings? Jesus was all about love and acceptance. Of course he cares about our feelings."

Well ... I hate to burst your bubble ... but no, he doesn't. They are not his primary concern.

I started a bit of a firestorm on Facebook last week when I linked to a blog post entitled "On Being Made and Ever Re-Made: Of Baptism and Communion" by Fr. Robert Hendrickson of Christ Episcopal Church in New Haven, CT. In it Fr. Hendrickson argues against giving Communion to unbaptized persons - a conversation currently happening within the Episcopal Church. Those who argue for communing the unbaptized base their position that Jesus welcomed everybody and that we need to emulate his "radical hospitality." Fr. Hendrickson argues (and I concur) that offering the sacrament to the unbaptized is, in essence, putting the cart before the horse as baptism is the sacrament of initiation into the Body of Christ and Communion is the sacrament of ongoing transformation as we live into our baptismal covenant and grow into the full stature of Christ. I highly recommend you read his posting as he articulates this position most eloquently.

So why the firestorm on Facebook? Well, some of my dear friends from church believe strongly in communing the unbaptized. One friend posted that communing the unbaptized went beyond "radical hospitality." She posted:
Jesus wants us to reflect his Love to one another and anything that is exclusionary, an "us and you" type of mind set does not do that. If I go into a church and am not "allowed" to take communion because I have not been baptized, I am automatically going to feel inferior, unaccepted, and different. I don't think that is what Christ is about and I think Jesus would NOT be happy.
She clearly articulated a position which is being discussed in the church and several others shared similar feelings in their posts too. While I do not agree with communing the unbaptized, I deeply respect their concern about welcoming those outside the Church and share their concern about how we best do it. We are living in time of greater secularization and we need to be welcoming unchurched people into our communities and inviting them to know Jesus Christ. We are wrestling with being inclusive without losing our identity as Christians. We agree that Jesus wants us to show love for one another without exception. But is having a boundary the same as being unloving?

In our culture, we seem to think of being "loving" is being "nice." Any parent who is doing their job of parenting knows that there are times when the most loving thing you can do is let your kid take their lumps in life - it's called "tough love" and it's the hardest thing a parent ever has to do.  Love is "strong as death" (Song of Songs 8:6).

Love clearly is more than a feeling - it is a willful commitment to another and a commitment to an intimate relationship which ideally seeks the best for the other person. Not that feelings aren't involved in a love relationship, but feelings are only a part of what it means to love.

My friend's post had many feeling words in it: "inferior," "unaccepted," "different," and "Jesus would NOT be happy." (I confess I am an NT on the Myers-Briggs which doesn't make me the most "feely" kind of person - so she is one of my treasured friends who helps me with this.) Her passion for welcoming the stranger and her Christian faith are strong. Her post made me think more deeply about whether or not Jesus really cares much about our feelings.  If Jesus were primarily concerned about feelings, would he have ...

  • Called the Pharisees a "brood of vipers"? (Matthew 3:7, 12:34, 23:33; Luke 3:7)
  • Told Peter "Get behind me Satan"? (Matthew 16:23, Mark 8:33)
  • Repeatedly called the scribes and Pharisees "hypocrites"? (citations too numerous to mention)
  • Said to the crowd "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?" (Matthew 17:17, Mark 9:19, Luke 9:41)
  • Taken a bull whip to the money changers in the Temple?
  • Let the rich young man just walk away without an offer to renegotiate the terms of "sell everything you have and give it to the poor, then follow me"? (Mark 10:21, Luke 18:22)
If Jesus' ultimate concern was about other people's feelings, then he had a strange way of showing it!

I don't believe Jesus cares much about our feelings, or our thoughts for that matter, as an ultimate concern. He does, however, care about our right relationship with God and others - and certainly feelings can be a part of that, but they aren't the end goal. To stop with feelings or thoughts would be to sell us short and I don't think Christ wants to sell us short. His ultimate concern is with our conversion, repentance and renewal. And conversion, repentance and renewal don't always feel good.

The scriptures tell us that for the oppressed and abused, Jesus gave them back their dignity and restored them to the fullness of their humanity. Whether that was healing the lepers, restoring sight to the blind, giving hearing to the deaf, or raising the dead, Jesus lifted up those who were marginalized and abused by society. He restored them to their rightful status as God's children. This probably felt very good to those who had been downtrodden. However, the scriptures also tell us that Jesus used harsh words (and sometimes actions) on those who were resistant to his message - he even laid into his disciples on occasion! I'm sure this didn't feel very good. Sometimes the truth hurts. But Jesus was more interested in the truth than he was about whether he had hurt the feelings of those he confronted.

So I'm sorry to be the one to burst your bubble. Jesus really doesn't care about your feelings as something of ultimate worth. He cares about something far more lasting and important - your very life.


Anonymous said...

I read your article and would like to ad this : There are some of us who have had be childhoods and made bad choice along the way because it was all we knew...I am one of them.But then I became a Christian and gave up my old ways, friends, music, etc...try to do what please God etc...only thing is this...God NEVER encouraged me along the way...never cared for my feelings or showed it in anyway in tangible ways that would help me go on...Where am I now ? I am not walking with God now.....I am lost and with no direction in life...trapped ! I needed Jesus to care about how I feel also for me to trust him fully...but he never showed that to me ! I needed some encouragement to know I was on the right track...never got that either ! Anyone know what it feels like to have no direction in life or encouragement from your own God ? Parents that LOVE their children encourage them along the way....they also tell them the truth even when it hurts for their own good....but they encourage them and help if they can...everyone needs a little real help in life ! Imagine is no doors opened up for you to better yourself ? Imagine doing the right things and nothing good happens in your life ? Or maybe you stand by God and loose your job to keep his Sabbath day holy and take that stand...only to lose your job and not be able to find another ? I lost my job for trying to keep the sabbath day Holy to honor God ! I prayed for help and everything in my life fell apart on top of losing my job...I never felt so alone in my life and betrayed ! I went down hill after that and now live in poverty and depression..I cry all the time.People at church seemed to say nice things but mostly cared for their own lives...words only kind of support !When you turn to God and want to change your life and walk with him...and never get encouragement or help when needed you end up giving up as I did ! I suffered a horrible and hard childhood and never had encouragement growing up and never had affection or love feeling were ignored and never validated either ! If Jesus really does care for my life, my future, my character etc....He would do well to consider my feelings also.....because if he doesn't I might as well end my life ! A part of loving someone is caring about how they feel also and helping ....or you end up being a hard, heartless taskmaster with no compassion !I feel abandoned by God and unloved and for this reason I am in deep depression and lost....this means returning to my bad behaviors and saying things out of the pain and hurt that are
wrong ! I just want to die and give up......I need more than words from God...more than punishment and discipline or correction.... only if God gave me love , real help, care about my feelings and thoughts , my dreams and hopes and he would have won my heart forever !Adults who grow up up the way I do need more than a taskmaster....we need love, encouragement, tangible help and care for our feelings to blossom onto healthy adults.....Only wish jesus knew this as I would be healthy now and have hope !

Reverend Mom said...

I am so terribly sorry you feel you didn't receive any encouragement in your faith journey. That is truly heartbreaking.

You are right: this isn't about punishment, discipline or correction. It is about love and sadly, it appears you didn't feel this from your faith community.

My point in writing this is that Jesus cares for far MORE than just your feelings (although feelings are a part of who we are). Perhaps this got lost in my words.

Christ cares for the whole of you and your salvation. I pray you find a faith community where you can receive encouragement rather than a list of "do's and don'ts." Do's and don'ts are not what Christianity is all about.