On Feelings and Faith

“I think the thrill of the Pagan stories and of romance may be due to the fact that they are mere beginnings—the first, faint whisper of the wind from beyond the world—while Christianity is the thing itself: and no thing, when you have really started on it, can have for you then and there just the same thrill as the first hint. For example, the experience of being married and bringing up a family cannot have the old bittersweet of first falling in love. But it is futile (and, I think, wicked) to go on trying to get the old thrill again: you must go forward and not backward. Any real advance will in its turn be ushered in by a new thrill, different from the old: doomed in its turn to disappear and to become in its turn a temptation to retrogression. Delight is a bell that rings as you set your foot on the first step of a new flight of stairs leading upwards. Once you have started climbing you will notice only the hard work: it is when you have reached the landing and catch sight of the new stair that you may expect the bell again. This is only an idea, and may be all rot: but it seems to fit in pretty well with the general law (thrills also must die to live) of autumn & spring, sleep and waking, death and resurrection, and ‘Whosoever loseth his life, shall save it'” (C. S. Lewis, Words to Live By).

You can’t live your live solely on feelings. It’s like trying to maintain a relationship based on that initial feeling of falling in love. Or trying to recreate that feeling of the first time of experiencing a great meal or a majestic view. You just can’t.

It’s like trying to make yourself feel happy all the time. It’s impossible. Eventually, you will get tired. You will get frustrated. You will feel anything but happy by the time you’re done trying to keep up the feeling of happiness.

In matters of faith, you can’t live on feelings. But you can do acts of love even when you don’t feel loving. You can do acts of obedience even when you don’t feel authentic. If you keep up the discipline of loving and obeying, eventually you will feel loving and truly obedient. But we do these things not to feel a certain way but because God says so. We do them because God did so much for us.

Ultimately, it’s God’s love in us that enables us to love at all. If we know that God’s love is present whether we feel it or not, whether we can sense God or not, then we can love others when we don’t feel like it or when they don’t love us back. God loving us made us lovable, so our loving the unlovable shows them more than just ordinary human love — it shows them God’s kind of love.

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