Psalm 16 – Feelings

By Aaron Elder

I know y’all couldn’t wait for a post about feelings. I just give the people what they want. Perhaps you’re familiar with the illustration of a train. The train consists of three cars that function in this order: fact (engine), faith, feelings (caboose). The idea being that if my facts are right and I believe those facts, the feelings (love, joy, peace (not feelings, but I digress..)) fall into place. There is a flaw in this system, however. What if I believe the same things I did six months ago, but I’m having a very different (negative) emotional experience? I’m left to conclude that my facts or my faith are broken. Since facts are facts, I must conclude that my faith is broken (cue unending cycle of shame).

Though sometimes directly, but more often indirectly, we’ve been told that the healthy Christian has no room for feelings – and certainly not negative ones. We’re left without any mechanism to process emotions, which is a big deal. Here’s why: Dr. David Eckman once said, “Feelings don’t authenticate truth, they authenticate our understanding of truth.” Translated: Feelings don’t make something true. Feelings reflect what I believe to be true. We’ve all seen this play out right? Man is yelling and the woman says, “Honey, calm down.” The man replies (screaming) “I AM CALM!” Bro, remove the tape from the dashboard lights and pop the hood.

Let’s try this out – I’ll even give you a softball. I’m going to give a phrase and I want you to listen to your body’s reaction… ready? God. Is. Good. Sorry… I lied – I used to think this was a softball, not any more! If you felt nothing, slow it down. It could be that what you’re “supposed” to believe short circuited your emotional system. Some of you are really struggling with this. You know intimately the tension between what you feel and what you’re supposed to believe. This is good. Resist the urge to reinforce the engine.

Here’s a starting point: whether you had a positive or negative bodily reaction, explore this question: why do I feel _____ when I hear “God is good?” Let it run as far as it needs to. Because we’ve been taught to “fix” our emotions with truth, this will be a challenging exercise. 

In verse 9 of this Psalm, David expounds on what he has experienced from God by describing what is happening in his body. This is exceedingly common in the Psalms. God gave us these bodies to do more than house a spirit (we need to leave the dualism of Plato behind). Begin listening to your body and become curious about your emotions. I don’t know where it will take you, but it will probably derail your train. You’re welcome.

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