Our culture is obsessed by feeling. We are encouraged to let our feelings lead the way. So our feelings are used to justify any opinions, actions, and some of the worst cliche-ridden auditions on talent shows. Just because you’re singing in memory of your grandma, doesn’t make you a good singer.
When we let our feelings lead us, we are blown around like the wind, and spend our lives like hormonal teenagers craving feeling good, and despising or avoiding anything that doesn’t feel good. But in the words of Skunk Anansie, just because you feel good doesn’t make it right.
I was thinking about this because today I took the funeral of a man who had committed suicide. What do you say to a family, many of whom are Christians, who have lost a husband, father, brother, grandad and friend so suddenly, so inexplicably. Suddenly we are ambushed and surrounded by feelings and emotions, crowding round and jostling us and clawing at us; or to use another image, our ship is suddenly tossed in a storm far from port and God who is our rock appears to turn to sand and disappear.
What we do is turn to what we know, not what we feel. Feelings can be great, but if we follow them all the time, they will lead us a merry dance. In grief it can feel like the end of the world; it can feel like God is very distant; and it may be that we feel alone and abandoned by God.
That is why we must trust what we know. We know that God does not abandon us. We know that God always loves us, even when we are in a dark place. We also know that God does not always intervene to stop terrible things happening, and that can make us angry. We know God is big enough to receive our anger and our grief, big enough to catch all our tears in a bottle [Psalm 58.6].
So whilst we may feel alone – and in the moment it truly feels that we are – we cling to the knowledge we are not. We cling to what we knew about God – he never abandons us, but walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death. When we have lost someone we love we grieve deeply, and rightly so. But we do not stop there, not forever, because we have a hope that transforms even the darkest black into resurrection life.
We may not feel that now, but we know it because we knew it. This is why we need to strengthen and deepen our faith in-between crises so when the crises come we know God, not just know about him. This is why, for all its faults and imperfections, church is important, home groups are important, prayer is important. Because faith needs depth. So then when life goes belly up we can cling to what we know, not just how we feel.
None of which makes it feel any easier, of course.