By Richard Blackaby
I am, without a doubt, the most out-of-shape member of my immediate family. I’m not proud of that fact. I used to be a fit athlete. But that was many years and almost two million air miles ago. Due to my constant travel, I sit and eat out a lot. That lifestyle has caught up to me. Big time. In years past, I’d be home for a week and hit the treadmill with a vengeance. The pounds would grudgingly yield to my will. But as I’ve grown older, those extra pounds have developed an attitude.
Fortunately, my wife, as well as my three kids and their spouses, are very health-conscious. They all exercise. Several of them have run full marathons. This fall, my family decided to enter a 5K. For most of my children, running a 5K requires as little effort as retrieving mail from their mailbox. My wife currently runs 5K in our neighborhood at least twice a week. Then there’s me.
I ran a 5K once. But that was before a bout with pneumonia, gallbladder surgery, and a back injury. Nevertheless, I decided to start training this summer so I’d be prepared for our family run in the fall. During my first run, I hit a wall. Sweat poured down my face. My heart pounded harder than a bass drum in a marching band. My throat was drier than the Sahara. My legs throbbed. And at that point I’d only gotten to the end of my driveway! Somebody call a paramedic!
After my pitiful first attempt, I threw out all the stops. I purchased high-tech running socks. I uploaded all the hit contemporary songs from my youth onto my iPod (though locating a digital copy of “The Gregorian Chant” proved to be difficult). I outfitted myself in proper running attire. With that, I was able to extend my run to two blocks before I started blacking out.
Frankly, I was embarrassed by my physical inability to run 5K. However, I have come to realize that the majority of my problem is not physical, but mental. My body is still capable of running 5K (Though Usain Bolt should not feel threatened by my pace, even in his retirement). But my mind quickly starts focusing on every discomfort. It negotiates with my feet to stop at 3K, or perhaps at the end of the next block, or maybe at the next driveway. My mind knows I can do it, but my emotions tell me it’s not worth the pain. I’m convinced that my greatest challenge is not my feet, but my mind. I succumb far too easily to my feelings, and that is my undoing.
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Feelings are not necessarily bad. God told us to love Him with all of our heart (Mark 12:30). Love, passion, patriotism, anger, and indignation can all drive us to step out of our comfort zone and attempt things we wouldn’t normally do, like risk our life in battle, confront a criminal, or stand up against injustice.
But feelings also have a downside. They are generally not rational. Feelings, though they may be strong, can be triggered by falsehood or half-truths. Sometimes we simply don’t feel like doing what we should. At other times our feelings can lure us into activities we know are unwise or unethical. Feelings are generally most useful when they are harnessed to our will. When I will myself not to quit running after the first mile, even though I desperately want to, I feel great about myself and am in better shape when I finish.
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So, what happens when a nation is led by its feelings and not its mind? Looking at the current state of America, I think I know! As I said, feelings are not intrinsically bad. In fact, when properly managed, they can drive nations to great heights. But when allowed into the driver’s seat, they can lead nations to act foolishly.
Modern society has reached the point where people’s feelings determine their reality, and no one is allowed to challenge them. The most obvious current example involves gender identity. If a biological male feels like a female one day, he is considered a female. This change occurs without any medical or scientific evidence to back up his feeling. A five-year-old biological boy does not have to take a doctor’s note to his school teacher to support, medically, that he is now a she. All he has to do is say that he feels like a girl, and his teacher and classmates must adjust to his new identity. If he feels like a boy again a week later, everyone is alerted to his latest change. We have just started to see the enormous ramifications this ideology will have on society.
What is to stop a sixteen-year-old, six-foot-six, two-hundred-pound biological male from declaring that he identifies as a female and wishes to try out for the high school girls’ basketball team? To prevent him is considered discrimination. If we are to be logically consistent with such beliefs, what could stop such an individual from using the girls’ locker rooms and showers? We know instinctively that this line of thought can only lead to chaos, but feelings are currently trumping society’s mind. A woman was recently exposed for claiming to be African American when she was not. She gained a financial benefit from the false claim. She defended herself by claiming she “identifies” as African American. Clearly, if all one must do is “identify” with a gender or a race in order to be treated as one, our feelings are master over what we know to be true from science and biology.
There are numerous examples of this emotionally-altered reality in modern society. If left-wing university students feel threatened because a right-wing student group is sponsoring a lecture on the campus, they feel they have every right to stage a riot, blockade the lecture hall, or descend into uncontrollable sobbing in their dorm room. Obviously, if the left-wing students were unsafe due to the lecture, preventative actions would be necessary. But simply feeling unsafe does not mean they actually are unsafe. False fears exist.
The problem with prioritizing feelings over reality is that, once you start down that path, absurdity is inevitable. What if atheist university students feel threatened because Christian students are holding a meeting on campus to pray for the salvation of unbelieving students? What if an atheist student feels threatened because his professor has a Christian bumper sticker on his car? When does your fear constitute a crime on my part?
America is increasingly becoming a nation of feelers. Someone posts an emotion-inducing picture on social media and a mob gathers. People shout emotional slogans through a loudspeaker and people break store windows and burn people’s cars. We have seen evidence of such unruly behavior in less educated, developing countries for years. But now our society is characterized by it as well.
The truth is that, despite the plethora of books and 24-hour news programs, American society is increasingly unable to think. A Hollywood actor who plays a beloved doctor on a television drama can express his views on the current political situation or nuclear test bans or the environmental dangers of fracking and people listen to him approvingly. People do not heed his opinion because he actually knows anything about these matters, but because they have warm feelings toward his character on TV. Today, rather than engaging in reasoned debate, society degenerates into angry shouting matches. People aren’t striving to understand. They are desperate to be heard. Modern society doesn’t think. It shouts.
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Christianity has always inspired deep feelings in its adherents. Such emotions have led people to suffer martyrdom, give their possessions to the poor, and devote their lives to sacrificial service to others. But the power of the Christian movement lies not in its emotional appeal, but in its appeal to truth. The Christian scriptures provide an unchanging, time-tested, practical guide for living. The Bible is not subject to people’s feelings. It is not amended each year with the next printing. Its truth emanates from God, not a majority vote. And, as Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).
The age-old problem with feelings is that they are not always grounded in reality. Wanting to quit my 5K run does not mean I’m physically incapable of running one. Unless, of course, I allow feelings to determine my reality. I can identify as a marathon runner all I want, but one look in the mirror belies that falsehood. The key to successfully running a 5K is not simply feeling like a runner, but willing myself to get off the couch, put on my sneakers, and hit the road!