Do you have Faith in your Feelings?
In 1952, Norman Vincent Peale wrote a book entitled, The Power of Positive Thinking: A Practical Guide to Mastering the Problems of Everyday Living. It’s at least forty-five years since I bought it and I have no idea what I did with it. But the book promoted positive thinking as the antidote for about everything between being depressed and being over-weight.
The book was popular at the time, but I haven’t heard anything about it for years. It is true that attitude is a powerful motivator and there is nothing wrong with being a positive person. But I’ve noticed during my lifetime that this idea has filtered strongly into Christian teaching and theology. Only we call it “assurance of salvation.”
In some circles a lack of assurance is one of the worst sins you can struggle with. It seems that God will forgive about anything except that. I suspect that lots of Christians try to whip themselves into enough of a spiritual frenzy often enough that they can assure themselves that they are okay. But does this actually open any doors into heaven?
I’ve often wondered about that. Positive thinking doesn’t change facts. I was unacquainted with grits until I was an adult. One day we visited a conference and stayed with a young couple for several nights. The man of the house regaled me with stories about the wonderful breakfasts his wife made, and I looked forward to it all night long. I hopped out of bed licking my lips.
To understand this story, you need to know several things about me. One is that I like good food. Another is that I have never, even as a baby, liked to eat baby food or anything of that texture. Cream of wheat, wheat-lets, and even oatmeal porridge were NOT something I enjoyed. So you might understand why my heart dropped when I got to the table that morning.
Grits, I discovered, are what we called cornmeal mush when I was growing up. I could keep it down if I had to, but it was hard for me to stomach. I have only been served grits twice in my adult life, but I remember both times very vividly. And all the positive thinking I could produce, and all the anticipation I had, made no difference.
Similarly, I doubt that God will be impressed with the sinner who has drummed up a lot of good feeling in his life. Jesus talked about people who claimed they had healed the sick and cast out demons in His name. But He brushed them aside. He called them workers of iniquity. I imagine those people had wonderful testimonies about assurance. They probably looked down on the poor Christians who, like the tax collector, would not even raise their eyes to heaven but struck themselves on the chest saying, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ (see Luke 18:13 CSB)
I believe that a Christian can find peace in Christ. He doesn’t need to wake up in fear in the middle of the night. But our faith needs to be placed in Christ, not in our feelings.
Jesus, my Lord and Master