It’s all too easy to live in this culture and not be oriented around our needs and feelings most of the time. I know this is true from a personal standpoint because I based truth and reality – especially in my relationship with God – on myself and my emotions and my comfort for far too long, and it inevitably sent me into a tailspin of doubt and confusion once I caught up with myself and my flawed motivations. (If you want to know more about this experience, check out my last article).
So when I say that our culture revolves too much around the individual person and their feelings, I mean that we’re being trained and influenced to base our perceptions, decisions, and actions on what feels “right” or makes us most comfortable at any given point in time. This attitude is obvious in how people approach the concept of relating to other human beings (not to mention their relationship with the Author of all existence). Do you feel like you’re not in love with your spouse anymore? Divorce them and find someone else. Your closest friend called you out about something and it hurt your ego? Ditch them. Get a new friend. Just do you.
The problem here is that the base principle of life has never been for you to “do you.” The base principle of life is for you to deny you (see Matthew 16:24). And it’s impossible for us to truly deny ourselves and follow Christ if how we approach life – and the Almighty God who gave it to us – is determined by our own feelings and our own convenience and our own happiness. It’s sort of obvious in this way that self-centeredness isn’t exclusive to secular culture – as a matter of fact, it’s the base mentality that drives many Christian philosophies. I’ve realized this in my own circle of believing friends, in some of the churches I’ve attended through the past twenty years, and even in myself, until very recently.
One of the biggest examples of this feels-y, self-centered faith is that we tend to place much more of an emphasis on “experiencing” God than on knowing and honoring Him. We go to summer camp and Christian concerts and come away “on fire for the Lord” for a few weeks, and then it dissipates and we cry out in anger that His presence has left us. How dare we trivialize and box up the transcendent power of the Almighty God, determining His goodness and His involvement by whether or not we happen to feel or see some tangible evidence of it whenever we demand to?
How dare we liken Christianity to some mystic, voodoo nonsense where we can just summon the Holy Spirit to do our bidding, giving us deliverance from every discomfort and every negative situation as if our identity as children of God has more to do with knowing a magic password than with being called to glorify and honor Him? Who do we think we’re fooling?
“’Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” (Isaiah 46:8-10 ESV)
I think I can speak for you and me both when I say that I don’t have the ability to declare the end from the beginning. I don’t have the ability to stand at the starting line of human history and see what would come to pass. I don’t have the ability to establish eternal purpose. But I’m learning to know and glorify the One who does.
So if you asked me a few months ago what the purpose of Christianity is, I probably would have said something like “to be saved by God,” or, “to share Christ with the rest of the world.” These things are not wrong in and of themselves – and praise God for that! But the purpose of our existence is not for God to ask us “How high?” every time we tell Him to jump in the name of Jesus. The purpose of each breath we take is that we glorify a worthy, sovereign, loving, and merciful God with the lives He saw fit to give us.
That is it. That is everything.