Love God and Do Whatever

The Christian life is really not that complicated. If we can get the love part right, everything else will fall into place. St. Augustine said, “Love God and do whatever.”

Unfortunately, our striving little souls even try to make a dead work out of loving God. Have you ever heard a grumpy old preacher tell you that “Love is not a feeling,” and to do good things even when you don’t feel like it? Sounds like stoicism to me.

I have a very big problem with the “love is not a feeling” emphasis found in many guilt-driven religious streams. Yes, it is true that we move on faith, rather than feeling. But such language is often used to quench emotive demonstrations of devotion. Whoever vilified feelings and equated them with the lusts of the flesh was grossly mistaken. Ironically, it was probably somewhat Augustine’s fault that we have such an aberrant understanding of “feelings” in the church today. I agree with the rock band Boston that love is “more than a feeling,” but when we try to surgically separate one’s feeling and emotions from love, in order to define it only as an esoteric, selfless serving verb, we’ve missed the point. The love of God should electrify us, push us to hunger and stir a fiery passion in our bones that cannot be quenched. Consistent lack of emotion in our spiritual walk can often be defined in one simple word: complacency.

God created our feelings, and feelings themselves are not evil. The sinful nature did seek to pervert and manipulate the feelings – getting their fix in all the wrong places. But feelings themselves are amoral. They are neither good, nor evil. It is what we do with those feelings, where they are directed and whether we choose to dwell in certain ones, which can result in a good or evil action. Feelings are also a beautiful, built-in thermostat, by which we gauge the spiritual climate and discern the atmosphere around us. Many Christians were considered flaky by the church in years past, because they relied more on their feelings than on common sense and man-made rules – but many of these are now being recognized for possessing a true gift of discernment. We should not be ruled by our feelings, but neither should we ignore them. The apostle Paul showed us that he did not give into weak feelings:

"Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?" (2 Cor. 11:29)

There are obviously times where we must resist feelings of temptation, but it is our yearning for God over sin that causes us to prevail. To reject all “feeling” in our Christian walk will only lead us dwell in bad ones. We live first by the truth, but emotional satisfaction and holy pleasure must surely follow if we expect to call our walk balanced. Even God has strong affections. It is for lack of feeling and senses that he mocks our lifeless idols.

"Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. Why do the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them." (Psalm 115:1-8)

Unfortunately, we often idolize a false perception of God – an emotionless, judgmental and aloof being in the sky who leaves us to sort out our own problems. This deistic image is no more real than a statue of wood or silver. But God has called us to be like Him. We are created in His image with sensory perception that enables us to fully taste and see that He is good.

Anyone who looks full into the face and presence of God cannot help but be overcome in his emotions. In his advocacy for “Christian hedonism,” a complete and utter joy in the life of the believer, John Piper writes:

“Don’t let the childlike awe and wonder be choked out by unbiblical views of virtue. Don’t let the scenery and poetry and music of your relationship with God shrivel up and die. You have the capacities for joy which you can scarcely imagine.” Anyone who has truly been filled with the Holy Spirit knows that this joy has nothing to do with numb, theological theory. Furthermore, Piper writes, “I have argued so far that disinterested benevolence toward God is evil. If you come to God dutifully offering him the reward of your fellowship instead of thirsting after the reward of His fellowship, then you exalt yourself above God as His benefactor and belittle Him as a needy beneficiary – and that is evil.”

Our lives are not just a process of serving God in a non-affectionate manner. Our lives are rooted in enjoying God, and delighting ourselves in Him. This is why the practice of His presence is our first function, because it is the immediate fruit of anyone who truly wants to be with God.

The problem is not that our feelings are invalid in the Christian walk. The problem is, they are too limited to fully experience God. The love of God is so huge and intense, that when He begins to pour over us, it is like plugging a million-volt charge through a five-volt fuse. We just can’t handle the glory. Our lower senses are so shallow and incapable of handling such joy and beauty, that they must often be crushed and reconfigured to handle a greater capacity of love and power. God is so infinitely beautiful that His gladness actually terrorizes us. The fear of the Lord is not based in his anger – the fear of the Lord is based in the awesomeness of his delight, which is beyond our capacity to handle as mere mortals. Our hearts must be expanded and softened to take it in.

God has destined us to be containers of His presence, and so He is transforming us from glory and glory to manifest a richer, thicker concentration of Himself here on earth. Spilling over with the fullness that is already within us. In fact, I believe Jesus (fully God and fully man) modeled just about as much of God’s presence as a mere mortal can manifest in his physical being when He transfigured on Mt. Tabor - at least on this side of our full, final glorification. Like Moses, I believe we can literally shine like light bulbs with the manifest presence of God, this side of heaven, just as Jesus’ face shone like the sun. After all, we will do even greater things than these, because Jesus went to the Father (John 14:12).

For this reason, we should not be shaken when our feelings don’t seem to match up with our faith. Sometimes, we simply have to let them be purged – stripped and rebuilt – so that we can walk in a deeper, higher level of feeling that is far greater than we could hope or imagine. We are not talking about some never-ending purgation of the soul. Your whole being is spotless and holy before Him. But as we learn to believe the truth of the gospel, our feelings start to line up with this amazing truth. We do not reject the feelings of the heart, but neither do we lean on them as the sole indicator of God’s will and purpose. As we first drink in His love for us, we responsively learn to love God more -- with our entire being: with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength (Mark 12:30).

John Crowder, 12/16/2004