A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, ‘Thou shall love the Lord thy God.’ He will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right (p. 132-133).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
This is an uncomfortable attempt at offering comfort. The real and sincere question is often asked, “How do I please God when the emotional responses He commands (i.e., to love, to fear not, to rejoice, etc…) do not come naturally to me?”
Lewis is acknowledging this as a legitimate question. Some would say that, “If you sincerely want to please God and your heart is right you will always feel what Scripture calls you to feel (i.e., love, joy, peace, patience, etc…).” Lewis disagrees. Now he is trying to explain what it looks like to serve God in the gap between sincerity and a void of righteous affections.
Lewis’ answer could be summarized as, “We are responsible for the direction of our will. God may or may not bless us with the corresponding emotions.” When we fear God’s punishment for our emotional disobedience the first part is comforting. When we desire more control over our person and emotions the second part is unsatisfying.
The first question is, “Is Lewis’ assessment accurate?” Unfortunately, I believe that he is. We can only self-create sinful or destructive emotions. Being alone with my thoughts I can create anger, grumbling, self-pity, anxiety, or despair. I can do this on a good day. However, I cannot internally trigger love, joy, peace, or hope.
This is not just my own pessimistic, melancholy testimony. I dare say it is the universal human experience. Our emotions respond to life like our bodies respond to gravity – they remain grounded until acted upon or are carried away by an outside force. This seems to be more true the more we want to feel better than we do.
The second question is, “How do we maintain hope for change?” At first consideration, this seems to imply that feelings don’t matter. God will tip you a little happiness, peace, or love if He chooses but don’t count on it and you have no right be upset if He doesn’t.
That level of cynicism towards God is out of sync with God’s character. It may be accurate of what we deserve as sinners with no inherent claim on God. But it is does not capture who God is as a Father who wants the best for His children.
By contrast, Lewis is recognizing that we have a Father who knows our hearts. He can see when we are people loving with out feeling love. He can see when we are peace longing but our hearts are not at rest. God can tell when we are desperately searching for His presence (an act of faith) without the capacity to draw hope from His presence. When this is true God honors our will rather than grades our emotions.
It is hard to remember in these times that we obey God for His glory more than our pleasure. Usually the two are closely aligned. But when they are not, we can rest in God’s character that He will not punish us for the absence of emotional response when our will was aligned with His.
If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Emotions” post which address other facets of this subject.