Do Feelings Determine Truth?
If you are earnestly seeking Truth, the first question to ask is not, “How do I feel about this?” That will almost always lead to the wrong answer because personal feelings are not the measure of truth. Even if feelings coincide with the truth, taking the “feelings” path to get there still presents a real danger. Why? Because feelings change, and once they change we will be tempted to think that truth changes, too. Truth is always truth no matter how we feel about it, but the power of feelings is blinding.
How often do we hear the “how I feel about it” mentality? “I don’t feel this is right.” “I feel this is the way it ought to be.” In thinking this way, we pave the way for feelings and preferences to become more important than facts and substance. When we don’t like a particular truth, we simply appeal to our feelings as our justification. This leads to self-deception and the death of truth in our hearts.
Our culture is so feelings-oriented that it is difficult to separate how we feel from a real search for truth. A search for truth must acknowledge that truth lies outside of our subjective feelings; truth is to be discovered, not manufactured by personal desires. Truth is found in self-denial, not in self-serving ambition.
Many of Jesus’ miracles and teachings were offensive. Read John 6. Jesus taught something that, if taken too literally, would be rather disgusting. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (vv. 53-56).
How do you feel about that? How did the hearers feel about it? “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” (v. 60) Jesus then asked, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?”
Jesus didn’t apologize for offending their feelings and preconceptions. He wasn’t willing to back off of the truth to win them over. It was more of a “If you are offended at what I just said, what will you think about this?” kind of situation. The path to truth wasn’t paved by appeasing feelings. Rather, sometimes our feelings need to be jarred, challenged, and offended if we are going to understand and grow. If we are offended by truth, then our feelings need to change.
It may just be that at that point when our feelings are challenged and aching, we are at the crossroads of a choice between truly accepting the truth or turning and walking away. Walking away to protect our feelings is tempting, and this is exactly what many of Jesus’ hearers did. “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (v. 66). The Twelve still had a choice to make, and Peter stated the truth:
“So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’” (vv. 67-69)
After telling John’s disciples to report to John what they saw and heard, Jesus pointed to the miracles, then said, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Luke 7:23). Let that sink in for a moment. If we can reign in our feelings and hear the truth of Jesus, we can truly be blessed.
Why do people get offended? There are multiple reasons, but among them lies a violation of feelings. Feelings get hurt, preferences get challenged, and people feel isolated because of it. Yet the people were not offended at Jesus because He violated truth; they were offended because He violated their feelings and desires, which they had conflated with truth. Let this serve as a warning that sometimes our feelings are confused with objective truth. And sometimes we are just wrong because we’ve relied on those feelings more than we have done the due diligence in seeking after the truth of God.
Two passages to keep before us will help in our perspective:
“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11, ESV).
“For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess 2:13, NASB).
None of this argues that we should be emotionless. Rather, we need to let truth guide our feelings rather than feelings guide what we think is truth.