I feel as though I do not feel

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W.C. Dean

Puritan Board Freshman
I purposefully chose a strange title for this, although it's true. This is perhaps my greatest Christian struggle, and I do not think I have ever talked about it with anyone in person. I read in the Scriptures and in books about how terrible my sin is, and the hatred saints have for their sin, and how joyful it is to trust Christ. I read stories of saints who have felt so burdened by their sin they get physically ill, and saints who have inexpressible feelings of love and of the presence of the Almighty on them. I can point to perhaps one time in my life where regarding my sin and the Lord and his salvation I have "felt" greatly. I know the Christian experience is not tied up to feelings, but I am saddened I have none. I do believe I hate my sin. I especially hate my lack of hate for my sin. But I don't feel crushing feelings of dread over my sin. I know Christ is merciful and I trust and rely on him as my only venue to commune with God and be saved. But I don't "feel" in a great way over these things. I suppose I should elaborate better. My feelings seem very muted. Sometimes my lack of feelings causes me to doubt my salvation. I examine myself and I do earnestly believe I am in Christ, but I am saddened by my lack of feelings. I also know it's almost ironic that I feel depressed that I don't have depressive feelings. I believe this is harder for me to articulate than I imagined. Please offer me advice, rebuke, or comfort. I just finished reading J.C. Ryle's Thoughts for Young men and that stirred me to be a better son. I have thanked God and will continue to for giving me that book. It caused me to feel more, I suppose.
 

Andrew35

Puritan Board Freshman
I purposefully chose a strange title for this, although it's true. This is perhaps my greatest Christian struggle, and I do not think I have ever talked about it with anyone in person. I read in the Scriptures and in books about how terrible my sin is, and the hatred saints have for their sin, and how joyful it is to trust Christ. I read stories of saints who have felt so burdened by their sin they get physically ill, and saints who have inexpressible feelings of love and of the presence of the Almighty on them. I can point to perhaps one time in my life where regarding my sin and the Lord and his salvation I have "felt" greatly. I know the Christian experience is not tied up to feelings, but I am saddened I have none. I do believe I hate my sin. I especially hate my lack of hate for my sin. But I don't feel crushing feelings of dread over my sin. I know Christ is merciful and I trust and rely on him as my only venue to commune with God and be saved. But I don't "feel" in a great way over these things. I suppose I should elaborate better. My feelings seem very muted. Sometimes my lack of feelings causes me to doubt my salvation. I examine myself and I do earnestly believe I am in Christ, but I am saddened by my lack of feelings. I also know it's almost ironic that I feel depressed that I don't have depressive feelings. I believe this is harder for me to articulate than I imagined. Please offer me advice, rebuke, or comfort. I just finished reading J.C. Ryle's Thoughts for Young men and that stirred me to be a better son. I have thanked God and will continue to for giving me that book. It caused me to feel more, I suppose.
Maybe this Olney hymn from Cowper will bring you a little comfort. It's one of my favorites. The image in line 6, "Insensible as steel," is particularly powerful; and the closing plea to return feeling to the heart is sublime. The ambiguity in a "broken heart" (as in sad? or non-functioning?)there is striking.

Don't miss out on good poetry and green, growing things as God's natural soul medication. :)

Olney Hymns, IX [The Contrite Heart]
William Cowper - 1731-1800

The Lord will happiness divine
On contrite hearts bestow;
Then tell me, gracious God, is mine
A contrite heart or no?

I hear, but seem to hear in vain,
Insensible as steel;
If aught is felt, 'tis only pain,
To find I cannot feel.

I sometimes think myself inclined
To love Thee if I could;
But often feel another mind,
Averse to all that's good.

My best desires are faint and few,
I fain would strive for more;
But when I cry, "My strength renew!"
Seem weaker than before.

Thy saints are comforted, I know,
And love Thy house of prayer;
I therefore go where others go,
But find no comfort there.

Oh make this heart rejoice or ache;
Decide this doubt for me;
And if it be not broken, break—
And heal it, if it be.


 
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Von

Puritan Board Sophomore
From The Poor Doubting Christian Drawn to Christ (by Thomas Hooker):

OBJECTION: Oh, all that is true, (saith the poor Soul) had I but a Heart to mourn for my Baseness. See my Sins I do, but this is my Misery, I cannot be burdened with them; I have a Heart that cannot break and mourn for dishonouring God, and offending him so many Ways.
ANSWER: But I say, This Hurts not neither; provided that thy Heart be weary of it self, because it cannot be weary of Sin, Mich, 7.18. The Lord sheweth Mercy, because he will shew Mercy: It is not because thou canst please him, but be∣cause Mercy pleaseth him. When did the Lord shew Mercy to Paul? I say, When, but even when Paul did express most Malice against him? Acts 16. Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? He persecutes Christ, and yet Christ pities him, and shews him Mercy: And so the churlish Jaylor, when he was most opposite against the Means of Grace, the Lord even then shewed most Compassion upon him. He that (before) resisted the Means of Grace, was now brother't home by those Means that before he resisted...But now the Word works sweetly, when it makes thee apprehensive, that a wounded Soul is the Gift of God, not of Man, nor of the Means; when it makes thee look up to God for it, and to prize it when thou hast it; and to wait upon God with thy daily Prayers, still to continue it so. To feel Deadness, is Life; and to feel Hardness is Softness: Only remember this one Caution; except there be some Lust or Distemper that thy Heart hankers after, (for then the Word will harden thee, because thou hardnest thy self) that one I say excepted, thou art in a good Way.
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Junior
I know the Christian experience is not tied up to feelings, but I am saddened I have none.
Preface - Please do not think me insensitive to your trouble. Quite to the opposite, and when I hit Post I will pray for you. My goal is that you will no longer fear a felt lack of feelings, and at the same time, with God's help, seek from Him a greater degree of Godly affections.

Ed Walsh

First - I doubt greatly that as regards feelings that you have "none."

Second - You state as a given that "Christian experience is not tied up to feelings." I plan to show you how large a part of true religion is dependent on "feelings." I am going to switch words from 'feelings' to Edward's preferred word 'affections,' and give you a quote from Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections. Let's see if you really have none. Additionally I will upload a PDF of the Introduction and all of Chapter One of his work on affections.

Edwards' Outline:
1 Peter 1:8.​
Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not,
yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Subjects of Part I:

CONCERNING THE NATURE OF THE AFFECTIONS, AND THEIR IMPORTANCE IN RELIGION

DOCTRINE. True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections
I. It may be inquired, what the affections of the mind are?​
II. The second thing proposed, which was to observe some things that render it evident that true religion in great part consists of religious affections. And here,​
  1. We may hence learn how great their error is, who are for discarding all religious affections, as having nothing solid or substantial in them
  2. If it be so, that true religion lies much in the affections, hence we may infer, that such means are to be desired, as have much of a tendency to move the affections. Such books, and such a way of preaching the word, and administration of ordinances, and such a way of worshipping God in prayer, and singing praises, is much to be desired, as has a tendency deeply to affect the hearts of those who attend these means.
  3. If true religion lies much in the affections, hence we may learn, what great cause we have to be ashamed and confounded before God, that we are no more affected with the great things of religion. It appears from what has been said that this arises from our having so little true religion.
The fact of and importance of God given affections as the "spring of man's actions." This applies to all men weather Saint of not.
2. The Author of the human nature has not only given affections to men, but has made them very much the spring of men’s actions. As the affections do not only necessarily belong to the human nature, but are a very great part of it; so (inasmuch as by regeneration persons are renewed in the whole man, and sanctified throughout) holy affections do not only necessarily belong to true religion, but are a very great part of it. And as true religion is of a practical nature, and God hath so constituted the human nature, that the affections are very much the spring of men’s actions, this also shows, that true religion must consist very much in the affections.​
Such is man’s nature, that he is very inactive, any otherwise than he is influenced by some affection, either love or hatred, desire, hope, fear, or some other. These affections we see to be the springs that set men agoing, in all the affairs of life, and engage them in all their pursuits: these are the things that put men forward, and carry them along, in all their worldly business; and especially are men excited and animated by these, in all affairs wherein they are earnestly engaged, and which they pursue with vigor. We see the world of mankind to be exceeding busy and active; and the affections of men are the springs of the motion: take away all love and hatred, all hope and fear, all anger, zeal, and affectionate desire, and the world would be, in a great measure motionless and dead; there would be no such thing as activity amongst mankind, or any earnest pursuit whatsoever. It is affection that engages the covetous man, and him that is greedy of worldly profits, in his pursuits; and it is by the affections, that the ambitious man is put forward in pursuit of worldly glory; and it is the affections also that actuate the voluptuous man, in his pursuit of pleasure and sensual delights: the world continues, from age to age, in a continual commotion and agitation, in a pursuit of these things, but take away all affection, and the spring of all this motion would be gone, and the motion itself would cease. And as in worldly things, worldly affections are very much the spring of men’s motion and action; so in religious matters, the spring of their actions is very much religious affection: he that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of religion.​
3. Nothing is more manifest in fact, than that the things of religion take hold of men’s souls, no further than they affect them. There are multitudes that often hear the word of God, and therein hear of those things that are infinitely great and important, and that most nearly concern them, and all that is heard seems to be wholly ineffectual upon them, and to make no alteration in their disposition or behavior; and the reason is, they are not affected with what they hear. There are many that often hear of the glorious perfections of God, his almighty power and boundless wisdom, his infinite majesty, and that holiness of God, by which he is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity, and the heavens are not pure in his sight, and of God’s infinite goodness and mercy, and hear of the great works of God’s wisdom, power and goodness, wherein there appear the admirable manifestations of these perfections; they hear particularly of the unspeakable love of God and Christ, and of the great things that Christ has done and suffered, and of the great things of another world, of eternal misery in bearing the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God, and of endless blessedness and glory in the presence of God, and the enjoyment of his dear love; they also hear the peremptory commands of God, and his gracious counsels and warnings, and the sweet invitations of the gospel; I say, they often hear these things and yet remain as they were before, with no sensible alteration in them, either in heart or practice, because they are not affected with what they hear; and ever will be so till they are affected.—I am bold to assert, that there never was any considerable change wrought in the mind or conversation of any person, by anything of a religious nature, that ever he read, heard or saw, that had not his affections moved. Never was a natural man engaged earnestly to seek his salvation; never were any such brought to cry after wisdom, and lift up their voice for understanding, and to wrestle with God in prayer for mercy; and never was one humbled, and brought to the foot of God, from anything that ever he heard or imagined of his own unworthiness and deserving of God’s displeasure; nor was ever one induced to fly for refuge unto Christ, while his heart remained unaffected. Nor was there ever a saint awakened out of a cold, lifeless flame, or recovered from a declining state in religion, and brought back from a lamentable departure from God, without having his heart affected. And in a word, there never was anything considerable brought to pass in the heart or life of any man living, by the things of religion, that had not his heart deeply affected by those things.​
Edwards, J. (1996). A treatise concerning religious affections: in three parts ... (pp. 6–7). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.​
 

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Ben Zartman

Puritan Board Sophomore
As someone surrounded by people who display a superabundance of feelings at all times, and consequently am often accused of being unfeeling myself, I say: rejoice! The unnecessary agonies that emotionally fragile people put themselves though are not due to a right use of emotions: they are due to an excess. I am wrought with every emotion that humans are subject to, but I'm grateful that I have little difficulty controlling them, or rather, not being controlled by them. To imagine that the only true way to truly feel something is to suffer agonies or unbounded, uncontainable joy (like country music seems to do) is to deny that those of us with more mellow affections (like yourself), know anything of an internal life.
I could write reams about this, since I feel--er--strongly about it, but I'll stop before I melt any more snowflakes. I'll add only that it's a fool's errand to look within for assurance of salvation. It depends not on your affections, but on Christ and His work. Look within only far enough to see whether you are looking to Christ and hoping only in Him. A feeling will not tell you you are saved: a steadfast look at Christ crucified for you most certainly will. It's not whether you sorrow enough, repent enough, believe enough, feel enough. Christ died enough; He rose enough; He is enough. Look only to Him, and you will have life.
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
W.C., I think there can be a mix of a thousand things in how we’re wired; and how that, and our circumstances, and our inclinations, can contribute to how we “feel”. And those things can change as we go through life.
I take you to be a studious and serious type of young man and the church needs such. Don’t over fixate on Jonathan Edwards-type waxing eloquent about the centrality of religious affections. JE was wonderfully privileged in that he was the son of believers and of the church, a young University student who had the time and ability to walk and ride his horse into the lovely New England countryside and contemplate God in nature. And thank God for him and his gift of writing. He left much good to the church. But he wasn’t infallible.

Do be sure to read devotionally from the Scriptures as well as studiously from good books about the Scriptures. Look to Christ there and see him portrayed and sometimes your heart will swell. Also get to know yourself and how you’re wired, and make peace with it, and work to overcome any true faults and weaknesses in your interactions with others.
 

W.C. Dean

Puritan Board Freshman
Are your "muted feelings" only muted towards God or are they muted towards everything?
I would say generally everything. I do receive great happiness from certain things or situations. I get angry over few things. I get feelings of sadness almost never, except when I contemplate my sin. Of course that sounds funny because this is a post where I said I have small religious affections. I was quite emotional about two years ago. I believe I had panic attacks when I was 15 or so over feelings of loneliness. I think moving past that actually hardened me quite a bit. That was before I was serious about Godly things.

As someone surrounded by people who display a superabundance of feelings at all times, and consequently am often accused of being unfeeling myself, I say: rejoice! The unnecessary agonies that emotionally fragile people put themselves though are not due to a right use of emotions: they are due to an excess. I am wrought with every emotion that humans are subject to, but I'm grateful that I have little difficulty controlling them, or rather, not being controlled by them. To imagine that the only true way to truly feel something is to suffer agonies or unbounded, uncontainable joy (like country music seems to do) is to deny that those of us with more mellow affections (like yourself), know anything of an internal life.
I could write reams about this, since I feel--er--strongly about it, but I'll stop before I melt any more snowflakes. I'll add only that it's a fool's errand to look within for assurance of salvation. It depends not on your affections, but on Christ and His work. Look within only far enough to see whether you are looking to Christ and hoping only in Him. A feeling will not tell you you are saved: a steadfast look at Christ crucified for you most certainly will. It's not whether you sorrow enough, repent enough, believe enough, feel enough. Christ died enough; He rose enough; He is enough. Look only to Him, and you will have life.
Thank you very much for your reply. I do think a lot of my problem is due to comparison. I began listening to the Holiness of God by Sproul, and hearing him explain contemplating the holiness of God and feeling a tangible presence made me think along the lines of "I don't feel that". Your post and others made me realize that perhaps I should note that all my affections for anything are not extravagant. What you said in the end is something that comforts me. I usually think about Psalm 143 because I can join in with saying my spirit is failing and weak. I will respond to the rest in a little while, but thank you everyone. You have all given me things to think on and pray about. You have all helped me.
 

Kinghezy

Puritan Board Sophomore
I would say generally everything.
Thanks. That is what I thought, bit did not want to jump to conclusions.

My opinion is that unless you think you are concerned about your feelings in general, which in that case you may want to discuss with someone, to not fret overly much. If you generally have less strong feelings in general, you probably aren't going to have strong feelings towards God specifically. It could approach sin, since everything can, but sometimes we can do unhelpful navel gazing.

Jeri & Ben's posts, I affirm as well.
 

bookish_Basset

Puritan Board Freshman
I don't have much to add to the good responses here, but what you've described sounds pretty similar to what I have experienced over 25 years as a Christian. I seldom feel that I am feeling the "right" things at the "right" times, or in the right intensities. Sometimes I will experience very strong and convoluted emotions, but they usually bear little apparent connection to what is happening at the time, so I end up questioning them, too! All that to say, I agree with Jeri that it's important to stay grounded in the Scriptures and practice looking to Christ instead of gazing inward. (Though I know how hard it is -- I still struggle with this almost daily!) Also accepting how you're wired, and that God is working purposefully and lovingly through that. And trying to avoid comparison, as you noted. I would say that when I become anxious about these matters, it's almost always because I am fruitlessly comparing my devotional life and emotional makeup to somebody else's.

The Puritans are really good on this, and I'm sure other people can direct you better on that, but offhand I think of Sibbes' The Bruised Reed and Goodwin's The Heart of Christ.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Be sure to remember that godliness does not tend to happen all at once. In the Spirit's wisdom and good timing, it is common for godliness to start small and grow slowly. Keep pursuing God and godliness through his word and through prayer, and do not be discouraged just because growth seems slow.

"Fear not; only believe, wait, and pray. Expect not all at once. A Christian is not of hasty growth, like a mushroom, but rather like the oak, the progress of which is hardly perceptible but in time becomes a deep-rooted tree.” -John Newton
 

CathH

Puritan Board Freshman
Things can get really confusing when you try to quantify how much you are or should be feeling. Human beings are of course emotional as well as intellectual, but some people are just less emotional than others.

It's also part of being human that it's very difficult to keep yourself in a state of extreme emotion for any length of time. To be perpetually sad or perpetually overjoyed is exhausting.

So more important than the amount, intensity, or duration of feeling is the reality of what someone feels, and whether their feelings are directed towards the right things (hate - sin, love - the Lord, etc).
 

a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
Don't worry; even if you aren't one to feel things as intensely, feelings will happen. And when they do, your Christian life will be fighting against them to believe and hope and love and obey anyway,* as much of the time as they seem to make all that easier. Sometimes our best feelings are still a problem, if they distract us from the disciplined, everyday effort of these things (ie, I have to 'feel' a certain way before I am ready to pray, etc).

*see the entire Psalter

(Also -- if you aren't as prone to strong feelings, that can be a real gift of stability for people around you, just as they can enrich your sympathy and apprehensions.)
 
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Joshua

Administrator
Staff member
Take comfort in these, that in this life:

1. You will never be sincere enough in your faith.
2. You will never be sorrowful enough for your sins.
3. Your faith will never be pure enough perfectly to take hold of Jesus Christ in perpetuity. (Clarification: God alone keeps you, and has promised so to do)
4. Your only hope is Jesus Christ, despite your sense, feelings, etc. And as our sister Heidi has well-said, believe, hope, love, and obey anyway.

When you lament your lack of lamentation, lament according to God's promises. Say aloud, if needed, that you believe God's promises extended to the sinner who will turn from his wicked ways, from idols, to the living God, with repentance toward God, and faith toward our LORD Jesus Christ. Refuse to trust in your sense, your perception of lack of feelings, etc. and take hold of these propositional comforts give in the Scriptures, more and more hating your sins because they are an affront toward God, not because you are over-the-top sensible of their odiousness to yourself. Say with the man from the gospel, "LORD, I believe! help thou mine unbelief!"
 

wcf_linux

Puritan Board Freshman
I purposefully chose a strange title for this, although it's true. This is perhaps my greatest Christian struggle, and I do not think I have ever talked about it with anyone in person. I read in the Scriptures and in books about how terrible my sin is, and the hatred saints have for their sin, and how joyful it is to trust Christ. I read stories of saints who have felt so burdened by their sin they get physically ill, and saints who have inexpressible feelings of love and of the presence of the Almighty on them. I can point to perhaps one time in my life where regarding my sin and the Lord and his salvation I have "felt" greatly. I know the Christian experience is not tied up to feelings, but I am saddened I have none. I do believe I hate my sin. I especially hate my lack of hate for my sin. But I don't feel crushing feelings of dread over my sin. I know Christ is merciful and I trust and rely on him as my only venue to commune with God and be saved. But I don't "feel" in a great way over these things. I suppose I should elaborate better. My feelings seem very muted. Sometimes my lack of feelings causes me to doubt my salvation. I examine myself and I do earnestly believe I am in Christ, but I am saddened by my lack of feelings. I also know it's almost ironic that I feel depressed that I don't have depressive feelings. I believe this is harder for me to articulate than I imagined. Please offer me advice, rebuke, or comfort. I just finished reading J.C. Ryle's Thoughts for Young men and that stirred me to be a better son. I have thanked God and will continue to for giving me that book. It caused me to feel more, I suppose.
I have almost the opposite problem as you (and my wife, @bookish_Basset): I can have a way of feeling almost too much, too readily, and in too many ways. That means I can easily get carried away by religious (or other) feelings or (when I was younger especially) get really anxious and concerned in more depressive times when the emotions showed less motion.

But I think our problems have a similar answer: we should not look too much to the motions of our own hearts. No matter how sanctified we become, in this life our heart will never be fully trustworthy. It's not that we should pay no mind whatsoever to our emotions, or that a growth in holiness won't shape our emotions within the range of our temperament. But it does mean that we must not take the tenor of our emotions as if it were a reliable bellwether of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. Our feelings, strong or weak, are too noisy to be a good sanctification gauge.

These realizations were a big part of how Kevin stopped being a revivalist.

I will also encourage you to remember that you are still young. I'm not saying that to condescend. I'm still maybe a little young myself (late 30's), but I've already seen that age and (more importantly) experience shape our feelings about the world, our sins, and what we see in other people.
 

OPC'n

Puritan Board Doctor
Measure your life in Christ by how much you love him in service to him not by the emotions or lack of emotions you feel which is controlled by your body’s chemical make-up. Some people are more emotional than other people. Neither the emotional nor the unemotional person is greater in their love for Christ and their hated of sin. Their level of emotions has nothing to do with righteousness so don’t confuse the two. Nothing speaks louder to the hatred of sin and love of righteousness than the person who strives to put sin to death through the power of Christ Jesus.
 
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