My upcoming book The Gospel According to Satan (Thomas Nelson) is now officially available for pre-order. If you order before January 14, you can get a host of pre-order goodies like advance access to certain chapters, a discussion guide, and exclusive video teaching from me. Here's an excerpt from the book to give you a sense of what I'm aiming to do with it:
I once heard a famous pastor talk about his seasons of depression on a speakers’ panel at a conference. Another pastor on the panel said, “I have no idea what it feels like to be depressed,” and I thought to myself about the second pastor, “I have no idea how you expect to relate to the hurting people in your congregation.” And yet, I suspect he sought to relate to them not based on shared experiences but on shared beliefs—that God is real, that God is love, that God is mighty to save.
It’s very possible this pastor wasn’t very good at empathy. He may not have been the one you wanted in the counseling office or by the hospice bed. But it wouldn’t be because he wasn’t in touch with the truth. He might not be very good at holding your hand in the midst of your pain, but I bet he could reliably point you to the reality of God.
Thankfully, many pastors are able to do both. That said, the most important thing a pastor can do is not validate our feelings, but rather encourage us in the truth. The best pastors remind us that there is deeper and truer reality than what we can at this very moment see, hear, and touch. That doesn’t make this world unreal; it just makes it un-ultimate.
And it’s not just the depressed who are in danger of having their world defined by their feelings. The weirdoes who’ve never in their lives had a down day are in danger too. An always-positive attitude is no more reflective of reality than an always-negative one.
Yes, how we experience the world matters. At the very least, it tells us something important about ourselves. But how we experience the world doesn’t define what is ultimately true.
I know an older man who doesn’t know Jesus and yet seems perfectly content in his life. Can you believe that? Of course you can, because you know people just like him. This fellow has a nice family, a nice house, a nice set of friends, a nice savings account, and is himself a genuinely nice guy. When I was growing up in the church and being trained for evangelism, I was constantly told that lost people feel that something is missing in their life. We all have a God-shaped hole in our hearts, the thinking goes. And this is true. But what is not true is that everybody keenly feels the ache of that void. The truth is, you can be lost and not know it. This man’s experience of life does not comport with the reality of his dire need. He is by all spiritual indicators on his way to hell, but he doesn’t feel the least bit endangered.
Similarly, you can feel like you’re going through hell right now, that all is lost, and yet be perfectly safe in the loving arms of the Father.
The devil loves orchestrating this inversion, where danger feels like safety and safety feels like danger. The apostle Peter says he is “prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour” (1 Peter 5:8). That word “devour” is informative. The devil isn’t out for a nibble. He wants to tear you to shreds and swallow you down his throat.
It makes total sense, then, that Satan would exploit the self-contained rationality of our emotionality. He wants us to define reality according to how we feel, because he knows how overwhelming and all-consuming our feelings can be.
This is why we must stay aware of our feelings without becoming beholden to them.
“Facts don’t care about your feelings” is one cliché I left unmentioned in the previous chapter’s exploration of the lie about “living your truth.” It has become a well-worn motto within right-wing pushback against progressive rhetoric on social media. As I write this, “Facts don’t care about your feelings” has been posted for three years as conservative pundit Ben Shapiro’s pinned tweet on Twitter.
It is true that facts don’t care about our feelings. But fact-lovers ought to. Our emotions are like barometers—they reveal the climate of our being. Emotions tell us important things about ourselves and our ability to cope, process, and persevere.
I’ll go further: emotions are given to us by God. The all-wise Creator has wired us to feel.
But beginning with the fall of man, we’ve gotten our wires crossed. The solution, however, is not to disregard the inner workings of ourselves, but to sort them out and manage them according to the wisdom of God—according to reality.
For every single one of us, this is an incredibly complex process and extremely difficult to carry out. Perception is reality for nearly all of us, which is why we find so many challenges to our perceptions not simply jarring but also personally offensive.
To make matters more difficult, many of our emotions are residual from past realities, things that were true that we continue to experience as current truth. This is what makes recovery from trauma so perilous and tender. A victim may be far removed from the very real danger of their past, but they re-experience the offense every day, not as a matter of choice, but as a matter of wiring.
So ignoring your feelings isn’t the answer. Facts may not care about your feelings, but Jesus does. Which is why his Word says so much about them.
The point isn’t that feelings don’t matter or aren’t important. The point is that feelings are not the definer of ultimate reality. The Bible points us to think about our feelings, to do the hard work of tuning our disposition to something more than feelings.
Think about the kinds of emotional constraints the Word of God puts on those who claim to follow Jesus. “Be angry and do not sin,” Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26. “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” In a way, the apostle is affirming anger as a legitimate emotion, a worthy response to all kinds of sin. But being ruled by that anger is itself a sin.
Think also of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22–23, which includes qualities like patience, gentleness, and self-control. These are qualities of emotional restraint. The Spirit-led person is not devoid of emotions but also isn’t controlled by them. Again, this is not accomplished by ignoring what we feel, but by contemplating what we feel and bringing what we feel into the light of spiritual reality.
In this way we are legitimately angry about injustices of all kinds, and in many cases we may even seek restitution or reparation, especially on behalf of others. But we forego retribution or revenge, because these ignore the spiritual reality that God will take care of the vengeance.
The devil wants us only feeling our feelings, not thinking about them. His playground is the visible world of experience and reaction. If you start thinking beyond what you see and feel, you might somehow stumble into faith, and he certainly can’t have that.
Learn more about The Gospel According to Satan.