Do Facts Care about Your Feelings?
Feelings and facts work together because our feelings, when properly ordered, perfectly align with truth.
“Facts don’t care about your feelings.” So says the pinned tweet on bestselling author and popular conservative podcast host Ben Shapiro’s Twitter account.
Is it a fact that facts don’t care about our feelings? What are our other options?
Friedrich Schleiermacher had an answer that Shapiro (and orthodox Christians) wouldn’t appreciate. The father of liberal theology answered with a resounding claim that could be interpreted as, our feelings don’t care about facts. In On Religion he writes that his beliefs do not, “originate from a rational decision. . . . It is the inner irresistible necessity of my nature.”
In other words, true religion, according to Schleiermacher, is not based on beliefs but is properly expressed when Christians feel like they are experiencing the infinite. Thus, experience trumps rational beliefs.
Schleiermacher’s theology led him to espouse a subjectivism that is eerily like our postmodern culture in the 21st century. As postmodernism is skeptical of ultimate claims to truth, Schleiermacher states that, “Each person may seek out religion in a form that is congenial to the slumbering bud that lies in him.”
That’s a fancy (or Romantic) way of saying that religion can take different shapes depending on the person. Once we’re no longer operating with agreed upon standards of truth and error, or facts and fiction, experience can vary by individual. This raises serious questions for Christians who need to think carefully about the role of facts and feelings.
Can we elevate experience over facts and remain orthodox? What do facts and feelings have to do with our preaching? Is there good news for doubters if our feelings are the ultimate standard?
I seek to answer those three questions.
Ultimately, I want to argue facts produce our feelings. To play on Luther’s articulation of the relationship between faith and works, the emphatic answer of Scripture is that facts alone should be our guide. But those facts are never alone. The facts presented in Scripture are meant to invoke feelings of dependence and joy in God through Christ.
Facts Over Feelings
Facts can get in the way of our desired narrative. But we are a people of truth because God is a God of truth, in whom there is no falsehood.
This means we can be certain that facts exist—we don’t need to wallow in skepticism. The prophets and apostles boldly announced the facts of God’s judgment, redemption, and future consummation. At no point do the messengers of God leave decisions of eternal significance up to the judgment of their hearers. This truth should strike preachers the most.
Peter proclaims at Pentecost the fact that Jesus, whom the Jews crucified, was indeed the Son of God. Thus, the feelings of sinners did not excuse them from having to submit to Christ as Lord. An uncomfortable fact for the audience. The only appropriate response was to “repent and be baptized.” (Acts 2:38).
Further, in Romans 3:4, Paul exclaims “let God be true, and every man a liar.” There is one standard for truth, and it’s not based on human preference. God is the standard for truth and everything that accords with his truth, is fact.
Too often, news outlets, researchers, even theologians, pick and choose which facts, or “alternate facts”, they want to highlight. Christian preachers do this when they ignore portions of Scripture which may not align with their personal convictions or may stir up controversy in their congregations. Christians should be people most committed to facts, and preachers should be people least swayed by human opinion.
Preaching Facts Produces Feelings
The task of preaching is vanity without facts. If there is no truth, there is no authoritative message to herald. The pulpit turns into an avenue of the therapeutic rather than the platform for unleashing the Word of God. The world doesn’t need more subjective motivational talks. It needs truth tethered to the facts of the Word of God because the real therapeutic is the proclamation that sinners need to turn to Christ and live.
Forgiveness of sin hinges on calling people out of their own sinful preferences and into God’s marvelous light. This isn’t a “feel-good” message. It goes against every impulse of our sinful nature. If we prioritize the therapeutic at the expense of proclaiming biblical facts, there would be no room for a life of costly discipleship because that would feel uncomfortable. No one truly feels like they are willing to forsake mother and father to follow Christ unless they know he is the eternal Son of God.
Even though Christians must submit our feelings and opinions to facts, a common misconception is that we preach and believe facts at the expense of generating feelings. On the contrary, God revealed facts in his Word to stir us to worship. Any theology that separates fact from feeling is a false theology.
Feelings and facts work together because our feelings, when properly ordered, perfectly align with truth. The Bible is rich with emotional language. Jesus tells us that he is to be the supreme treasure in our heart (Matt. 6:21). The psalmist says, “at the right hand of God is fullness of joy.” (Ps. 16:11).
The difference between the feelings that arise from loving God and the feelings described by Schleiermacher, however, is that the Christian’s feelings are rooted in facts greater than our own experience. This is wonderful news to those of us whose feelings too often lead to doubt and despair.
Facts are Good News
I think Shapiro’s sentiment is to say (in a provocative way) that our personal experience does not change the fact that a fact is a fact. Facts are true, outside of whether we want them, or believe them, to be true. This is a necessary stance for Christians because we believe in an objective truth and that we can know facts. Without the historical fact of a resurrection, our religion is dead.
It is also the best news for us because our assurance and union with Christ isn’t based on our subjective feelings.
If it were up to us to foster our own, as Schleiermacher phrased it, “feelings of absolute dependence”, then we would be, as Paul would say, “people most to be pitied.”
What is the good news if our experience is placed above facts? What if our experience is only suffering and despair? It sounds good in the abstract, but who do we look to when we need real hope? Thankfully, not ourselves.
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). It is God who works in us to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). There is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ (Rom. 8:1).
Without these facts of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and assured perseverance, which are true despite our opinions, we could muster no truly good feelings. We would be tossed to and fro at the whims of our emotions rather than being grounded in an unwavering fact that he who began a good work in us will bring it to completion (Phil. 1:6).
I am thankful that facts produce our feelings. My feelings of fear and guilt succumb to the promise of victory found in Christ. I rejoice in that fact.