Can We Trust Our Feelings?
by J. Cooper Johnson
Many critics of the LDS faith attack the foundation of one’s faith and testimony of truth by saying things like the following:
- “Truth is never measured by subjective feelings, but only by the Word of God, the Bible.”
- “You can’t trust your feelings. It could be something you ate.” (I’ve seen this one. Seriously.)
- “God works through evidence to demonstrate his word and truth.”
- “Our faith should be founded upon objective evidence, not our feelings.”
When thusly attacked, I always as a few questions.
How does the Holy Ghost bear witness of truth?
How do you know what is the Word of God? The Bible certainly doesn’t define itself. In other words, nowhere in the Bible does it say what books should be included as the word of God. And which Word of God do you use? Which Bible?
How do you know what interpretation of the Bible to use?
How do you know that the Bible is true?
How do you know that Jesus is the Son of God, the Christ, the Savior of the world? How do you know that? What do you base your testimony on? Written words? And that begs the previous question: How do you know that the Bible is the word of God? Because it says so?
See how this can get very circular? One can say, “I believe in Jesus because it says so in the Bible. I believe in the Bible, because it testifies of Jesus. I believe in Jesus…,” etc.
Now, there are many people who say, “I believe in the Bible because there is evidence to back the Bible.” Well, there are millions of people living today who say they don’t believe in the Bible because of a lack of evidence.
The point is this: We should not just go on our own feelings on everything, even though that is exactly what people do. They do what they feel is right, bottom line. Some believe the Bible to be true because they feel the evidence is compelling. Others, however, believe the Bible to be fiction because they feel the evidence is compelling.
Granted, our feelings can be wrong; of course they can be wrong. But the LDS faith doesn’t solely advocate the use of our own subjective feelings. We do indeed advocate the full use of the Holy Spirit to guide us to truth. How does the Holy Spirit work? How does He testify of truth and witness unto us? Through feelings, but if you have ever felt a witness of the Holy Spirit, then you know it’s not just following your own subjective feelings. It is very different. And if you have never felt a witness of the Holy Spirit, then it’s impossible to fully explain.
Now, what is the alternative to following the witness of the Holy Spirit to guide us to truth? You might say the Bible, but just look at all the millions of Christians in the world and all the disunity and disagreements and conflicting beliefs. They all use the Bible, so why are some different than others? This certainly can’t be a viable alternative standard, due to the thousands of conflicting beliefs, all rooted in the Bible.
The alternative is the human intellect. Are we to assume that the human intellect is perfect, that we can’t be fooled by our intellect? Let’s use the common Protestant Christian standard (the Bible and our intellect) to see if we find this perspective Biblically valid. Let’s see if we should rely on our own wisdom and intellect, or on the Holy Spirit and the witness thereof.
Imagine yourself among the people of Jerusalem 2000 years ago, being taught by Peter and other Apostles, as they were teaching about Jesus Christ and His gospel. What would you have done? Here is what happened to the people there…
“Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37)
Perhaps these people should have questioned this “subjective feeling.” Maybe this heartfelt feeling was a deception? Should they have demanded evidence? Should they have demanded proof? Or, perhaps this was the Holy Ghost bearing witness to them. According to the common standard erected by our critics, these people of Jerusalem should have demanded much more than these “subjective feelings” in their bosom.
Or what about the two men on the road to Emmaus, on the day of Christ’s resurrection? I’m sure you know the story. They were walking toward the village, sad and lamenting about the whereabouts of their Savior. He was gone from the tomb; the women had seen the angels, but they hadn’t seen Him. Well, Christ, Himself, comes and starts talking with them on the road, but “their eyes were holden,” so they didn’t recognize him. As they sat down to eat, Christ blessed and broke bread with them and gave to them, and then their eyes were opened and they knew who He was! Luke records,
“And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32)
Perhaps they should have rejected that feeling in their bosom as indigestion? It appears that this feeling was perhaps caused by something they ate (bad bread?) and thus the truth that it testified of should not be trusted. Maybe they should have demanded more proof?
All kidding aside, they also had felt a witness of the Holy Spirit, which testified of the truthfulness of the things that Christ had taught them. Even though they didn’t recognize it at the time, they later described it as a “feeling” in their “heart.”
Perhaps Peter should have been rejected for his testimony of Jesus being the “Christ, the son of the living God?” He didn’t base this on human reason, wisdom or intellect, but Christ said he was blessed for his testimony without proof or evidence from man.
“He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:15-17)
See, it is the Holy Spirit that truly teaches us truth. And yes, we find truth in the Bible, but how do we know which interpretation is true? We must rely on the “Spirit of Truth,” the Holy Ghost. Read the words of Christ on this topic:
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26)
“But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:” (John 15:26)
The Holy Spirit testifies of truth. This is the standard we should use; it is the standard Christ said to use and it is the standard that the earliest Christians used.
Paul even went so far as to say that no one can truly say, with real meaning, that Jesus is the Christ, without a witness of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). In other words, if one has never felt the witness of the Holy Spirit testifying of Christ, then that person’s testimony is not a true one.
The critics will often say we must have “faith in evidence.” What kind of faith is that? It’s not the kind of faith that Peter had, which Jesus said he was blessed because of his faith without evidence.
It’s not the kind of faith that Christ talked about to Thomas, when, after His resurrection, Christ showed himself unto the apostles and after Thomas had felt the nail marks in his hands, etc (after he had evidence that it was Christ), then said Christ,
“Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
Christ seems to place more value on having faith, without evidence. Doesn’t that make sense? It doesn’t take much to believe something that is proven. Why would one need a witness of the Spirit in such an instance? We wouldn’t need to have faith. Another problem is that everyone has a different standard of evidence. Atheists say there is overwhelming evidence to prove the Bible untrue. And what may be sufficient evidence for some may not be enough for others.
Faith in evidence is not the kind of faith that modern Protestant Christianity’s most well known Minister, Billy Graham, expressed as the foundation of his faith in the Bible. As opposed to seeking evidence, through intellect and human wisdom, Billy Graham says he went and inquired of the Lord and accepted it as the word of God by faith alone. Here are his words,
“One moonlit night in the mountains of California I went out alone with my Bible. I laid my open Bible on the stump of a tree and prayed, “Oh, Lord, I don’t understand everything in this Book, but I accept it by faith as the Word of the living God.” Since that moment I’ve never doubted that the Bible is the Word of God.” (Billy Graham, The Only Way, A Biblical Standard for Evangelists, 1984 Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, published by World Wide Publications, Minneapolis, Minnesota)
We shouldn’t trust our “own feelings,” for they can indeed be subjective, relative to our desire. However, when you ask God, with a sincere heart, to find truth, knowledge, wisdom, testimony, faith, etc., He will manifest the truth unto you. And it is through the Holy Ghost.
You have to be in tune and truly seeking the answer. It doesn’t always come as quickly as one would like, but it will come. I hope and pray we will all recognize that wonderful, sweet, whisper–the witness of the Holy Spirit–as it touches our hearts, just as it did 2000 years ago.