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Epistemology, Part 4

June 30, 2012

It seems one of the most asked questions when seeking feedback from someone about a particular topic is “How do you feel about that?” Long gone is the challenging question of “What do you THINK about that?” Here’s a test for this week: compare how many times you hear others speak in terms of ‘feel, feelings, etc’ versus how often you hear the words ‘think, thought, etc’. If I were a gambling pastor, I’d easily wager all my money (and the pocket lint with it!) you will hear the words ‘feel, feeling’ over ‘think, thought’ at least 2 to 1.

Why is our culture so focused on feelings? Has the word ‘feeling’ simply become a replacement word meaning the same thing as ‘thought’? It doesn’t seem to be. Something else has been going on. It’s a crisis. An epistemological crisis. Absolute truth has died in the mind and opinions of the public. So what is the value of hard thinking when there is nothing absolutely certain out there(!) to think about?! It seems the safest alternative left is to ‘feel’ our way through life. And this is what society has been doing and continues to do as a way of living. But is this a safe way? Does it lead to certainty in what I know and how I know what I know? How do I know that feelings are a reliable way to know (that is, have knowledge and certainty with it that what I know is ‘really real’) without appealing to more feelings? I think I’m confusing myself here! Let’s back up and review once more.

People have various ways they can know things. The field of study of ‘how I know what I know’ is called epistemology. And today, society and the church are in an epistemological crisis. What are the fruits that point us to this crisis? Doubt, skepticism, relativism, subjectivism, postmodernism, death of meta-narratives (fancy word for ‘all encompassing story about reality!’), etc. super abound in our western civilization. Listen to the everyday statements that reflect this epistemological crisis: “Don’t force your views on others.” “That may be true for you but not true for me.” Or even in the church: “That’s just your interpretation.” “Well, I feel this is what God is saying to me.”

What will happen when society and Christians live on feelings for their basis of life and reality? I feel you won’t like the answer!

Living by feelings will result in despair for the church and culture. Biblically, we know we are helplessly fallen into sin. And that includes our feelings! It’s puzzling to watch church people nod their heads in agreement during sermons that we are broken sinners and yet so firmly rely on feelings

for the basis of their lives. It seems we too have bought into the idea that feelings are not only a way to know reality, but are also a way to be certain in our knowledge of reality (or, the situation at hand at least). In centuries past, the church wrongly believed everything except the reasoning part of man was fallen. Today, it seems we believe everything is fallen and affected by sin EXCEPT the feelings.

Obviously, all of man as man is fallen. And this is why relying on feelings as the basis for knowledge (how we know what we know) will always lead to despair. Feelings, like reason, are parts of creation and therefore by nature LIMITED. They are further impeded by our sinfulness. No one is able to feel everything. Nor can anyone feel everything in relation to everything else. Due to these limitations, there will always be room for doubt and uncertainty in regards to the knowledge about reality that ‘feelings’ supposedly give to us. Remember, sin often blinds, distorts, and warps our experiences.

Modern man despite his accusations of Christians living by blind leaps of faith is really the one making blind leaps of faith. He lives by feelings. Feelings which are limited due to their finiteness and brokenness.  No wonder mankind is running to gurus, a multiplicity of psychologists & psychiatrists, witch doctors, the next experience in life, etc seeking help for man’s uncertainty. Because his life is lived by feelings, he has to have the next ‘feeling’ to infuse the moments of his existence with temporal meaning. But once the feeling of the experience passes, despair and uncertainty set it. Then wash, rinse, and repeat the cycle.

Feelings are real in that we really feel them. And they are God given. But we must base our lives on certainty. We must know that what we know is certain or else we won’t be able to speak with confidence to others. Confidence comes from certainty. But building our lives on the sands of broken sources of knowledge will cause our fall and demise when the storms of life slam against our house. And great will be its fall. That should leave a bad feeling in our stomachs for our churches and lost world around us.

Next week, we’ll look at another foundation that seems to be the crown and jewel of society today of how mankind claims epistemological certainty (although we’ll see he doesn’t have!)  through science.

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