Emotions are lent surprising weight, aren’t they? What we feel at any given point in time we perceive as reality. This is surprising because we know, intellectually, how quickly emotions change, and how we can rapidly switch to an ‘opposite’ emotion as events or facts come to light.
I think this is part of the problem when it comes to sin, and particularly sins of (emotional) gratification. Let’s say I have a particular weakness for smarties (work with me here). I eat more of them then I should, and I eat them when I’m feeling down and want to perk up.
At first it’s easy to resist them. Walk straight past the shop. Don’t go into that particular cupboard. It’s wrong to eat them.
However, time goes by. The perceived need for smarties increases, and doubts start to creep in.
Come on, it’s only a smartie..
It doesn’t hurt anybody if I have a smartie.
It’s not like I’m eating a toblerone or something like that..
It’s been an awful day, and I need a pick-me-up. Shortly after, the emotional switch occurs.
It feels wrong becomes
It doesn’t feel wrong.
At this point there is a choice, we either believe our emotion and re-assess our stance on the sinfulness of smarties, or we don’t.
Let’s say we decide smarties aren’t a sin after all (or possibly that want one so badly that we don’t care!). We go to the shop, buy a tube, and scoff the lot. The other way this story runs is
I know a whole tube of smartess is bad for me, so I’ll just have one… Of course the reality is we don’t just have one.
Either way, the immediate ‘need’ sated, the truth dawns. Smarties are wrong. I’ve damaged my relationship with God and those around me. The Holy Spirit convicts us, and leads us to repentance. This process may take variable lengths of time, and it may be we turn back just before the first smartie, or only after 5 tubes. One of the signs of Christian maturity is a diminishing time gap between sin and repentance.
R.T. Kendall put it like this:
When the Spirit is absent, our excuses always seem right, but in the presence of the Spirit our excuses fade away.
Of course, smartees aren’t wrong, but you can substitute any particular weakness that comes between us and God; pornography, affairs, over/under-eating, smoking, over-drinking, drugs, lying, stealing, etc.
The insidious slippery slope also applies in all of these.
I’m only looking at an underwear catalogue, for a present for my girlfriend,
I’m only flirting with them, it’s not going to go anywhere,,
I shouldn’t have a pud, but .. go on then,
I only smoke socially,
Oh ok – just one more drink.
Of course none of these are black and white either! God made men and women beautiful, and sex is a fantastic and wonderful gift. To admire someone’s beauty honours them and God. Similarly friendship and affection are important part of relationships, and to make someone feel better about themselves is ok. Food is essential, can be tasty and amazing, and shared meals are like oxygen to relationships. Once we drift into eating disorders and addictions the territory obviously changes again.
The thing that most depresses and frustrates me is that I eat a tube of smartees, throw myself on God’s mercy and receive his forgiveness… but then next time around manage to persuade myself that actually, in this particular situation, smartees are ok, and eat another tube. And so it goes on. More positively, the gap gets smaller and vanishes, and ultimately smarties no longer have such a hold in my life. Then God turns the spotlight onto my Dorito habit. We know that perfection and freedom from sin is the ultimate goal, and also that it’s not going to happen this side of glory.
I guess Paul is talking about this in Romans 7:
I want to do what is good, but I don’t do it. I don’t do the good that I want to do. I do the evil that I don’t want to do.
Which brings me to the title of this post. How many times in books, films, and songs to we hear a character say
I’ve never felt this way before. This in itself is fine, and may or may not be true. The problem is the deductive step that follows
…therefore, whatever I’ve felt in the past hasn’t been real, and nothing I feel in the future could be more real. In the words of Donna Summer
This time I know it’s for real.
How can we delude ourself in this way, particularly in the sphere of relationships?
How can someone leave one relationship for another, on the basis that they feel more in love with the new person? How can you profess eternal undying love for someone when that commitment is based on the assumption that you will always feel the same for them, and will never feel more strongly for anyone else?
It’s like at school. You feel you work really hard, and couldn’t work any harder. Then you go to university, and suddenly you’re having to work really hard, and have no free time. Then you start work, and realise that you had masses of free-time as a student, and now you don’t have any. Then you have children, and truly discover what it means to have no free time. Then you look to third-world countries, where the people have to work all day every day just to gather food and water for that day.
I’ll finish with another qualification. Of course there are souls brought up in dysfunctional families (for example) who have never known true love and affection. Or those in abusive relationships who believe that certain patterns of behaviour are normal. Clearly in this instance the revelation regarding what love can mean and feel like is real and true.
Right, wrote rather more than I intended. Might have to pop out to get some smarties now…