By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:19-20).
In the early nineteenth century, the influence of one Friedrich Schleiermacher began to be felt. He taught that at the heart of the Christian religion was feeling: feeling of the infinite, feeling of dependance, feeling of eternity. Religion was, for him, essentially subjective. This might sound attractive in our modern world. After all, we have come to argue that even truth is subjective: what is true for you might not be true for me. What we feel to be true, must be true.
There is a problem, though. If you’ve every woken up in the middle of the night with a mind clanging with worry you will know that your feelings will often mislead you. What seems a huge problem at 4am can seem very different at 10am the next morning. That person you felt was cross with you, was in fact just tired and quiet. That disaster never happened.
The problem is that feelings are not reliable, and to have a religion which is based upon feelings is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately for us Schleiermacher was wrong. As John reminds us “God is greater than our heart”. If we trust in Christ, then we are relying on the work which he did two thousand years before, and not on religious feelings. When we feel that God has turned away from us, we are still God’s. When we feel as if we are rubbish Christians, we are still God’s. God knows the real content of our heart, not simply our feelings.
The joy of the faith is that it is founded upon the rock of Christ, and not the shifting sands of emotion. As the David put it:
I love you, O LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psalm 18:1-2)