When God turns off the warm fuzzy feelings.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 March

Some of us are only following him for the euphoria. He wants us to follow him.

As I wrote in my article about confusing our emotions with the Holy Spirit, there are a number of Christians who aren’t pursuing God so much as they’re pursuing endorphins. They want the emotional high. That rush is their primary motivation for pursuing God.

Now, God’s got two typical responses for that sort of behavior:

  • He puts up with it. It’s not really harming us right now, and he can use it to redirect us towards proper, healthy ways of following him. So he’s gonna work with it.
  • He shuts it down. ’Cause it is harming us, or others; or it’s about to. ’Cause he’s trying to redirect us, but we’re either not listening, or we’re too easily distracted.

For endorphin junkies, when God makes ’em go cold turkey, it’s devastating. They feel nothing. In comparison with before, they feel like God went away; that he’s no longer there; that his presence is gone; that “the heavens are brass” (an out-of-context reference to Deuteronomy 28.23). Sometimes it’s called spiritual dryness, spiritual desolation, or as St. John of the Cross titled his book, a Dark Night of the Soul. Yep, if you’ve experienced it, you’re hardly the only one. At one time or another, every Christian will.

No, it doesn’t mean God left you. He didn’t. Unless you left him, he remains faithful: He won’t leave. He 13.5 But because we’ve confused our emotions with the Spirit, we feel like he’s left us. The warm fuzzy feelings we’ve incorrectly associated with him: Gone. Absent. Missed—’cause they’re pleasant, enjoyable feelings. But God determined they were getting in the way of true spiritual growth. So they had to go.

And y’know, since they’re the very same brain-chemicals we produce when we’re addicted to a narcotic, going without our spiritual high feels just as awful as when an addict quits their narcotics. Some of us plummet into depression. Some of us even quit Christianity: If God won’t give us a buzz anymore, maybe this was the wrong religion, and we oughta try one which does produce such feelings. (As if any clever con artist—or we ourselves—can’t psyche us into feeling whatever emotions we desire.)

When we turn ’em off.

Much has also been written about when we humans turn off the warm fuzzy feelings on our own.

Sometimes our spiritual euphoria is the result of Christianity being so new to us: “God is real! God does stuff! I can’t believe the stuff he’s doing! This is awesome!” You know, like when you first fall in love.

But it wears off. Reality sets in: Now that we know God’s real, he actually has expectations of us, and now we gotta follow him. For some of us, this reality gets old really quickly. You know the sort of person who can’t commit to a longterm relationship, who breaks up with the person they’re dating the instant they discover any difficulty? There are Christians like that too with God. Sometimes they quit, sometimes they backslide… and sometimes they spend the rest of their life chasing revivals.

Wears off really fast when other emotions get louder.

Fr’instance grief. When a loved one dies unexpectedly, or falls ill, or some other disaster strikes, it gets really hard to hear God. Not impossible—’cause he definitely hasn’t gone anywhere—but the other things we feel are so overwhelming, everything else is drowned out. It’s hard to hear your spouse say “I love you” when you’re getting kicked in the ’nads by soccer hooligans. Same deal.

And there’s rage, fear, panic, sadness, and especially depression. I’ve met plenty of clinically depressed Christians who thought the Holy Spirit cured their depression—They met Jesus! They’re so happy!—but he didn’t, and when the depression came back they wondered whether any of it was real. Of course it was. But their feelings warp things.

True, if God wanted, he could drown out those emotions easily. And sometimes he does. Paul’s blind zeal was struck down by Jesus’s blinding glory. Ac 9.1-5 But ordinarily no he doesn’t. He wants us to learn to follow him regardless of whether we feel like it today—to practice the Spirit’s fruit of gentleness, meaning emotional self-control. We’re not to let our emotions run us; we’re to control them. Tamp ’em down so they don’t interfere with the Holy Spirit’s voice.

No, I’m not saying this is easy. If you’re new to the idea—if you’ve never controlled your emotions before—it’s quite difficult at first. Some of us legitimately can’t control them, and need the help of medication. (Don’t assume this automatically includes you. Talk to a doctor.) And sometimes we’re going through rough times, so emotions come easily and are harder to get hold of: Our lives are sad, or scary, or surrounded by things which outrage us—or conversely, offer too many substitutes for happiness, and we’re too satisfied with them to recognize our real need, for God.

When any emotion gets too intense, people easily assume God forgot them, left them, or was never really there to begin with. Especially when God’s taking away our distractions, our substitutes, and our idols: We were kinda expecting him to protect those things, not take ’em away! Of course it feels like God’s not there: Our lowercase-G god’s not there! The LORD got rid of it.

And here’s where I bounce back to the subject du jour: Sometimes the false god our LORD removed is the warm fuzzy feeling itself.

“It’s coming back, right?”

Seriously: Sometimes the god we’ve replaced the LORD with, is the warm fuzzy feeling itself. We’ve been pursuing it. Not him. We started worshiping our own endorphins. We became spiritual adrenalin junkies.

Again, I’ve known plenty of Christians who do this. I’ve dabbled in it myself. Going forward to every altar call, hoping the Holy Spirit would knock me over in a rush of excitement. Going to moshpit churches because good worship music with a good beat and a good bass felt like God.

When we start to pursue “God” like a junkie pursues meth—with no love for anyone else around us, with no patience or kindness or gentleness or self-control at all—it clearly means we’re not pursuing God any. We’re pursuing something else. We’re pursuing whatever we’ve replaced God with. Thank God, sometimes he takes that away.

Tommy Tenney, in his popular book The God Chasers, claims God pulls back from time to time because he wants followers who are hungry for him. So sometimes he hides himself from people so we’ll pursue him more. You know, like a loving dad who’s playing tag with his kids.

My trouble with this theory (other than the many, many out-of-context bible verses Tenney uses) is it often makes God sound like a tease. Like an insecure boyfriend who wants to know how much his girlfriend really loves him, so he ignores her to test her persistence. Or a coquette who’s trying to drive her suitors mad. God doesn’t play mind games: He’s encourages his followers by revealing himself to them. Jn 14.21 Not playing hide-and-seek.

In the scriptures we only see God withdraw himself because people sin—they take him for granted, or they don’t follow him at all. He doesn’t want to be interpreted as endorsing their bad behavior, so he steps back and forces us to snap out of it. You know, like when he turns off the warm fuzzies.

This spiritual dryness is meant to get our attention. Are we following him with all our heart, or only when we’re feelin’ it? Are we following him with all our mind, or just our guts? Are we serious about this relationship, or does it end when we’ve lost that lovin’ feeling? How dedicated are we? Will we follow him even if it means no more euphoria?

If our answer isn’t yes, we’d better rethink this relationship.

And no, this isn’t a quiz: “If I say yes, I’ve passed, and God’ll turn the happy feelings back on!” True, joy is a fruit of the Spirit; joy’s coming. But euphoria isn’t joy. We want true joy. True happiness. Not the ecstatic substitute.

Meanwhile be persistent.

My own personal experience: When I can’t feel or hear God as easily as usual—’cause either my emotions are getting in the way, or I’m blowing it someplace in my life—there’s a perfectly reliable way to pull my focus back to God: Bible. Read your bible.

Yep, it’s a handy standby to fall back on. If you’re having trouble getting revelation from God in any of the other ways, we can always get it through the scriptures. In my case, the very reason God turns down the volume from time to time is because he wants me to stop taking my bible knowledge for granted, and re-familiarize myself with it.

Hey, we get sloppy in recognizing the difference between God’s voice, and that of ourselves or any other spirit. Or we might slack on certain commands, or might be overdoing it on one scripture and skipping the others.

No, reading bible isn’t a magic formula for instantly feeling God again. Like I said, most of the time God’s trying to teach us not to be led by our feelings. (Yeah, Star Wars lied to you on that one.) Pay attention to them, deal with them, and don’t pretend they’re not there—but don’t be led by your feelings, but by God and his truths. Time to become purpose-driven instead of emotion-driven.

To teach us this, God sometimes has to ban those warm fuzzy feelings forever. Seriously, forever. No more euphoria: You’re cut off. You’re done. It’s gonna suck, especially when we’re hooked on them. But it’s part of spiritual maturity: We need to know God loves us, whether we “feel it” or not. We need to know we’re doing the right thing, even though the devil might pour every disturbing feeling it can think of into our minds to drive us away. We need to follow God because we know what he wants, not because we guess he wants it, because it makes us feel good about it.

After all, we can feel mighty good about all sorts of evil: Pride, vengeance, prejudices, dodging responsibility, lust and greed, and staying true to our principles even though we’ve never thought through the evil motivations of those principles. Feeling good doesn’t equal following God. So to make us aware of this, God sometimes takes away the good feelings.

But not all good feelings. He gives us loads of joy. Which is way better.