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What is “Emotional Truth” and Why is it So Powerful?


As an elder and spiritual mentor, it is both shocking and disappointing how often “good Christians”, make serious irrational, or sinful, moral choices. They’d come to my office and I’d try to speak truth to them, from scripture. They’re reading the same verses that I am, but for reasons I just couldn’t understand, they just weren’t connecting the dots. At some level “they believe” what God is telling them in scripture. But their belief in something else, some other “truth,” seemed to be even more powerful than God’s truth.

It was exasperating! Why would Christians so often chose the most sinful choice, particularly in cases where God says clearly, “Thou shalt not!” Years ago, I came to the conclusion that humans are not as much driven by facts, even theological facts, as they are by their feelings – their emotional truth. The shaping of our worldview Our worldview is the sum total of everything we believe to be true, whether it is or not. It’s what Tim Keller calls “our mental map of reality”. And a worldview doesn’t have to be a well thought out philosophy of life – every person on earth has a worldview whether you’re an Aborigine or Harvard professor.  It’s simply everything you believe, and everything you feel, based on everything you’ve ever learned or experienced. It’s “truth” from our perspective.

On the other hand, a biblical worldview is truth from God’s perspective.  But for now, let’s set that aside and briefly look at how humans acquire their worldviews and why knowing that is so important if we’re to understand why they, or we, behave the way we do.  To begin with, it’s helpful to think of “our truth” in three separate, but overlapping spheres:

Informational Truth – This is everything we’ve ever seen, or heard, as well as all the information and facts we’ve ever learned, which we have accepted as true.  2 + 2 = 4, China is a country in Asia, the memories of our children’s faces – hundreds of thousands of facts, including information about God that we have stored in our memory bank.  Some of these facts we have more confidence in, than others because we’ve personally observed or experienced them ourselves.  And some facts are more important to us than others.  Your checking account balance is more important to you than Bill Gates net worth. Informational truths are like the facts stored in your computer. There’s very little emotion attached to them, just information and images.

Emotional Truth – These are the things we “feel” are true whether they are or not.  Emotional truth isn’t always based on facts, but on our experiences – memories, disappointments, relationships, passions, perceptions, loves and hates.  I love God!  My dad never told me he loved me.  I’m fat and unattractive. I no longer love my husband or feel loved by him. There’s a temptation to dismiss some of these emotional truths as lies, when we’re counseling people. I don’t! It may very well be that their mother – didn’t love them, or that they are physically unattractive/or they’ve made some bad choices and now feel incompetent, or insecure.

But whether they are true or not, some emotional truths become so deeply ingrained in us, they significantly shape our lives, our relationships, and ultimately our choices, unless we heal from them, or the Holy Spirit transforms us. A woman who had a father she never trusted, will often have a tough time trusting her husband. Many grown men who had a father or mother they could never please, will often be driven to achieve success, to prove their worth, because their emotional truth is still telling them they are a failure. That’s why informational truth, and even biblical truth, will rarely trump, what they more strongly “feel” to be true.

Spiritual Truth – These are the things we believe “by faith” to be true, because the Holy Spirit reveals them to us. “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” John 14:26

Spiritual truth can only be known by those who are truly born again and here’s the big “and” – and only by those who have such confidence in God, that they will make moral choices driven, not by their emotional truth, or even informational truth, but by God’s truth, alone.

The problem is that almost everything God teaches in scripture about how he wants us to live, is counter-intuitive; Love your enemies, forgive 70×7, I hate divorce, do not lust, or love money. So the big question is this: How do we overcome these habits of sin, the influence of the world and our own life experiences, and begin acting by faith?

Paul addressed this issue in Romans 12:2 when he says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” To have our minds and wills transformed, is to begin living by Gods revealed truth, even when everything in us screams “No, I don’t want to!” or “I’m not sure I really believe it.” As we exercise our wills – our spiritual muscles, and bend them to the will of God, we are being transformed and faith-living becomes just that much easier the next time.

Trusting God As a spiritual mentor, or Christian friend, your mission to those you are advising is this; helping them discover the emotional truth that is keeping them from fully trusting God. Then help them understand how to live by faith, not trusting their own instincts or their emotional truth, but to truly trust God. Some Christians think the term “trust God” means giving the problems you just can’t solve yourself to him and wait to see what God does. You don’t have to do anything – just trust God. And there are cases where that is appropriate.

However, the primary way Christians trust God is to trust God by doing what he says in scripture, especially when it make no human sense. And he’s provided the Holy Spirit to serve as our guide in this process. “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” John 16:13

To not follow God’s instructions – his truth, isn’t simply foolish, it’s an affront to God! If your child asked for your advice, and you gave it to him/her and they did the opposite, you’d come to the conclusion, “They don’t trust, or have faith in me.” God feels the same way.

So, to trust Christ is like the pilot who feels strongly that he’s going in the right direction, but his compass (his guide) says otherwise. He now has a critical decision to make. Trust the compass or his instincts. He will either find his way home safely, or crash and burn, based on that one decision. So, to with trusting God’s truth over our emotional truth. Safety or tragedy?

In Hebrews 11 we read story after story about the heroes of the faith. In the last two verses we read this, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:39-40

The reason God considers these people faith giants, is that they obeyed God, even though many of them never lived to see the reward for their faithfulness! That’s faith!

How following Jesus works in real life.

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