I often see myself as a terrible, heartless person, especially in relation to my Christian faith. I am not interested in most people; I don’t enjoy them simply because they exist. I care deeply for the people in my life, the people that I actually know and communicate with. But when it comes to strangers, be they next door or across the globe, I am utterly indifferent. I certainly do not wish bad things upon them—I just don’t have any feelings for whatever they may be experiencing.
I get down on myself for that pretty often, thinking that it makes me a horrible person not to feel sorry for people, and that I would care more about them if only I were a decent human being.
Then, during my morning devotions, I realized that God does not command us to have specific feelings. He commands us to do things. How we feel about them is largely irrelevant. For example, Joshua 1:9 commands us “Be strong and courageous!” but courage usually involves action in spite of feelings of fear.
Christians are supposed to pray for each other, bear each other’s burdens, give to the poor, encourage each other, worship God, put others’ needs before ours, and flee from sin and temptation. None of that requires specific emotions to be involved. Some feelings may make those actions easier or more difficult. But the feelings themselves do not change what God has commanded us to do or not to do.
How I feel about a thing is less important than what I do about it. This realization has been very freeing. If I pray for someone without being emotionally invested in the consequences, or if I give money to a worthy cause without feeling any passion for that cause, I have done no less than what I should. It’s not how I feel, but what I do, that is good or bad.
A friend of mine asked me to pray for a family that she knows and I do not. This family is in a difficult situation, but emotionally, I feel nothing for them. I don’t know them, I don’t have any experience with what they are going through, and from what I can see, the outcome is unlikely to make any difference in my life. I can, of course, see how it is traumatizing for them, and I can hope that things end happily. If I wished otherwise, that would be heartless. But as things stand now, I have no emotional investment in their situation, and no feelings riding on the outcome.
. . .
Even in the absence of any feelings, however, as a Christian, I should still pray for needs that come to my attention. I still ought to pray for that family, not because I feel like it, or because I feel anything for them, but because God commands us to pray for others, because He hears our prayers, and because it matters to Him. I may never be emotionally invested, but I don’t have to be, and that doesn’t make me a bad person. If I ignored a need and did not do what I know I could, that would be sinful.
I think C.S. Lewis sums this up quite nicely. (Doesn’t he always?) In a letter to a friend who was being confirmed, he said:
Caveat [let her beware!]—don’t count on any remarkable sensations, either at this or your first (or fifty first) Communion. God gives these or not as He pleases. Their presence does not prove that things are especially well, nor their absence that things are wrong. The intention, the obedience, is what matters.
In Romans 12, Paul writes to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and “mourn with those who mourn.” I doubt he is trying to tell us that we must experience specific sensations. Even if you cannot drum up a certain feeling for something, you can at least recognize why others do. Maybe you’re not sad about the death that your friend is mourning over, but you can at least understand why it is painful, and provide for your friend in their time of need. You may not feel happiness for something a friend is happy about, but you can acknowledge it and not discourage it (and squash any envy).
This allows one to rejoice or mourn as needed, without necessarily having feelings about it.
(Such is the life of a Christian INTJ in a world teeming with Fs.)