Mind the gap:
What you think VS. what you feel about God
Abstract of Healing of Memories by David Seamands
Victor Books (1987)
13 August 2018
Inside every one of us is a mental picture of God. Many Christians, including the very 'spiritual' ones, are living with a vast unconscious discrepancy between what we think about God (theologically) and what we really feel about God (emotionally). From the outside, we serve God and teach others about God's love and promises. Deep inside us, we can't really apply it to our inner struggles.
This is a hidden spiritual disease rotting many Christians' spiritual, emotional and mental health. Counsellor and pastor David Seamands' Healing of Memories explains how this contradiction in our intellectual and emotional understanding of God is the source of many emotional struggles. It can remain buried so deep we are confused when we react to life's problems with depression, anxiety and resentment. We are filled with spiritual defeat because we believe Christians are not supposed to have emotional problems.
When this happens, none of it seems to be helped by spiritual disciplines or prayers. We are further bewildered when we can't figure out where all these negative emotions come from. We are not even aware inside us there is a river of resentment flowing inside us from a hidden spring of buried emotions and unhealed memories.
And the most puzzling and shocking experience of all is when devout Christians find themselves overrun by feelings of anger towards God Himself. This is terribly hard to admit. For they love God so much that they are devastated to discover they have an anger against God.
Seamands argues that regardless of how much correct theology we are taught, we can never experience lasting spiritual victory until we can truly feel God is good. Many pastors and leaders assume if the doctrines they preach are biblically correct, people will automatically clear up their confusion about God and trust in God wholeheartedly. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Most of our failure to love and trust God stems from our pictures of God as unlovable and untrustworthy. And most of our anger against God is not really against the real God, but against our distorted understanding of Him. We feel we cannot be forgiven by God, not because God has not forgiven us, but because we have adopted this sense of unforgivable-ness in our past relationships. When we ask individuals to trust God, we are presuming they see God as someone who has their best interests at heart. But in their deepest gut-level reality, they feel they are being asked to surrender to a fearful monster whose aim is to make them miserable and scared. It only worsens their struggles by presenting a demanding God who always asks them to do what they cannot do.
Our inability to trust God and surrender to Him may indicate memory healing is needed. God created us in a way so that we would not trust anything we are afraid of. This is a God-given survival mechanism. In the presence of danger, our alert systems go into action. Our body produces chemicals that arouse our defenses.
In the book In Two Minds, Os Guinness discusses this problem with a powerful analogy: Picture healthy faith as a man who has a firm grip with his hands. He can take hold of anything he wants to. But now this person has an open infected wound in the palm of his hand. The object he desires to hold is in front of him, and his muscular strength is sufficient. But the unbearable pain in his hand makes it impossible for him to grasp the object. This is what happens to many Christians with unhealed emotional scars.
When we force ourselves to trust God, we exert great pressure on an emotional wound that is too painful to bear. Something has so deeply damaged and distorted their experience of God that they have to 'protect' themselves from reopening those painful wounds. So we are not attacked by reason, but by deep-rooted emotions that are so powerful they outvote our reason and overpower our faith. In spite of our desperate attempts to cling to our biblical and theological knowledge, our emotional scars may still sabotage our theology and fill us with spiritual and emotional turmoil.
Although the Holy Spirit is the one who reveals the truth, the listener still filters everything he receives. The truth is still subject to the influence of our personality makeup. When our perceiving receptors have been severely damaged by hurtful relationships from the past, biblical truths get distorted. Even for the most healthy Christians, clarifying their concepts of God is a lifelong task.
William James, the father of American psychology, understood this problem very clearly. He argues that theological doubts about God which are emotionally rooted cannot be solved by reason. We all know from experience he was right. No amount of biblical study or theological reason could dispel the doubts that are emotionally rooted. Even after one problem is cleared up, another question will arise.
Common theological questions that can be emotionally rooted include predestination, assurance of salvation, the 'unpardonable' sin. Not all theological doubts are a sign of disbelief or rebellion. They may not be intellectual questions at all, but emotional needs and hurt appearing in theological disguise. It is only after deep, inner healing that the reshaping of faulty doctrines and proper understanding of the Scriptures can be possible.
But God completely knows and understands it, and He wants to heal us. In a remarkable book, May I hate God? author Pierre Wolff shows how our anger and resentment towards God does not necessarily separate us from God. On the contrary, it can become the doorway to greater intimacy with Him.
Emotions need to be owned before they can be disowned. Rather than pressuring struggling Christians into saying "I'll trust God more," it is far better to gently lead them to the place where they finally acknowledge their resentment against God and others buried deep inside them. We are to take all our hurt from our past into His presence and let Him bring true healing with His love. Forgiveness and being forgiven go hand-in-hand, and together they bring true freedom. This is why the very act of remembering and feeling is the necessary breakthrough. We simply pray honestly, "Lord, I trust You with my inability to trust You." This is not just a play on words but an important shift in our mindset. It's the honesty Jesus honoured when He healed the son of the man who cried, "Help me with my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24)