With winter upon us we have been reintroduced to weather reports that go something like this ” the temperature today is -1 but it will feel like -5″. This relationship between what something is and what it will feel like is more than interesting (and even confusing, how can the temperature be different than what it feels?) when it comes to what we remember. We can feel cold, warm or even hot and we can remember being cold or hot but we cannot experience the heat of last summer through memory. As Daniel Kahneman addresses in his book “Thinking fast and slow”, “memories are what we get to keep from what we experience”. But like an argument which occurs at the end of an evening with friends can feel like it ruined the whole evenings experience when it only ruined the last few minutes, the memory we have shapes it that way because memories cause present feelings and when the last few minutes are so different from the rest, they are what forms our memory and what we might experience next time. This is not without its affect on Christians in their walk with God and the churches they attend.
Hope and happiness
As Christians we live in hope. The revelation of God’s will allows us to see what God will do and how we are included, but sometimes our hope is based on what God has done in the past for others and we hope that he would do the same for us. Since God is able and we know this, we can base our hope on his ability but this is not the same kind of hope we have in his revealed will. Why is this important to understand? It’s important because faith must be in the objective Word of God rather than in the subjective benefits of christian living.
When the Gospel is only understood in subjective terms we can understand why people are tempted to think in terms of health, wealth and happiness over and even against other aspects of our lives which are of greater importance. The gospel is not a spiritual product produced by God to make the lives of people better in a purely subjective manner. If it were it would not have much to offer to western civilization and increasingly to other parts of the world. Rather the Triune God of scripture gives faith as a gift that we exercise in what his revealed word teaches.
Prayer for example may have for some at certain times subjective benefits, it may bring an anxious Christian to a place of calm for a period of time. But prayer can have an altogether different affect on a person as we see in the life of Daniel, where he is exhausted from praying (Dan 7:28 /8:27). Therefore, prayer will not always provide us with the subjective experience we are looking for because it is a gift from God to be used for the many purposes God has.
The experience economy is growing and seeks to be the fastest to grow in the years ahead. The aim is to produce products and services that will evoke feelings and produce memories causing people who are spiritually bankrupt and Christians who maybe spiritually low to turn to these products and services more and more. These products and services are changing rapidly from the material to the virtual. They seek to provide us with the new feelings we want and distract us from the old memories and present feelings we don’t want at a cost not fully understood. Christians will not be automatically immune from such influence and the affects it will cause on their experience in attending church. God has given us an order of worship in his word, but the church has largely departed from it, opting for a normative view of church worship. This is why the worship can look so different in so many churches even though we all claim to be worshiping the same God and why in some cases it does not even qualify as worship at all.
Being in the church doesn’t feel like it should because we are not gathering as we should and even though we know what the church is according his word, we know what we have experienced in the past, but the memory cannot convey the experience. Has the church lost its identity? Have we forgotten who we are? Have we replaced what we are with what we miss, the memories we have? Now is the time, it would appear, to be reminded of the objective truths of the Gospel, that our hope may be strengthened along with our faith, rather than focusing on our subjective feelings. But this can often be like figuring out how the temperature can feel like -5 when it is only -1.