Perhaps you’ve heard in the news this week the buzz surrounding “human hibernation.” Basically, by using a chemical already existing in humans, doctors will be seeking to temporarily turn warm-blooded creatures into cold-blooded creatures by causing cells to virtually stop working, reducing the need for oxygen.
What would be the purpose for humans? Well, there are many intriguing possibilities (like long-term space travel). More practically though, this hibernation procedure could be used to help patients escape near-death fevers, prolong the time needed for organ transplant, and even make drastic advances in cancer treatment. As it stands right now, treatments like radiation and chemotherapy kill off normal, healthy cells long before they kill off tumor cells. Temporarily eliminating oxygen dependence in healthy cells could make them less vulnerable targets.
Believe it or not, several freak accidents in the past 20 years or so have been one of the main catalysts in leading scientists to this potential advance. Perhaps most notoriously, in February of 2001, 13-month-old Canadian toddler Erika Nordby wandered outside in the middle of the night wearing only a diaper and a t-shirt and curled up in the snow. She would be discovered by her mother several hours later in a state that doctors described as “like a block of ice.” Her toes were frozen together. She had no pulse. In fact, her heart had been stopped for what doctors estimated was over 2 hours. The temperature outside in Edmonton that day was -11 degrees Fahrenheit. By the time they found Erika, her body temperature had dropped to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, the lowest recorded human temperature in history to that point . Amazingly, doctors slowly warmed Erika back to a normal. Frostbite problems notwithstanding, Erika returned to perfect health and was given the nickname “miracle”.
There are all sorts of medical theories as to how a toddler’s heart can stop beating in the ice-cold and somehow be resuscitated. Doctors said there is simply no way Erika should have survived though. And while this technically does not fit the biblical definition of “miracle”, it is undoubtedly support of the biblical concept that God alone creates life and he alone takes it. God testifies this about himself, “There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.” (Deuteronomy 32:39) It’s as simple as it clearly “wasn’t Erika’s time” yet.
And brilliant as God’s governance over physical life is, he makes it clear in Scripture that he considers his ability to grant spiritual life to be his true masterpiece. In Luke 5:23-25, while healing a paralyzed man, Jesus indicates that. He says, “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Clearly Jesus sees granting spiritually health to be not only more important, but more challenging. Nonetheless, faith and divine forgiveness are totally within his capabilities to give, and are something that he offers freely to all.
I bring this up today, because most of us, at some point in time, struggle perhaps not with true spiritual death, but a spiritual hibernation of sorts. Physically, we’re fine. Physically, almost zombie-like, we might even be going through Christian motions. But internally, something doesn’t feel right. In fact, perhaps we feel nothing.
Now, our national church body has never been accused of being a “touchy-feely” kind of group. Nobly, this has been in response to church bodies who fail to understand that faith can only come from hearing the message of good news surrounding Christ (Rom 10:17). As a result, those church bodies seek to generate emotions, regardless of content, in order to lead people to make decisions for Jesus. Some of it could be interpreted as low-level brain-washing.
A quick survey of Scripture reveals that emotional manipulation has nothing to do with gospel motivation. In other words, although the gospel can certainly emotionally excite us, the mere presence of emotional excitement does not necessarily mean that my heart has been touched by the gospel. My point here is, our church body is correct in using the God-given instruments of Word & Sacrament as the only tools that create and sustain faith, which means, theologically speaking, that we’re a little sensitive to the very concept of “feelings”.
The negative consequence of all of this “separation from emotion & feeling” has been that our national church body has often received (and sometimes quite fairly) the reputation of being devoid of feeling. Recognizing our sound doctrinal content and what it offers to people, a reputation of being “unfeeling” would be enormously sad.
The truth is that we’re not, nor should we be, anti-feeling. Unless we have a desire to fill our churches with robots who merely (and hypocritically) talk about some abstract concept of Christ’s love, we’d better not lack mercy, love, compassion, and, what’s unfortunately come to be almost a dirty word in Lutheran orthodoxy…….”feeling”. Humans feel. We head down a dangerous path if we label a blessing from God as a bad thing.
My fear is that a downplay of feelings or perhaps talking about feelings in negative ways has left many well-intentioned Christians feeling, well……….nothing. Perhaps we’ve talked about a Jesus who lived 2000 years ago and did some great things for us, like dying for our sins, but fail to talk about him as the Resurrected Lord who continues to this day to reign for our good and on our behalf at God’s right hand. Perhaps we’ve talked about God as a distant divine Creator of the entire universe, but fail to talk about God as the involved, loving and intervening parent who has every component of our lives on a string that he may tug for our benefit. As we approach Reformation this week, perhaps we talk about Martin Luther as a saint through whom God worked some wonderful things for the church, but we fail to remind one another what Luther was seeking to do – glorify his God by getting God’s people on track spiritually through the means of grace – something that needs to be done today as desperately as was needed then. In other words, if I’m under the impression that everything about my faith was “long ago”, despite knowing the key ingredients of faith, I might be left feeling nothing today. And I have a hard time believing that the same God who created me as an emotive human creature would be happy for me to feel nothing in my faith.
I don’t know how many people realize this, but pastors can see their faces in church on Sundays. It’s almost as though people become so conditioned to watching life on a tv or computer screen that they assume worship is the same. Every once and awhile I’ll ask one of my teens in church what they were thinking about during the ___________ portion of the service, much to their discomfort. It isn’t to shame them, just to let them know that church isn’t going to magically work spiritual benefits in their lives if they “check out” mentally during it. After a worship service, I could tell you what mood just about every person in the congregation is in that day. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert analyst of body language, but my honest evaluation is that some people are happy to be there, some people are there because they know it’s good for them, some people look forced to be there, and some people look as though they feel nothing. For this group, my heart breaks, because these hearts may need resuscitation. I think I’ve been there.
The answer to hibernating hearts is probably not a laser light show or a rock band in worship though. While worship styles are always open for adjustments, while excellence ought to be aimed for, and while presentation style is probably more important to 21st century listeners than perhaps to any other generation in history, the only thing that will continue to change hearts is the truth of God’s Word, because that alone is the channel through which the Bible promises the Holy Spirit works to change hearts.
Does that mean that there is nothing we can do to help ourselves or others to experience a renewed passion for worship and fellowship with God and God’s people? Can we in no way contribute to feeling faith?
Not exactly. Spiritual renewal in our hearts requires us to 1) Regularly be in God’s Word, and 2) Pray about it. Have you ever found yourself “bored” with the study of God’s Word or in worship with God’s people? The looks I’ve seen on faces in worship and study would suggest that many do at times struggle with such feelings. My next question, however, would be: When was the last time that you asked God to open your heart to be inspired and encouraged by your connection with Him and his Word?
God’s Word is anything but boring. So, there’s no excuse for ministers or worship leaders to be rolling out “boring” efforts that indicate that God’s message to us is such. Then again, “boring” is pretty subjective terminology. Perhaps if we regularly pray to God that we see how profound the only book on earth that he himself authored is and ask that we see direct implications for our lives, he will grant us just that.
Having just come off of a worship week focused on prayer, hopefully we’re learning to take greater advantage of this gift. And when God knows that his children, who are “feeling” human creatures, desire to sense connection with their Lord, this is a prayer that is clearly in line with God’s will. I have a hard time seeing God not grant such a request.
As Leon Carr (the guy who put Mounds/Almond Joy candy bars on the map with his famous jingle) once stated, “Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.” The same person’s feelings can change from day-to-day. Feelings are unreliable and can be manipulated like silly putty. Consequently, churches shouldn’t target the feelings of their members.
That said, feelings are immensely important. They are a wonderful part of the way God made us, and when guided by the message of Scripture, they are tremendous blessings in the lives of Christians. Consequently, churches (and Christians in general) shouldn’t ignore feelings (or the lack thereof).
If you’ve been living the recent months or years of your Christian life in a state of hibernation – as though you’re merely going through the motions – remember Christ’s passion (in the sense of suffering) through which God has forgiven your lack of passion (in the sense of zeal, desire, or interest). And then ask God to create in you a new heart, one that is inspired by the thought of coming closer to God and intrigued by getting to know Jesus better. Pray that God help you feel more spiritually alive then ever, and then run to the resource that he promises will grant spiritual life – the living Word (Heb 4:12).
Remember, you don’t have to do it alone. Your church is filled with people who are struggling with the same issue. And your church leaders will walk you through this Word. And when your spiritual bulb gets replaced and that light goes on, it’s almost like a hand pulling you out of the water for new breath.
If you’re up for it, God will awaken that stilled heart.