I am reading John Frame’s A History of Western Philosophy and Theology. I received a complimentary review copy through NetGalley.
An issue that came up in my reading a few days ago is whether God can
legitimately command people to believe or to feel a certain way.
In a footnote, Frame said that people can choose what they believe.
According to Romans 1, Frame says, people choose to suppress the truth
in unrighteousness. They choose to believe what is pleasing to them as
opposed to the truth.
In another footnote, Frame was referring to Hegel’s problem with God
commanding people to feel a certain way. Frame specifically mentioned
Hegel’s problem with the command in Philippians 4:6: do not be anxious.
Hegel wondered how anxious people can obey this command. Can they
truly help how they feel?
In yet another footnote, Frame discussed the tendency of certain
philosophers to treat law and love as dichotomous. Their assumption is
that law pertains to outward actions, whereas love concerns feelings and
motives. Frame responded that God’s law also can concern feelings and
motives. Jesus, after all, prohibited hate in the Sermon on the Mount
I often have the same frustration as Hegel. I wonder if God is fair
to command us to feel or not feel a certain way. I deal with anxiety
and unforgiveness. There are times when I have difficulty turning these
things off. And biblical passages about the fearful having a place in
the Lake of Fire (Revelation 21:8) and God not forgiving those who do
not forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:25-26) do not help matters.
Would I prefer for God to judge me by my actions, not by my
thoughts? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, I do not actively take
revenge on people I may hate in my heart. I reason to myself that
perhaps this may count as forgiveness before God. I hope that it does,
even though, to be honest, there are a lot of factors limiting any
revenge I might want to take against people: laws, a concern for my
On the other hand, as an introvert, I would prefer to focus on what
goes on inside of me as opposed to what I actually do. If I have a
benevolent feeling for a person, I want that to count as love. Some may
tell me that this is not enough: that I actually have to show a person
love concretely. But certainly God is interested in my attitude,
right? The attitude defines the sort of person one is, correct? Not
surprisingly, as an introvert, I tend to prefer Christian teaching that
tries to influence my attitude and perspective towards God, life, and
other people. If my attitude and perspective are all right, I reason,
then that will favorably influence how I interact with other people.
That is pretty contradictory, I know. Yet, there is some wisdom in
both approaches. I may hate a person in my heart, but I only hurt the
person if I act on that hatred. That means there is some love within
me, right? Yet, attitudes and perspectives are important, for thoughts
can influence actions.
I do think that people have some say-so in what they feel. I cannot
turn off how I feel, and sometimes, as I have said before, simply
telling myself to feel or not to feel a certain way does not really
solve anything. But I can choose to go to God in prayer. I can breathe
and meditate. I can read about people who have the same struggles that
I do (which can be a double-edged sword). I can go to church, or
therapy. Many people take medication.
Interestingly, the passage that troubled Hegel, Philippians 4:6, does
not just tell people not to be anxious. It also tells people to make
their requests to God with thanksgiving. V 7 goes on to say that, then,
the peace of God will keep one’s heart and mind through Christ Jesus.
Action can influence attitude. Plus, God plays a significant role in
helping a person out.