We live in a culture that idolises sentimentality. We enthrone emotion as the standard by which we measure what is true, beautiful and good. In such a state, man filters his world according to how it makes him feel. A statement is judged offensive or acceptable according to his emotional response.
By contrast, when God is enthroned in the heart, man is taught to judge all things by the word of God.
Sentimentality as an idol turns man inward. But this introspection fails to stabilise because we cannot stabilise our emotions without a ballast – a reference point in the outside world.
Being governed by our internal emotional states is something that can be found both in and outside the church.
In Isaiah 58 the people complain that God has not responded to the fasting and other sacrificial acts they hoped would win God’s favour.
Why have we fasted, and You see it not? (Isaiah 58:3)
To which God replied,
Is not this the fast that I choose… to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him… Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. (Isaiah 58:6-8)
There are two ways you can make a sacrifice. You can look inward and ask, “What must I surrender”, or you can look around and ask, “What can I give away?”.
Navigating our lives according to the demands of our emotional inner overlords is a miserable business and makes us weary. It leaves us constantly replaying our own internal dialogue and emotional experiences. It leaves us subject to every kind of up-and-down.
When life is governed by the sporadic and changing nature of our emotional experiences, disappointment eventually follows.
David recognised something of this when in Psalm 13:2, he cried out,
How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
And again in Psalm 42:5,
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.
Sentimentality not only wearies those who enthrone it but it also destroys truth. It recognises that truth is often hard and therefore tries to soften it in order to accommodate and placate the fickle god of emotion.
David found himself in emotional turmoil. His solution was not further introspection but shifting his gaze from the internal struggle to an external hope: The God of all hope. With his eyes fixed on the Goodness of God, David was able to wrestle his emotions to the ground and make them subordinate to the Word of God.
Like David, dislodging our sentimental rags is a lifelong battle for us. We are tempted daily to judge the value of words and things according to how they make us feel.
To be sure, our feelings matter, but as soon as we begin to judge ourselves and the world by the subjective standards of our ever-changing emotions, we do not gain contentment or freedom, we lose it.