THE FEELGOOD FACTOR
A Sermon Preached at St Stephen's Lewisham, Christmas Day 1994
"The Word was made Flesh
"He lived among us
"And we saw his glory
"The glory that is his as the only Son of the Father
"Full of grace and truth"
People talk a lot nowadays about what they call the Feel-good Factor.
It would seem that the Feel-good Factor is something that wins or loses political elections, depending on whether people are feeling it or not.
This is quite a new development dating back at the most some thirty to 35 years.
Before that time, elections were won or lost by whether those in power were seen to be doing a good job or not; whether the economy was in a good state; what sort of influence the United Kingdom was having on international politics.
But nowadays questions like that seem to matter much less than they used to; what really counts is whether people are Feeling Good or not.
This change of attitude in the political arena has been matched by a similar change of focus amongst those who "profess and call themselves Christians". The whole emphasis has shifted from people asking "Is it true?" to the question "Does it feel good?" And therefore the individual is more likely to ask himself the question "What do I believe?" and instead to ask "What do I feel about this?" and "What are other people's feelings on the subject?" Changes like this spell disaster both for nation and the individual who allow himself to be taken in by it and be guided by the principle "What do I feel?" rather than "This is the truth and I believe it".
So let me first suggest some reasons why our feelings are an unreliable and dangerous basis on which to live our lives.
Firstly, feelings are, by their very nature like passing clouds, driven every which way by such variables as our digestion, our contemporaries, our health, our financial situation, our family, and even the weather.
Secondly, there is not the slightest reason for supposing that any two people will have the same feelings about anything. One man's meat is another man's poison. What we feel about anything, what we like and what we dislike are determined to a large extent by what our parents have trained us to feel about them. If they're good parents then of course they will have taught us to appreciate what is right, true, beautiful and good, and by the same token to abhor what is evil, cruel, deceitful, false and self-pitying.
But whose parents have done a 100% good job on their children in this way.
Not my parents (though they did pretty well I must say); and I don't think my own children would give me full marks either.
Thirdly, of course, people's feelings are infinitely manipulable. All advertising, all propaganda are in the end designed to change what people feel about things. Sometimes it succeeds, sometimes it doesn't. But the fact is that in a significant number of cases it works, otherwise people wouldn't go on trying it. People like Hitler got where he did, and the Holocaust happened, because he was an arch-manipulator of people's feelings.
Now let us turn to what St John says about the Incarnation, the enfleshment of God the Son in the person of Jesus Christ on the first Christmas Day. He makes four statements at the end of his prologue in the first chapter of his Gospel which I read to you at the beginning. He says <1> The Word was made flesh <2> He dwelt among us <3> We saw his glory <4> That glory was full of grace and truth Not a word about feelings at all, but four straightforward statements of fact, each of which must be either true or false.
Each of which invites us to say of it either "It's true: I believe this too" or "I don't believe it, because it's false" <1> The Word was made flesh. Yes he was, or no he wasn't <2> He dwelt among us. Yes he did, or no he didn't <3> We beheld his glory. Yes you did. No you didn't <4> It was full of grace and truth. Yes it was. No it wasn't Statement like these don't depend for their truth either on what people feel about them or how many people believe in them. They would be no more or less true or false than they are if everyone believed in them or if nobody did. St John himself in his gospel draws our attention to the fact several times that believers in Jesus Christ were always in the minority.
"He came to his own domain and his own people did not accept him; even though the world had been made through him, the world failed to recognize him.
"But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God." Seeing, believing, recognizing, accepting. That's what the faith we profess is all about. Not feelings at all.
We may indeed, at first, not like what we see, and the truth about ourselves which the light of Jesus Christ brings out into the open. In facing the fact that not many of those who actually met the Word made flesh, the Light of the World, actually recognized and accepted him, St John explains that this was so because such men "preferred darkness, because their deeds were evil.
The bottom line is that the Feelgood Factor is the enemy of the truth, and therefore the enemy of God who is the Truth, and in the end it's Man's own worst enemy, yours and mine. The Devil was a liar from the beginning and the Father of lies. Feelgoodism is one of the weapons he uses to turn us away from God, away from the Truth and towards himself and all his empty promises.
That's the real difference between Right and Wrong, Good and Bad. Badness and wrongness make promises they cannot keep. the feeling in us which they indulge are simply false, misleading and soon cease to give any satisfaction.
But the promises made to us by God are sound, faithful and last for ever.
What are those promises? He has promised that we shall be like him: that we shall become the sons of God by adoption and rebirth through faith in his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ. Who was born of the Virgin Mary. Who became man for our sake. In whom, whosoever believes shall not die but live.
And to whom be ascribed as is most justly due, all might, majesty, dominion and power, henceforth and for ever. Amen.
Return to Sermon Salad
Return to Trushare Home Page