There are many women of ages past that I look to as examples of Godliness, fierce and biblical femininity, and partakers in the Great Commission. One such woman is Corrie Ten Boom, who despite the risk of grave retribution, hid and transported Jews to various safe havens throughout Poland during the Holocaust. She was a God-fearing woman, who worked diligently to preserve and protect God’s chosen people. And for this, she would eventually be sentenced to live in a concentration camp.
Corrie endured years of fleas and forced fasting, she was often abused and under extreme duress. She still loved the Lord. She remained faithful to the task He had place before her by stewarding her time in the concentration camp to minister to the women around her. When Germany surrendered at the end of WWII she was, by the grace of God, released from her camp due to a clerical error. She did not wallow in anger against God upon finding that the life and family she left years prior was all but gone. She did not remain in bitterness for the lost years of her life. Instead, she committed to continue on in the work that God had for her; she spoke publicly about the horrors she endured, the grace of God that had sustained her, and pleaded with the public to remember the victims of Hitler’s regime. Needless to say, she was an incredible woman.
But there’s one thing that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since I finished reading her biography. In this book, an event is described in which she was speaking publicly at a church, once again describing her harrowing testimony. After her speech, a man approached her. She immediately recognized him—he was a Nazi solider that had tortured her during her imprisonment. He extended his hand, described that he had found God, and asked for her forgiveness. Knowing that forgiveness is an action rather than an emotion, her hand met his. She inwardly prayed, “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.” In that moment, she forgave.
I have spent much time dwelling on this since my eyes first met these words. Corrie, in her weakness, knew she could only forgive in word, not in deed, without the help of the Holy Spirit. In that moment, she remembered the power of the Gospel which forgave her of her sins, and this knowledge compelled her obedience to forgive, also. I had never before recognized the two-fold process of obedience—that it requires a yielding of our preference to another human, and that it commands a correlating emotional response.
Yes, obedience is an action. Yes, faithfulness is a choice. But, how do we move forward when things don’t feel true? I can say I’ve forgiven those who have hurt me until I’m blue in the face, but if in my so-called forgiveness, I have not allowed the Holy Spirit to rip out the root of bitterness that the apparent offense might have caused, have I honestly participated in forgiveness? When we attempt to make aright what sin has made so horribly wrong, we cannot and will not do it justice. Instead, we must allow God to reach into the depths of our hostile souls. In doing so we allow the mercy that the Gospel has afforded us to compel us into proper obedience. We can supply the obedience, we must sometimes beg for the feeling.
However, this sentiment isn’t limited to the precept of forgiveness. I’ve found myself often dwelling on the other actions that necessitate God’s frequent supply of feeling to my soul. I can provide the obedience to spend time in the Word of God, but I often need God to deliver the feeling of delight in doing such a crucial thing. It is easy to love the Word of God when we are actively in it, but when we allow ourselves to be distracted, no matter how temporary it might be, we open ourselves up to the opportunity of doubt and uncertainty. In doing this, the joy we once found in this action is stolen and then replaced with a suspicion that said action isn’t good for us.
I may physically provide the obedience necessary to move one foot in front of the other to darken the doors of church every Sunday, but I regularly need God’s supply of pleasure in joining together with fellow believers. We can know with every fiber in our being that meeting with a local body of believers is important, but do we allow ourselves to truly benefit from this design if we allow ourselves to be annoyed or bothered by those in the pew beside us? I might find myself in a robotic and automated obedience to God in certain disciplines in my life, but if I am unable to find the joy necessary to partner with the action, am I truly in obedience?
This isn’t a localized or uncommon thing to occur in the life of a human. Adam and Eve took the fruit from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil when their eyes were averted from God on the false suspicion that He was withholding from them something that was good. The serpent took advantage of Eve’s moment of doubt, and filled that misplaced contemplation with a lie that he was more honest than God. When Jesus called Peter out to walk on the sea with Him, Peter began to sink when he fixed his gaze on the wind instead of on Jesus. The very one who hold together the wind and the sea beckoned Peter to come a walk with Him, yet Peter’s gaze still slipped away when the wind seemed more commanding that God Himself. At a glance, these two instances may not seem to have much in common. However, in each circumstance, the feelings of finding delight and joy in trusting God and His plan faded, and their obedience was persuaded shortly thereafter. When our feelings wander, so do our actions.
As believers in the Triune God, we have an innate enemy seeking to destroy us. Considering how fickle our hearts can be, is it any surprise that Satan chooses to manipulate our feelings to disturb our souls and steal the pleasure found in obedience to our Lord? Our feelings matter—our emotions are important, and we might be foolish to think that Satan doesn’t know that.
Sisters, we are often taught to view our emotions as a weakness or a fault. Take heart, because this is categorically untrue. Emoting is a crucial tenant of obedience, and a discipline we must steward with excellence. When you cannot find within yourself delight, plead with Jesus to provide it. When your life seems mundane, cry out to Him who offers abundant encouragement. When you suffer great loss, fix your gaze upon the One who is entirely worthy. He has an infinite and eternal storehouse from which He reaches to provide for us. Take great comfort in this, for when we supply our obedience we can ask with expectation that He will supply the feeling.
Sarah Morrison is a staff writer for The Daily Grace Co.