A year or so ago, I listened to the unabridged edition of Ray Bradbury’s, Fahrenheit 451, and almost from the start, I knew I was going to enjoy that book. There was one constantly returning scene that stuck with me for hours after coming upon it. It was always the scene with Mildred Montag, the main character’s wife. She was almost always in some sort of trance with her electronic devices: speaking to them, answering them, watching them from anywhere in the room, falling asleep with them, etc. She had in, what we would call today, earbuds. Nearly her entire bedroom was made up of television screens (3/4 of the walls were large screens by the end of the book), so that she could feel a part of the action. This was, for all intents and purposes, a premonition of virtual reality.
Ten years ago, a movie came out named “Surrogates.” I watched this movie back then and thought it was ridiculous. Read the plot from IMdB.com: “Set in a futuristic world where humans live in isolation and interact through surrogate robots, a cop is forced to leave his home for the first time in years in order to investigate the murders of others’ surrogates.” Why was everyone in isolation and how did they interact with surrogate robots: virtual reality. I remember seeing Bruce Willis’s character come out of his VR for the first time, and seeing him try and convince his wife to do the same, but to no avail.
Typically today, distinguishing between the real and the virtually real is not that difficult. When one takes off their headset, they understand that what they saw and did was simply a game. Fahrenheit 451 and “Surrogates” were fiction that took the experience to the extreme, making VR undetectable from reality. How? Feelings. Tapping into feelings can lead someone into a world where everything seems so real to the point that what seems real is all they know. That’s the nature of feelings. Feelings cause us to believe that which isn’t reality. They cause us to live in that which is not reality. Feelings will make us do that which we would not normally do. This is why as pastors, we seek not just to make an intellectual ascent about Scripture, God, and such, but an emotional plea. John Murray asked a young aspiring preacher what preaching was. When the young man couldn’t give an adequate response, Murray gave the answer. It is a “personal, passionate plea.” The emotions/feelings of the preacher imparted to the hearer. One can know what the right thing to do, but also feel like they ought not and nine times out of ten, the average person will go with their feelings, not their intellect.
Blaise Pascal wrote,
All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.
Feelings are the ultimate virtual reality, nearly inescapable. In Pascal’s example, the feelings of despair will only allow the desperate one to see a virtual reality of no hope, no future, no end to the pain. The desire for different feelings will not allow a person to see things as the really are, but only as they virtually are. Perhaps you have heard the saying, “Perception is reality.” Obviously it is not, but to the perceiver it is. The same goes with feelings. If you’ve ever watched someone participating in a VR game, it is quite comical. They’re twisting and turning, shadow-boxing, fighting with imaginary swords, and so on. From the outside, everything is seen for what it is, but from the inside, there are monsters, enemies, roller-coasters, mazes, etc.
Feelings are no different. To those outside, we see life as it actually is (true, we are all tainted by our feelings to some level); we see the person twisting and turning, shadow boxing, fighting, and so on, but it isn’t funny; it’s frightful. We do not see what they experience in their VR. We don’t understand the monsters, enemies, roller-coasters, and mazes that come upon them. These VR horrors are not safe or good for the feeler, nor for those around them. Not being able to tell the difference between what is real and what is virtual can be costly for everyone.
That being said. . .so can being too intellectual. Those who have shut down their feelings and emotions can be damaging to those who are “feelers.” While those who live in a VR world of emotions are dangerous to themselves and others, so are those who live in a VR world of intellect. God created mankind in His image with both feelings/emotions and intellect. These two traits are to work together. When one gets out of hand, the other is to bring it back. Feelings begin to take us into a VR world of untruths, but Paul tells us, “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things,” (Phil 4:8, ESV; emphasis mine). Yet, time and again, we see the language of emotions used throughout the Scriptures. It is wrong to feel without being influenced by the truth, but the intellect without emotions is just as wrong. They are to temper each other into right thinking.
One must never forget that 1) “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick,” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV). and 2) the Israelites thoroughly messed up when they did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6). There is nothing more deceitful than our own hearts, our emotions and feelings. The heart is sick and it just as soon make the rest of the body the same way. One cannot listen only to the emotions. If it seeks to lie, as it does more often than not, then one must combat it with the truth. Even when it lies about the truth being untrustworthy. One cannot be like the Israelites and simply do what he/she feels like doing (what is right in their own eyes). It is the truth that must set our course, our direction, our lives.
Still though, for those who are watching on the outside those experiencing the VR of feelings, it does no good to grow impatient or unsympathetic. Yes, there are times when a good kick in the pants is necessary, but that is the exception and not the rule; typically, it is done with those who are not prone to frequently experience the VR, but are having an acute, momentary episode. Even then, use caution. Instead, the truth needs to be reminded to combat the lies of the heart, but done in the manner that Paul urged the Thessalonians: “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all,” (1 Thessalonians 5:14, ESV; emphasis mine).
I cannot tell you that I have always done this, or that I do it perfectly now. That would be a lie; however, I can tell you that I seek to remember this verse whenever I feel impatient with anyone. When my feelings tell me that they will never get it; they’ll never understand, or that God isn’t working in their hearts. You know, when I enter the VR world of feelings. Yes, sometimes I go into the very VR of feelings myself. It is unbelievably difficult to come out of it, but unlike the actual title to this article, it is not inescapable.