Modern culture is great at a few things which past cultures simply could not do. Communication, for example, is faster, broader, more convenient, and less of a hassle than it was during, let’s say, early colonial America. I mean, let’s face it. In our time, Paul Revere would not have had to expend all the energy to ride through the town and shout “The British are coming!” He could have just tweeted it— though history might not have been quite as faithful to the dramatic nature of the event. Imagine the scope of the first Thanksgiving if the Pilgrims had been able to send out an e-vite. And I suspect the Puritans would have appreciated having access to the Blogosphere, as they sought to extinguish the last bastions of Roman Catholic practices in English and American Christianity.
But, alas, for all the progress in the areas of technology, communication, and more, you and I must admit that we’ve taken a few giant steps back in more than one arena.
Here’s one that irks me. Our culture has hijacked and diluted the meaning of words. Think about it. In 2013, the Oxford English Dictionary formally added the word “selfie” to our lexicon. That’s right. You and I live in a culture that has made “selfie” an official word.
Can you imagine some of the great men and women of years’ past taking a “selfie?” John Hancock—with his iPhone in one hand and his pen in the other as he awkwardly snaps a photo of the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Betsy Ross—with the newly sown American flag draped over her shoulders, the caption simply reading “…’Merica.”
One of the most abused and misunderstood groups of words within our culture is that which revolves around the ideas of feeling, emotion, and affection. For us, the word “feeling” has come to mean a whimsical sensuality, which is wholly based on circumstantial, temporal pleasure. It is immensely subjective and totally contingent upon the prevalent whims of the individual.
And yet, there was a time when the ideas of feeling, emotion, and particularly affection, stood for something much deeper. Jonathan Edwards, the 18th century leader of the Great Awakening, wrote “The will, and the affections of the soul, are not two faculties: the affections are not essentially distinct from the will, nor do that differ from the mere actings of the will, but only in the liveliness and sensibility of exercise.” In other words, according to Edwards, the affections are “the sensed or felt exercises of the will.” Now, that definition certainly runs much deeper than our modern understanding.
Let me give you an illustration. The kind of affection which Edwards described is in fact what drives the Christian pursuit of God. But what kind of pursuit is this?
It is not the kind of response that a young girl would have at catching the eye of a boy in her class. Her heart would flutter; she might giggle and recount the story to her friends. But almost all young girls (no offense) are fickle. She would eventually become bored or smitten with the new boy in class. That is not the kind of response the gospel of new life elicits.
No, the kind of response the gospel evokes is like that of a bride who sees her husband laboring in the yard, earning at the marketplace, playing with his children, dancing with her at a party, and kissing her goodnight. She watches this faithful man as he pours himself out for his family, and she cannot help but love him for it. He asks for nothing in return, but she cannot hold back her expression of love in light of his sacrifice. She is compelled, by his selfless love, to live out her love for him. This is the love of a Christian for his Savior.
This kind of feeling is driven by a deep, heart-felt gratitude for the redeeming work of Christ. It is sustained by a perpetual sense of one’s neediness before an all-sufficient God. It is a continual confession of a kind of thirst which can only be satisfied by eternal streams of glory.
At least, that’s how David and the other men who penned the Psalms saw it.
As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
We even see this sort of poetic expression throughout the deeply theological writings of Paul, as if after long stretches of theological reflection, the natural overflow of his heart is joy-filled worship. One can hardly read through Philippians 2 and not feel the depths of Christology stirring the affections of the heart.
And so, I implore you to dig deeper. Look beyond the surface-level meanings of words that have been hijacked by our skin-deep culture. Search the Scriptures and seek the depths of such words. Journey back through the annals of Church History and read the writings of the Patristics, the Reformers, the Puritans, and more. Think deeply, that you may deeply worship a God in whom there is no end of depth.
Soli Deo Gloria
 Jonathan Edwards, Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections.