“I feel like…”

I feel like.001_1Research suggests that the phrase “I feel like” is being used used more and more in American society. In a recent edition of The New York Times, Molly Worthen summarized this research and observed:

In North American English, [“I feel like”] seems to have become a synonym for “I think” or “I believe” only in the last decade or so. Languages constantly evolve. . . . But make no mistake: “I feel like” is not a harmless tic. George Orwell put the point simply: “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” The phrase says a great deal about our muddled ideas about reason, emotion and argument. . . .

People use the phrase “I feel like” to hedge when making claims. Here’s how. Properly speaking, “to feel” is not the appropriate verb to use when making a claim about the truth or falsity of some proposition concerning reality. “I feel that there is a President of France” doesn’t make sense in the same way that “I feel encouraged” or “I feel angry” makes sense.

Nonetheless, contemporary English speakers often use “I feel” to introduce claims to fact in two kinds of circumstance: (1) They do not feel confident about a claim; or (2) They do not want to provide evidence for a claim. Generally, “I feel…” signals that the speaker is less confident the claim is true than if he had used “I know” or “I believe.”

How are we to evaluate situation (1), in which a speaker uses “I feel” to introduce a claim about which he feels uncertain? In some areas we can be little more definitive than to assert a feeling. For example: “I feel like chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla.” But there are knowable facts, and in some areas we simply must be able to do better than “I feel like.” As one Christian lady recently told me, we must never put a question mark where God put a period. In other words, we must never act as though a matter has not been settled, if God already has settled it by providing evidence in His word or in nature. For example:

  • We do not merely feel that the God of the Bible is real. We know it, because the evidence is overwhelming in both nature and the Scriptures (Hebrews 11:1-6).
  • We do not merely feel that heaven and hell are real, and that each of us will live in one of these places forever. We know it (Matthew 25:31-46).
  • We do not merely feel that it is essential for a sinner to be immersed into water in order to have his sins washed away and be saved. We know it (Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21).
  • We do not merely feel that Christ has built only one church. We know it (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4).
  • We do not merely feel that remarriage is sinful (absent the death of the first spouse or divorce for fornication). We know it (Matthew 19:9; Romans 7:1-3).
  • It is possible for us to not merely have a feeling that we are close to God or saved. Rather, we can know it (1 John 5:13).

The Bible reveals God’s will for our lives, and this revelation is knowable.

What about situation (2), in which a speaker uses “I feel” because he does not want to provide evidence to support his claims? The Bible speaks to this issue as well, when it tells Christians to be willing to make a defense for their hope (1 Peter 3:15). God has never expected His people to believe things for which there was no good evidence (see Isaiah 1:18; Hebrews 11:1; John 20:30-31).

- 2017