Posts Tagged ‘experience’

The scene is my first class in Systematic Theology at Gordon-Conwell.  The professor, Dr. Richard Lints, begins his lecture.  His first point, (at least, the first I remember), is that the theological project is not a matter of studying God, or putting God under the microscope, as it were.  Instead, good theology ultimately winds up with us being under God’s microscope.  Our reality, our existence, our thoughts and our feelings, are cast under the awesome light of who God is.  In turn, “who God is” (i.e., theology), informs the very framework of our reality, existence, thoughts and feelings.

John Wesley made a similar remark about Scripture:

In all cases, the Church is to be judged by the Scripture, not the Scripture by the Church.

The leap is not a far one.  If Scripture is the Word of God, then it follows that it too ought to comprise the framework of our worldview.

So what do we do when our experiences or feelings don’t line up with God’s Word?  God’s Word wins.  The theology here is simple enough: as a Christian, I believe God is The Absolute Authority.  Since Scripture is the Word of God, it follows that it is absolutely authoritative in my life.  In other words, nothing trumps it.  If I look up and see a sky that I would call “green,” but Scripture says that the sky is blue, then I – whether by poor eyesight, misunderstanding, or defiance – am in the wrong.  Scripture is the Truth that judges our reality, not the other way around.

I could restate and expound upon this fact in any number or ways, for any number of years, perhaps resulting in any number of yawns from my reader(s).  I do not believe it is possible to overstate this proper attitude towards the Bible.  Why?  Partly because it is easily forgotten, but mostly because it sets the stage for our worldview, and our walk with God.  Examples abound of Bible abuses that arise when we put Scripture on the Procrustean bed of our own agenda, rather than letting it establish for us what our agenda ought to be in the first place.

I recently felt the loving sting of conviction when I realized that I often live life backwards, and let personal experience take the seat of absolute authority in my life.  I am much more modern than I care to admit.  While I believe in miracles, I have to think long and hard to conjure up any personal experience of them.  This creates a tension in my life; one that some might (erroneously, in my opinion) claim is a head/heart separation: I give mental assent to God’s miracle working power for today, but I’ve never experienced it, so it tends to be a cooler, almost academic belief, that is short on faith.  (For the record, I think the head/heart language has just become shorthand for expressing personal beliefs [head] and personal experiences [heart].  I don’t think the Bible understands us as being quite so bifrucated).

So unfolds what I believe is a common Christian struggle: how to align God’s Word with our experience.  Theodicy comes to mind, as do plenty of other common “If God X, then how do you explain Y and Z?” questions.  But, I just played a trick on you.  Did you catch it?  The nature of the struggle is actually aligning our experience with God’s Word, not the other way around.  Again, God’s Word trumps our experience.

Perhaps you don’t feel loved by God; nor do you see any evidences of it in your life, which is marked with hardship.  The fact of the matter is that God still loves you, because that’s what He says.  God’s Word is right; your feelings and experiences are what need adjustment or reinterpretation.  This statement sounds terribly cold; I certainly do not mean to diminish something like human suffering, or suggest for a second that a proposition such as the one above is a panacea to help those in times of trouble.  This is certainly not a suggestion for pastoral counseling.  It is the truth, however; a truth we must cling to when our experience seems to run against the grain of Scripture.

The situation can work the other way, too.  Perhaps we experience a powerful encounter with the Lord, and receive a vision of some previously  misunderstood “truth.”  We might be filled with joy; our lives might even change.  However, no matter the experience, if said vision runs against Scripture, then our interpretation of the experience needs the adjustment, not Scripture.

There is a balance, of course.  God does work through emotions and experience, after all, and we’re God-equipped with senses to take in the world He made.  Praise be, the Holy Spirit dwells within us to empower, guide and reprove us in our walk.  Still, and I heaftily apply this to myself, we are “prone to wander,” as the hymn says.  We have no shortage of ways to do this.  The Scriptues, a vital part of God’s great revelation of Himself to humanity, must remain a centerpiece of our thought and study to help us live according to the Truth.  Even when all evidence seems to come against it, we can cling to it with unyielding trust, because we know the One who spoke it is faithful and true.

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