Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In Search of the Ultimate Experience

The Holy Grail we are searching for in our modern society is the ultimate experience. We have laid aside the encumbrances of reason and logic. We believe they lead only to materialism and despair. Rather, we seek some powerful experience that will give life meaning. We can seek this in drugs, alcohol, sex, and the occult. We can seek it in more benign forms in career, family, entertainment, and hobbies. Nor are Christians immune to this tendency; we can import this into our spiritual life. We can make the search for the ultimate experience the goal of our Christian life. This can be found, not only in the extreme charismatic or pentecostal tradition, but in a more subdued form in the more conventional churches. Now I am far from being opposed to all experience in Christian worship. I have, in fact, definite charismatic tendencies. But I am opposed to making our experience the foundation of our faith.

If we make experience the goal, we will find feelings tend to come and go. It is only from the container of objective commitment that the beverage of experience should be drunk. It is like marriage, where it is impossible to maintain the original starry-eyed feeling of being in love, but the commitment forms the basis for  continued positive experiences. The other problem with the search for the ultimate experience is the problem of diminishing returns. It requires stronger and stronger experiences just to have the same effect. Alcohol is not strong enough, so the individual moves to marijuana; marijuana is not strong enough, so they move to crack cocaine. More and more is required to reach an adequate level of intoxication. The same principle is at work in more innocuous-appearing experiences; if you make an experience the center of your life, you need more and more to sustain the feeling. 

But the ultimate focus of Christianity is not a feeling, but a historical event. God Himself invaded history (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-18) to pay the price for our sins (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). This is an objective fact. The idea that this could not happen because it is contrary to the laws of science does not hold up. The laws of science tell us how nature normally behaves. Whether there is something beyond nature that can intervene in the natural processes is not something science deals with or can deal with. Now our proper response to this historic fact is to put our faith in what Christ has done for our salvation (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4;4,5; Philippians 3:9). This results in the Holy Spirit working in our lives to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). This should result in effects on our personal experience (Galatians 5:22,23; 1 John 4:19; Romans 14:17). But it is the objective basis that sustains and protects the experience. To only look for an experience without it is futile.

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