Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Ultimate Experience

I am not against experience.  I have felt the presence of the Spirit so strongly that He seemed almost tangible. I have felt the joy of the Lord so intensely that I could not collect my thoughts. But it is hazardous to build our faith purely on emotion. I am convinced both a faith based totally on intellect and a faith based solely on feeling are both dangerous. One of the tendencies in theology is the pendulum swing. Someone takes some legitimate aspect of truth to an extreme. Someone else sees the problems with this extreme and jumps to the opposite error. And both justify their opinion by pointing out the weaknesses in the other's position. We see this in full effect in the question of emotion in Christian worship.

There are pitfalls in basing your Christian life on the shifting sand of feeling. Holding onto a feeling is like trying to capture lightning in a bottle, they come and go. It is like falling is love. That initial rush of emotion cannot last. If we accept that and form a real commitment, we can build a deep relationship to last a lifetime. If we get blindsided by it, we can conclude love is gone and continuously dump people for someone new. In the Christian life we may not dump God but can go from one gimmick to another trying to find a way to recover our old feeling. This leads to a fragile faith that struggles to stand up to confrontation or suffering. But we should not jump to the opposite extreme and endorse a stoical Christianity. This can lead to a hard impervious morality, with little compassion for others. We can feel we are self-contained and do not need God or others.

Proper Christian experience should be grounded in God and who He is. That He has loved us and saved us (John 3:14-18; Romans 5:6-8; 1 John 4:9,10) and our response to this is to love in return (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Titus 2:11-14). Our joy and peace are our response to God, who He is and  what He has done for us (John 16:33; Philippians 4:4; 1 Peter 1:8). In the same way our intellectual knowledge of God arises from knowing God (Jeremiah 9:23,24; John 17:3; 2 Timothy 1:12). But we need to recognize we are sinners (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6). None of our powers can be trusted in their natural state. But all can be used in God's service when He transforms them (Matthew 22:37; Romans 12:1,2; 1 Thessalonians 5:23). But this is the result of God's work in us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). Therefore we must use discernment to decide what is really of God (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22; 1 John 4:1-6; Hebrew 5:14). But we cannot just suppress certain parts of our nature, thinking that will solve the problem.   

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