Friday, October 28, 2011

I Believe so that I might Experience

Is theology important, or is it as Oprah famously asserted: “God is about a feeling experience, not a believing experience!” Does it truly matter what we believe and think about God, or is it all about an experience of God without the accompanying cognitive material?

In order to examine this question, let’s just look at the ever-contentious question of the Person of Christ – Is He God eternal or was He created and consequently had a beginning? And does it matter if He was always God or was just elevated to the position of “God” in order to die for our sins, as many of the cults maintain? Well, it does matter. Paul asserted that,

• God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Could God have demonstrated His love for us if He had created Christ for the occasion of dying in our place? I don’t think so! If the Christ was merely created, then God could have spoken into existence 100,000 christs every second. Consequently, such a christ dying for me would not convey the love of God. It would have represented no sacrifice on His part – no more than if I told a homeless person, “I want to show my profound love for you, and so I will give you this penny!”

Instead, as the Book of Philippians states, the Christ had emptied Himself of all His heavenly privileges to take on human form and to die for us (Phil. 2:5-7), even while we were His enemies (Rom. 5:9-10). In the process, He willingly lived a life of sorrow (Isaiah 53) and submitted to the worst torture and death for us, who deserved nothing good at all from Him. And He did this, not because He was created for this purpose, but because of a mysterious word we call “love.”

This truth was profoundly revealed to me as I was in the midst of life-controlling depression and panic attacks. Although I desperately wanted to believe that God loved me, in the context of all of my pain and failure, I was unable to experience this. Instead, my experience informed me that life was no more than a freak show, unleashed by a sadistic god for his own twisted amusement. As a stood imploring heaven for its unlikely mercy, I was struck by the revelation that He really did care. We were not objects of entertainment but of love and the most profound concern. I could then perceive that the Creator had actually died for me, becoming my Redeemer, One who is deeply touched by all of my sorrows (Hebrews 4:15; Isaiah 63:7-11).

Tears of joy broke forth. He actually loved me and proved this by voluntarily suffering for me, something that reason and justice alone couldn’t explain. My “believing experience” then morphed into a “feeling experience!” Theology proved itself full of heart and soul.

I think that it was Anselm who stated, “I believe so that I might understand.” It is equally true that “I believe so that I might experience.” Theology might look like a dry stem to the heart that does not see, but to the heart that offers its tears to God, theology also has roots and flowers of the most aromatic fragrance.

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