Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Knowing God vs. Experiencing God

In our mad dash to enjoy the things of the world, we have embraced an assortment of new theologies – for instance, feeling-based theologies as opposed to Scripture-based theologies - that make this accommodation easy. One early casualty is the doctrine of Scripture itself – the belief that Scripture is completely authoritative and God-breathed.

As with any innovation, it is hard to fathom the price attached to this accommodation, at least in the short-run. Theologian R.C. Sproul thinks that the price is enormous:

  • History has demonstrated again and again that all too often there is a close relationship between rejection of inerrancy [that in its original form, Scripture is without error and completely God-breathed] and subsequent defections from matters of the Christian faith that are essential to salvation. When the church loses in the authority of sacred Scripture, it inevitably looks to human opinion as its guiding light. When this happens, the purity of the church is direly threatened. (Can I Trust the Bible, 65)

Unfortunately, we don’t even need history to affirm this truth. It is obvious and ubiquitous. Many two-legged examples of this are inescapable. It seems that whenever we begin to reject the doctrine of the full authority of Scripture, we compromise and ultimately become indistinguishable from the prevailing culture. This is because Scripture, along with the Spirit illuminating it for us, is foundational for the entire Christian life.

Therefore, if we lack the assurance that Scripture is fully divine, there is little to prevent us from absorbing the surrounding influences, and this is exactly what we do.

To defend the departure from the authority of Scripture, many justifications are offered:
  1. Scripture is invented by us in an attempt to explain our religious experience.
  2. Scripture is the word of man and not of God.
  3. God has changed his mind, and so too should we.
  4. Scripture contains many errors, so we have to be careful about what we believe.
  5. Jesus never expected us to regard his teachings as unchanging and absolute.

Okay, let’s start with the teachings of Jesus on the subject of Scripture! He regarded Scripture as absolutely authoritative. When the devil challenged him, after 40 days of fasting, to change a rock into food if He is truly the Son of God, Jesus responded:

  •  “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Mat. 4:4)

According to Jesus, life is a matter of feasting upon every word of Scripture. As such, Scripture had to judge us and not we standing above Scripture to judge it by deciding which verses were inspired and which aren’t. Instead, every word was unchangingly divine.

Jesus even set the example for us, demonstrating how we are to live by Scripture. In His response to the Devil, He Himself quoted Scripture (Deut. 8:3). Consequently, if He resorted to Scripture – and as the Son, He didn’t need to do this – how much more must we resort to Scripture!

In fact, whenever Jesus quoted Scripture - and He did this often – it always displayed the fact that He regarded it as fully authoritative. When His disciples failed to believe in the Scriptures, He castigated them for this failure. For instance, when, after His resurrection, He encountered His two despairing and unbelieving disciples on the Emmaus room:
  • He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

Scripture was supposed to be believed unchangingly in its entirety, and His disciples were remiss. Instead of merely correcting them, He led them back into Scripture to demonstrate how it was fulfilled. Likewise, when He appeared to His disciples hiding behind closed doors
  • He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead. (Luke 24:44-46)

Everything in Scripture is inerrant, because Scripture comes from God, and consequently, “Everything must be fulfilled.” Rather than simply giving them an ecstatic experience, “He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” – the very thing He continues to do for us today through His Spirit. He could have opened our minds to an experience of God, but instead, He opened them to Scripture, thereby demonstrating its centrality! Besides, nothing is more important than this, as Peter affirmed:
  • Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:2-3)

Scripture is so foundational to the Christian life, that all spiritual blessings are imparted “through our knowledge of Him.” Likewise, Jesus prayed that we would be filled with God’s love, and this too would be granted through our knowledge of Him and not a mountain-top ecstatic experience:
  •   “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:26)

Our experience of the love of God has to rest upon the knowledge of God. Did Jesus know that His own words were equivalent to Scripture? When He sent His disciples out into the world, He instructed them to preach His own words:
  •  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mat. 28:19-20)

He had instituted the promised New Covenant with His blood, and now it was His words of Scripture that they were to bear throughout the world. Nor were these new teachings, as if God had changed. Rather, these were teachings that found their roots in the Hebrew Scriptures.

If we are His disciples, we must also carry forth His words! We are not free to pick-and-choose among them. One who insists that we can depart from His Word is not truly His disciple. Faithfulness to our Master means faithfulness to all of His words (John 15:7-10).  

There is nothing in Scripture that would suggest that it is man-made. Peter claimed that:
  •  For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)

Paul claimed that, although Scripture came through mere humans, it was also the Word of God, fully inspired:
  • All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

As God’s Word, Scripture is fully trustworthy to thoroughly equip us. Instead, if Scripture contained errors, we could not be “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The errors or uninspired material would prevent us from being “thoroughly equipped.” Rather, Paul regarded his teachings as fully inspired - “the Word of God”:
  • And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. (1 Thess. 2:13)

Paul added that the Word is not stale or sterile head knowledge. Instead, he claimed that it is “at work in you who believe.” This is what I had discovered.

For decades, I had been plagued with severe depression. I won’t call them “bouts” of depression, because it had been more like an unending winter. Then it was joined by panic attacks which deprived me of the possible luxury of staying in bed. The agony was so great that I could find little rest, let alone peace. I didn’t know if I could survive from one day to the next. I tried to read the Bible, but my mind was usually too tormented to even get through a verse. However, there were times when a phrase – like “And God heard him” - would suddenly spring to life.

It was like an explosion of intense light but just for a brief moment. However, that was enough! It totally drove all the darkness – the depression and panic – away. I looked for them, but I couldn’t find them. They were gone, driven away by a greater force.

However, the next day they had returned, but the light had left me with something – the indelible impression and conviction that my God had heard me. And He would remain with me and eventually bring me through my hell.

This same experience visited me on numerous occasions but always in conjunction with the Word. And on each occasion it seemed to deepen my conviction that God was my Savior and that He would never leave me. However, the last time it visited me was perhaps 25 years ago.

I am still inspired, convicted, guided and encouraged by Scripture, albeit without such intensity. However, these powerful visitations left this diehard skeptic with a special inheritance – a conviction that faith in God is faith in His Word and a confirmation that the Word is true, as it has proclaimed.

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