Experience Required

Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Gen. 1:1 π Psa. 34:8 π Eccl. 12:13 π Mt. 11:27 π Mt. 22:37-38 π Jn. 3:19-21 π Jn. 4:24 π Jn. 10:27 π Jn. 12:45 π Jn. 14:9 π Jn. 16:13; 2nd π Acts 12:7 π Acts 27:23-24 π Rom. 1:20 π Rom. 6:13 π Rom. 8:6 π Rom. 8:6-8 π Rom. 14:17 π 1 Cor. 2:14 π 1 Cor. 8:1 π 2 Cor. 5:15 π 2 Cor. 12:2 π Heb. 1:2 π Heb. 11:6 π Heb. 13:2 π 2 Pet. 3:17-18

Some people look askance on various writings that put as much emphasis on personal experience as on the Scriptures, seeing any claims that cannot be “validated through Scripture alone” as proof positive the writer has gone right on over the edge into error and “heresy.” This view extends into the ludicrous when a “pastor” mocks one of his “church” members for daring to be on a “spiritual journey”! Others raise the question of how would someone having “seen” or having had an “experience” with either Jesus or God the Father even be edifying to another believer – implying that

  1. the notion of personal experiences with God are absolutely doctrinally un-Scriptural and a completely unsound practice, and

  2. that anyone who has such an experience must be deceived or a false teacher. (see however 2 Cor. 12:2 where Paul describes himself to spiritually rescue those who doubted his “qualifications” to speak truth to them; top)

And completely overlooked is the question of how does one “validate” a concept or idea “through Scripture alone” anyway – that is, apart from one’s own personal experiential bias and understanding? Is that even possible? And even if one succeeded in achieving such an interpretation, where does the work of the Holy Spirit (who leads us into all truth – Jn. 16:13; top ) enter in? These questions are left unaddressed.

But the questions and objections and arguments about experience and knowledge are nothing new. In philosophical circles, the study of the origin, nature and limits of human knowledge is called epistemology. The arguments go round and round whether all knowledge is derived from experience or some knowledge is known apart from or prior to experience. The two classifications of thinkers are known as empiricists (those who hold that some ideas are held independent of experience). The questions about the origins of knowledge naturally lead to questions of the limits of one’s knowledge. Philosophers love to debate whether there is even a God because of the question of man’s non-ability to know “without experience.” Questions that go beyond man’s finite ability to experience are labeled “transcendental” or “metaphysical” – labels used by some to conveniently dismiss outright the questions of God and such as having no cognitive significance. Obviously, epistemology, and the thinking of those who set their life’s course by it, has little to offer one who has already tasted and seen that the Lord is good. ( Psa. 34:8; top )

Existentialism, those philosophies that attempt to explain human existence in both its concrete and problematic nature, stresses being and also rejects epistemology because of how it seeks to virtually limit the human being to a merely intellectual creature while discounting or even ignoring such things as the caring, desiring, manipulative, willful and active aspects of human nature. Existentialism – with its roots deeply embedded in the concrete reality of human existence, it must rub shoulders with and indeed has many similarities to Christian thought – even holds that the self or ego (which is considered a foundation in epistemology) does not even emerge as a distinctive thing apart from one’s experience of and with other people! Viktor Frankl, whose brand of existentialism puts great emphasis on man’s will to meaning (as contrasted to man’s will to power – Nietzsche – or will to pleasure – Freud, etc.), rightly criticizes existentialism’s propensity to teach men “to endure the meaninglessness of life” while he instead teaches people “to bear [man’s] incapacity to grasp [life’s] unconditional [“metgaphysical,” “transcendental,” beyond logic and knowledge] meaningfulness in rational terms.” (Man’s Search for Meaning, p. 141) Existentialism, of some value in addressing very real questions of human life and existence, offers only little more than does epistemology in aiding one who has already seen Jesus and, through Him, come to know the Father. ( Jn. 14:9; top )

The Bible doesn’t argue about the existence of God. “In the beginning God…” ( Gen. 1:1 ) The existence of God was, is and always will be a valid fact to those who have experienced something of Him and His nature – no matter how many skeptics, agnostics and atheists proclaim otherwise, demonstrating only that their faith has been placed in themselves and their own limited, finite, even handicapped ability to know. “For without faith,” the Bible tells us, “it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” ( Heb. 11:6; top )

Skeptics of all varieties are, by definition, limited to what can be known of the Creator by what they see and experience in the creation – yet even in that there is enough of “God’s fingerprints” and “evidence of a Designer” that men are without excuse. ( Rom. 1:20 ) Man’s denial of God is much better explained by John: “This is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” ( Jn. 3:19-21; top )

Peter wrote that we were to grow in the grace and experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ and thereby keep ourselves from falling from steadfastness into the error of the wicked. ( 2 Pet. 3:17-18 ) When it comes to knowing God, we cannot rationally conclude much of anything about Him apart from our experiences with Him, experiences necessarily dependent upon His revelations to us of Himself. ( Mt. 11:27 , Jn. 12:45 , etc.) He is simply beyond the ability of the natural, fallen mind to grasp ( 1 Cor. 2:14; top ) but He is known by those to whom He reveals Himself, knowledge we must and can only gain by experience.

Those who rely too much on experiences with God, however, are as off the mark as those who denounce the need for experience. There is indeed great danger in seeking physical encounters with the God who is Spirit. ( Jn. 4:24 ) – these physical sensations are much more likely (some say can only be) physical titillation of the human senses by demonic beings. God speaks to us through His Son ( Heb. 1:2 , Jn. 10:27 , etc.) and leads us into all truth by His Spirit ( Jn. 16:13 , etc.) Angels can be used by Him – even in the New Testament men interact with angels ( Acts 12:7 , 27:23-24 , Heb. 13:2 , etc.; top) – but this is not how God usually reveals Himself or bestows revelation, insight and wisdom.

To genuinely follow Christ requires some knowledge – this is true. This knowledge cannot be held by the natural, fleshly (carnal) mind though because “to be carnally minded is death…the carnal mind is enmity against God…[and] those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” ( Rom. 8:6-8 ) Knowledge held naturally by the natural man will only puff up the holder ( 1 Cor. 8:1 ) and bring conflict and division among the people following Christ because “to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” ( Rom. 8:6 ) The one whose knowledge has truly been brought into the realms of truth and light and life will be characterized by right living, peace and joy attained by and through the Spirit of God. ( Rom. 14:17; top ) The man whose knowledge is merely and only intellectually based does not even know there is any real difference between natural knowledge and spiritual knowledge – primarily because he has never progressed far into the realms of the latter. Thus a man can possess a vast storehouse of “theological” facts and succeed only in being the most dangerous kind of “Christian” there is – one whose knowledge has been eclectically gleaned from the Spirit of truth, from traditions of men as well as from teachings that originate from demonic deceptions. And this one imagines, indeed is firmly convinced, that he has knowledge worth passing on to others and that he preaches a gospel worth embracing! The truth is sadly otherwise even though the transcendence of God comes clearly into view when a sincere seeker listens to such a man and still finds God!

The genuine follower of Christ is not called to be either an empiricist or a rationalist nor an existentialist. He is not called to be merely intellectual – he is to love God with all of his existence. ( Mt. 22:37-38 , etc.) He is to be a spiritually-dominated soul whose body is employed as a slave to righteousness (what is right in God’s eyes – Rom. 6:13 ) whose highest priority is attaining to the will of God, thus glorifying (“enhancing the reputation and perception of”) God. ( 2 Cor. 5:15 , etc.) It is the whole duty of man to fear and obey God. ( Eccl. 12:13; top ) Anything else is mere darkness and hiding from Him who is the light of life and anything that prevents us from the fullness of the experiences we need to better know Him and to better attain to His purposes for our life is mere deception to be avoided and jettisoned. No matter how wise and wonderful it might seem in our own eyes to be so “cautious” and “intellectual” in our “Christianity,” anything that keeps us from genuinely deeper experiences with the one true God is sure to be a work of the devil – just as is any “experience” that causes us to mistake any and every spirit that comes our way to be God.

Let he who has ears hear.

I’d love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!

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