Forgive me, please, if I seem to have over-simplified anyone’s personal theology in a previous post. That is surely not my intention. I am not so much interested in confronting anyone else’s theology in this series of posts as I am in working out my own. There were several very thoughtful comments after the last post, very diverse in perspective, and quite helpful.
One line of conversation involves the starting place of knowledge – shall we risk oversimplification and boil it down to “scripture” or “experience”? Some will claim, “I start with scripture.” Some will claim, “I start with experience.” Actually, both are right in a way.
Truthfully, none of us “starts with scripture” from a perspective completely untainted by our experience. When we are honest with ourselves, we have to confess that everything we know about God has been shaped by a lifetime of experience. Parents, friends, teachers, preachers, encounters with nature, etc. all shape the way we read the scriptures, either positively or negatively.
And at the same time, none of us has such a unique life experience as to separate us from certain central truths that are a part of who God is and who God desires that we become. To elevate life experience to a position higher than God is just as idolatrous as to elevate that fancy wood carving of Sponge Bob Spare Pants to such a position. (Just wanted to make sure you were still paying attention!)
For example, I would feel a little odd saying, "Based on my life experience, God does not desire peace on earth," because peace is a central truth of God’s identity. It is articulated in the Bible, it is an important part of many different faith traditions, it is a good and desirable way of living, and I cannot point to anything in my life experience that would contradict that truth.
But – somebody might! Like my theology professor at Saint Paul always says, “What you see depends upon where you stand.” How about a child somewhere in the inner city whose only experience is daily drug deals, weekly drive-by shootings, and constant fear? How about a Middle-Eastern child who knows only the imminent danger of either a market place bomb or a fully armed tank? It would be hard to convince such a person that, simply because I read it in the Bible, it is true that God wants the world to be at peace. Their own life experience tells them otherwise. I will have to be able to say something else, something reasonable, something grounded in real life experience, something that will make a difference to this one who so desperately needs to know about God’s peace.
Last time, Larry B. wrote, “I personally think scripture has to be backed up by reason for it to hold any personal meaning and depth. God's not changed by our questioning, nor does He reward blind obedience any more than fierce struggle - grace is an undeserved gift.” (I’m telling you, this guy needs his own blog!) He is right, of course. God is not at all threatened by our desire to know more, to understand more fully, to grow closer to God and to become the people God desires that we become.
The questions are “How do I know what I know?” and “Why do I believe what I believe?” and “How did I get to where I am?” If the response, “Because it says so in the Bible” is not fully sufficient for me, does that make me a bad person? Does that diminish my faith? Does that make God love me less? I sure don’t think so. I hope not, because that’s where I find myself these days. But all this thinking and writing about such heavy stuff is making my brain weary. Next post, I promise to lighten up!