Reading oneself and the Bible: follow-up 3

My last blog post was the second of a three-part reply to a recent comment, by “Listener.” In this last part I want to address two of Listener’s points. Here is the first:

“Some things must be felt with the heart because the intellect cannot adequately hold the entire mystery of God.” I agree that our emotional responses provide important information, and that some things may be more immediately accessible to the emotions than, say, the intellect. Yet as I wrote last post about the need to become skilled ‘readers of ourselves’, so I would argue that it is not either the intellect or the emotions. It must, to my way of thinking, always be both.  And not just these two.

In other words, human understanding necessarily incorporates the entirety of what and who we are as human beings. What does this entail? At base, it means learning how to invigorate and then interweave our faculties (intellect, emotions, memory, sense perception, imagination, experience) judiciously yet artfully, such that our way of seeing and our way of being are individually and mutually informing (and so able both to corroborate and critique one another). This, in essence, is the meaning (and result) of being a competent ‘reader’ of oneself.

Concerning the “mystery of God,” I think that we must be careful in what we view as “mysterious” about God, and what we do not.  For instance, whether an event represents God expressing love to me in some rather direct way may be mysterious in that we cannot be definitive about such conclusions, but the fact that God loves us is not.  Much more could be said, but I will leave it there for now.

This leads me to Listener’s second point: “What I have found in my spiritual journey is that people often measure my experiences of God against their own, rather than anything else. In other words, if they do not experience God in the same way, then they will dismiss what I have experienced. This seems to driven (at least in part) either by ego or envy. People can become envious that they have not heard from God in the same way. The fact is that God interacts personally and uniquely with each individual according to the grace given them and to their specific purpose.”

I resonate with this situation. Yet I also think that matters are not so straightforward. First, I believe that scepticism and suspicion must be overcome, not avoided, which is actually best achieved by encouraging my listeners to assume these perspectives: encouraging them to be sceptical and suspicious. And I do so not only by appreciating their questions but by having already applied these perspectives to myself: having my own sceptical and suspicious perspectives “ready at hand” concerning the very experiences that I proclaim, as true, to others.

In fact, I feel comforted when my audience is sceptical or suspicious because then I know that they share with me an important goal: truth-seeking. And my audience will likely be reassured when they understand that I, too, have taken a rigorous approach by applying scepticism to any event to which I attach such large claims, and to myself as the claimant.

Thus for the events in my life that I believe represent “exceptional experiences” of God, I hope that people will judge them. I hope that they will do so by applying scepticism and suspicion to how I present these events and to what I have “made of” the situations upon which they are based. For by so doing my audience inevitably spends more time and pays more attention to these events and, should they view me as credible, may develop greater trust in my accounts (or testimony).

So my job is not to try to avoid their scepticism and suspicion, but to encourage it. Further, by having a better understanding both of human being and the Christian God, my job is both to assist listeners to assess my experiences, whether by anticipating objections (and thus including partial responses when presenting my experiences) or by educating listeners towards the most applicable lines of questioning in order, thereby, to validate my experiences as true.

Lastly, what I’m proposing is time consuming. Yet this is not a problem but to be expected, for my goal is not explaining my experience so much as offering possibilities, through presenting my experience, of relationship between my audience and God. And this means two things.

On the one hand, my experience is not incidental to this “furthering” but essential to it, because I am proposing relationship between my audience and this God, the God that I have encountered and am describing to you. On the other hand, then, I believe that this process of presenting my experience and jointly validating it will both take time to unfold and will itself be part of that larger relationship that I am hope will develop.

In this way, as I engage with the other I both “remain myself” and become part of this person’s relationship with God: I become a partial embodiment of what it means for God to be present to another person, to meet that person’s needs, etc.

2 thoughts on “Reading oneself and the Bible: follow-up 3

  1. I’d like to address my accusations of skepticism being rooted in the ego or envy. I can’t use any better example of this than the life of Jesus Himself. Those who surrounded Him had ever reason to be skeptical of His claims. “You think you are One with the Father, huh? Why should we believe you???” Fair enough. That skepticism/suspicion was understandable and even appropriate. The people, however, had ample opportunity to witness Jesus, to listen to His teachings, to see Him demonstrate supernatural ability to heal the sick and even raise the dead, among other things. He proved His claims through the life He lived and the love He demonstrated. At some point, that skepticism/suspicion had to either give way to acceptance of His claims or to harden itself against Him. People did both of these things. Some softened to Jesus and loved Him while others chose to hate him, no matter what He did or said. His character didn’t matter. His supernatural acts didn’t matter. His words didn’t matter. And the Scripture clearly identifies why the religious leaders hated him. Matthew 27:18 says that the Jews handed Jesus over out of envy. He had stolen the hearts of the people with His purity and goodness and the religious leaders (who considered themselves to be pure and good) were green with jealousy. Instead of bowing to the proof right in front of them (and allowing their skepticism and suspicion to be satisfied with the testimony of Jesus’ life), they chose to be stiff-necked and hand Him over to die. He had bruised their egos over and over and over again. I can safely say that the religious leaders handed Jesus over to be killed because of their ego and jealousy.

    The point here is that everyone had the right to be duly skeptical of Jesus. They also had opportunity to witness His life and either accept or reject based on the evidence they saw…including ways in which His life and ministry was fulfilling prophecy. The Bereans are another example of a wise example. They didn’t just believe Paul. They searched the Scripture to either validate or reject what he was saying. (Acts 17:11) So is it is today with the things we hear from other people. We should be wise in how we approach any faith claim and use our intellect to investigate the claims from every angle. But there does come a point when we either have to accept or reject. And let’s all be wise in that decision because sometimes the stakes are high.

  2. Pingback: What are ultimate truth claims? - Another Christian OptionAnother Christian Option

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