Experience as Proof?

By | November 8, 2007

I heard a guy speak recently. He asked people to describe the Christian life. Somewhat to my surprise, people used words such as struggle, tough, and battle. I thought these adjectives were going in the right direction. I think about stories considered Christian classics, such as Pilgrims Progress and Hind’s Feet on High Places, also Paul’s speaking of spiritual armor, etc. But this speaker, after taking these responses, basically said if that’s what you think then something is wrong—you’re not living the “abundant life” that God wants you to live. He then gave everyone what basically amounted to a track for Christians.

At first I was just like, “I don’t believe this at all.” One thing that got me is that he was talking about how you can’t do it on your own but you have to let God do it. I find this quite confusing, because the message I got is if you feel this way then you’re doing something wrong and/or not doing something right. So you have to change something in order for things to be right. But that doesn’t sound like God doing something, but rather it sound like a magic formula, “Just do this and you will experience such and such.” I mean, I get it on one hand, the idea is that you just allow or are open to God doing whatever, and God does the real work. But still, I’m like if what this guy is saying is right, call me a Calvinist because I guess I’m not predestined for it.

Another thing is that those track things with their little pictures are like Chinese to me. I mean, a little circle with dots and a chair with a cross representing Jesus sounds simple enough, right? But to me that is completely detached from anything I can identify in my life. I mean, my life isn’t a drawing of a circle with dots on in and a chair in the center. Sure, it’s just supposed to be a visual illustration of some kind of truth, but it doesn’t make much sense to me. Maybe that’s because I’m not so sure it gets the truth of the idea. I’m not sure what it’s getting at is totally scriptural. To me it seems that it’s taking someone’s idea and using some scriptures which loosely sort of fit with it. The problem is that everything that this speaker said and was in this tract isn’t totally off. Half of the things said are quite true, but that doesn’t make up for the other half, and the overall message received.

A big thing which this got me thinking about had to do with evidence and experience. I have heard a number of times that if you talk about your faith, you should talk about your personal experience, because it isn’t something which the other person can argue about (at least not as much so as say getting into a philosophical or scientific debate). In regards to this guy talking about the “spirit-filled life”, I was thinking about this. If I were to disagree, he could say, “that’s just because you haven’t experienced it yet.” It’s true, if some one had some kind of experience, you can’t argue that they didn’t have it. The big issue however is, just because someone had an experience (which can’t be denied), it doesn’t validate their interpretation of that experience. For example, someone may have some kind of vision or dream and think they were abducted by aliens. While you may not be able to argue that they had an experience which they perceived one way, that doesn’t mean they actually were abducted by aliens.

So, someone feels positive energy associated with their Christian beliefs. They think it is attributed to living the Christian life, and living it “right”. That being the case, it would follow that everyone ought to feel that way if they are living the Christian life “right”, and so if they don’t feel that way, there must be something wrong. First, just because they associate their positivity with their Christianity, doesn’t mean that’s actually the source of it. It could be that things are simply going well for them in life, and so it comes naturally to feel positive. Or it might be that they feel better due to feeling like they have their life more in order, living more disciplined and organized due to their spiritual beliefs. This may indeed be related to their faith, only not something exclusive to Christianity (as I spoke about in my last blog). Or perhaps they are simply a person who is mostly positive by nature.

Even if they do feel positive due to their Christian faith, that doesn’t mean that everyone one will or should. I think this is one thing I struggle wit a lot. I’ve spoken about this in the past, but it seems that while lip service is given to the difficulties of being a Christian, the message almost always communicated is that you should feel good about your faith. I mean, just look at all of the modern praise songs.

Of course just because these things don’t prove a point, the points aren’t disproven either. Should all Christians feel some sort of positive, good feeling, and always be completely confident in their beliefs? I don’t know. I don’t know. But it troubles me because I usually don’t feel “right” and I have a lot of doubts that I struggle with. And it’s hard to deal with because of the culture of conservative evangelical Christianity, where so many people would label me as someone with whom something is wrong, something which needs fixed, and someone who is dangerous until I am “fixed”.

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