Spiritual Experiences – When the Status Is Anything But Quo
Why do people have spiritual experiences? I don’t know for sure (Short post. See you next time on geezeronthequad.). But I have three theories that overlap not only Scripture but hold water with the people I’ve encountered. The first one plays out below. Before we get into that, we make a big mistake if we think people encounter God in special ways because they’re Christians on steroids, Spirit filled megalifters, giants of the faith, “über” believers or part of some kind of elite sanctification squad. But that’s what we knee jerk to when we hear stuff. “That’s never happened to me. I’m a just a plain Christian.” Let me reach out from wherever you’re reading this and grab you on both sides of your head (Don’t worry. I’m not going to spit wash your face like your grandmother did before special occasions.) to say that “plain” is the only kind of Christian there is. Spiritual experiences absolutely neither guarantee that someone is a spiritual giant nor will they even remain faithful to God in the long run.
Think about Judas Iscariot for a minute. How much light did this guy have? He was with Jesus day and night. He heard Him teach. He saw miracle after miracle first hand. When Jesus sent the twelve out in pairs, Judas preached, performed healings and exorcisms by the temporary power of the Holy Spirit. He was in the boat when Jesus walked on water and calmed the storm. So how did it turn out for him? And saying that his betrayal was prophesied does not reduce Judas to a morally irresponsible prophecy driven robot. He fully sinned against the light he had – and we’re talking a lot of light. Experiences don’t automatically make somebody a great spiritual leader. More later on this. But know now that in North American Christianity and in other places where NAC exerts its cultural control over the church, a swaggering strutting leadership style removed from human accountability blasphemes the Holy Spirit in the church and makes Jesus stink in the nostrils of the world. Much hurt to others He does not deserve gets tagged onto the Holy Spirit.
One rule. The Bible is simply the Holy Spirit’s book, God’s diary. It’s not a sanctified L.L. Bean catalog of spiritual experience where we pick and choose what we’d like to experience. How the Bible came to be written and compiled (especially the Old Testament), it’s persecution and survival at the hands of its enemies and the incompetence of its friends stands as one honking demonstration of the power of God. Some things miraculous written there don’t need to happen again as what these things reveal simply don’t require anything added or repeated. In a discussion with some Christians, Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic Magazine, commented, “The Red Sea just doesn’t part anymore!” It doesn’t need to, Michael. God’s been there, done that. No contemporary spiritual experience genuinely of God will add theologically or doctrinally to what the Holy Spirit has already said in Scripture. The cessationists are dead bang on target here but that doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit is locked up in a book.
A first theory of why some people have spiritual experiences says that what God wants to communicate is so crucially important that He comes through in dramatic ways so that we won’t miss it. Think about all the miracles in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph and everything leading up to and including the burning bush (Ex. 3:1-5) of Moses. The Creator of the cosmos would create a people, a nation, to uniquely reveal Himself to the world (not just that He exists but also what He is like.). Exactly who saw that coming? It wasn’t about a cool photo-op or goosebump breakout for Moses. And the bush only burned once for Moses; it never became a spiritual/emotional temple where he lived the rest of his days.
Think about Paul’s Macedonian vision (Acts 16:6-10). The guy had a plan and worked it. Sometimes a well crafted and thought out strategy is the will of God. When Paul hit town, he would go to the synagogue presenting himself as a student of the great Gamaliel. No synagogue in the Roman world would close its doors to someone with cred like that. But Paul bounced around Asia Minor (modern Turkey) getting neither an audience nor results in places like Bithynia (Acts 16:7). Piling up knots on his head from banging it on closed doors, Paul winds up in Troas where he has the vision (Acts 16:9) to enter Macedonia. Paul was fixated on taking the Gospel to places he knew hadn’t seen much of it; God wanted to penetrate a whole new continent with the life of Jesus Christ.
Ah, the Christmas story. The nativity in Matthew and Luke holds the highest concentration of angel appearances, both in number and magnitude. God, the Creator of the cosmos, would become a man. Well, first a baby…and born to a virgin. Oh, yeah. It so could happen. Or would there be some need to persuade key individuals with some oomph from God?
Spiritual experiences shed light on contemporary events without adding to or contradicting theological/doctrinal content. Meet Agabus (Acts 11:28, 21:10), prophet in the church at Antioch. He foretells a famine coming to Jerusalem and surrounding Judea enabling outlying churches to respond with Paul and Barnabus collecting the emergency offering. Later, Agabus takes Paul’s belt and ties himself up, making a “street theater” prediction of Paul’s future. This kind of thing lies outside the pale of theological/doctrinal knowledge completed with the close of the New Testament and, if the Lord thinks necessary, can happen again. A world-renowned theologian (“Brilliant” would be a severe underestimation of this man’s gifts.) visited a Quaker group doing research for a book on intentional Christian communities. One of the group’s leaders, a noted mystic, took the man and some others out to a cornfield under the stars. As they stood in a circle around her, she said that an angel hovered over each person speaking of them to her. Speaking to me years later, he said that everything she spoke over him was fulfilled to a degree that neither of them could have known (more about this later).
The next post discusses another theory as to why people have spiritual experiences. T o borrow a phrase from The Firesign Theater (a hip comic group from the late sixties, early seventies), “I Think That We’re All Bozos On This Bus.” When God wants to get something important through to people, He finds Himself talking to cabbages. We’ll take a look at our own deadness.
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