Skip to content – Spiritual Experiences: How Close Up Do We Want to See the Bear?

January 30, 2014

We love wilderness hiking in mountains and one of the cool things that come with that involves seeing wildlife on their own turf. Our sightings included deer, elk and turkeys but also moose, cougar, wild boar, coyote and a black bear. Some of this happened close up and personal. In Nova Scotia, we were fifty feet or so from an adult bull moose who held seven feet of air between his antler tips. The cougar leaped out twenty yards in front of our path. (Almost no one sees a cougar. If we do, it’s because it has been watching us for some time and we won’t like what it’s thinking.) Last fall in eastern Tennessee, we’d gotten off the main trail onto a horse path. We agreed to turn around after one more curve. Around that curve, we confronted a yearling black bear – thirty feet away. We sized each other up and mutually decided to walk away in opposite directions; it was a “win” for us and hopefully the bear felt the same. We hugged, glad that our arms were still attached and high-fived in amazement that we’d seen a bear that close.

Should we seek spiritual experiences? People have had them both in the Bible and throughout history. Some questions to probe our motives – why do we want to have one? Are we just curious or think it would be cool?  Are we looking for a hit of adrenaline or some goose bumps, a thrill? Do we think seeing God play hacky-sack with angels would knock the kinks out of our spiritual life once and for all? Are we lazy, just wanting God to make it simple instead of learning to obey the Scriptures and walk by faith (This is known as growing up and becoming a spiritual adult.)?

In the vast array of spiritual experiences in Scripture, I only see one instance (If anyone can think of others, please let me know but my point here will still hold water.) where someone who sought something slam-bang big from God got, not only what he wanted, but so much more that they were sorry they asked. In Exodus 33, God tells Moses, “Here’s the deal. I’m sending out an angel as a lead blocker to take out in judgement all those creepy people who already live in the land. They do human sacrifice and other things they won’t quit. You’ll get to eat vineyards you didn’t plant, drink out of wells you didn’t dig and live in houses you didn’t build – the whole milk and honey enchilada. One catch – I won’t go with you. The people I brought up out of Egypt are nothing but ungrateful, complaining, live-for-the-lusts-of-their-bellies scuzzbags. You get all the goodies but as for Me, Yahweh is leaving the building long before Elvis.” Let me add that large chunks of contemporary American Christianity would snap this up in a nanosecond; they would take the blessings and run. Moses says, “I’ll take ‘Answers That Please God’ for $1000, Alex”. Moses says,” Unless You go up with us then don’t let us go another mile. How will anyone know we are Your people if You do not go up with us?” Moses thought first of God’s reputation among the nations. When God says He’s pleased with Moses, Moses blurts out, “Show me Your glory!” (Exodus  33:18) God knows if He gives Moses what the man asks for that Moses will die. You can get too close to the bear. Many people like Isaiah (Is 6) and John (Rev 1:10-17) marvelled they were still alive to describe what they saw. Others (Luke 9:28-34) were gripped in the kind of fear (unknown to us who reduce God to a benign watercress munching deity sitting in luncheons daintily mopping His mouth with a napkin) that makes one empty his bladder, fill his pants and try to claw through the floor to escape. (See also Daniel 8:17 and Ezekiel 1:28)

The Living God does not lie in wait; He comes in ambush. In every other account besides the one above smacking of direct supernatural (It’s natural for Him if not for us.) contact, God ambushes someone. He’s not a gum chewing waitress on roller skates at a Fifties retro diner who says, “Do you want ketchup with those goosebumps, Sweetie?” He doesn’t do requests; He takes the lead, the initiative – He ambushes.

Should we seek spiritual experiences? Unequivocally and biblically no. We should seek God (Jeremiah 29:37, Deuteronomy 6:4,5; Matt.22:37) whether that seeking leads to experiences or not. Actually the grad school of Christian spirituality involves no supernatural experience and emotion possibly of the most negative kind if any at all. In the sixteenth century, a monk named John of the Cross penned “The Dark Night of the Soul” while in prison. (Note: God does some of His best work in prisons. Every time the world starts throwing Christian in prison, it’s a huge mistake.) We’ve done two things to mess this up. First, we assume that a “dark night” is always bad. Second, we tie it to every ripple on the pond that disrupts our love of comfort and convenience. John describes what happens when God withdraws every sense and token of His presence to compel us to strive harder in pursuit of Him and to love God for who He is instead of what He can do for us. Spiritual experiences do not really do this. Drought, and not the abundance of rain, drives the roots deeper. Be sure to tie stuff said here together with this, this, thisthis and this.

Remember learning to ride a bike? We pedaled slowly and did that wobbly handle bar thing because we were afraid we’d fall. And we fell! But after a few bruises, we got it. One question – was the ride better when we pedaled fast or slow? This Jesus thing is hardwired to pedal hard, full-bore. Going hard after Him, experiences or not, brings joy, hunger and fire that carry us through the decades and transitions of our lives. And sometimes the Bear breaks through…

Next on…

Spiritual Experiences – Intimacy with God. What is it? Should we talk about these things?

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