July 16, 2007
One who truly knows their religion is well versed in the structure, history and vernacular of that religion. One who truly knows God cannot find the words to describe their experience. We must always keep this in mind whenever we are reading a religious text, reading a book or article, or hearing a sermon. The best any of these teachers can do is to create a “makeshift description” of their experience. If we believe that the Divine is One that transcends full human comprehension, then it is impossible for anyone to fully describe or document the feeling they have when God is working in them.
Some see this concept as one that dismisses the need for Holy Scripture. There is this concept that the Bible is perfect and infallible (I discussed that in more detail in my review of The Sins of Scripture). That concept is what needs to be dismissed. When the Bible is read with the knowledge that the writers were making an effort to explain their Divine experience, something that can never be completely explained, then the Bible can be used as it was intended. The Bible shouldn’t direct or dictate your experience with God. It should be used to enhance that which is already in you.
Often in my childhood experience I would become frustrated when something I read in the Bible was different from what I felt inside. Once I decided that I don’t have to agree with everything written in the Bible, I was able to look beyond the words and see the spirit behind the words. That is how the Bible should be read. We must first experience God for ourselves and try to find how our experience can be seen through Scripture. Scripture is made “Holy” because it is divinely inspired by God, not written by God.
The perception is that Holy Scripture is to be revered because it is the “Word of God.” In reality, it should be revered because it was written by those who were filled with the same Holy Spirit that is in us all. Engaging with that Spirit is what we need to do in our studies. We shouldn’t study to make our spiritual experience fit in a box called the Bible. We should study to see what can come out of that box, with the knowledge that it is only full of makeshift descriptions.
Br. Ashton J. Reynolds, OPC