Sunday, August 14, 2011

No Need for the Bridge, We'll Just Fly Over

In thinking about the American religious landscape, there is one prevalent religious pursuit that one finds in it that I think explains where it is coming from and where it is going in its theology. The pursuit I'm thinking of specifically is that of experiencing God directly. In other words, Americans think that they can experience God without mediation. God is immediately available to us. He's just a phone call away (although a phone would be mediation, so we don't even need that). This sort of thinking isn't just pulled out of a hat. It has a long religious tradition that stems back Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and most of nineteenth and twentieth century religious thought. These are the existentialists, the ones who sought to feel God through a spiritual sense of Him rather than through something using empirical knowledge (an idea that was also nonsense). God can be experienced directly because (and here comes the explanation of "where it is coming from") man is limited in his five senses, but not in his spiritual sense, his divine sense, since he is somewhat divine himself. If he is not divine in the sense of Thoreau's pantheism, where everything is divine, and can experience a sense of itself, he is divine in the sense of his morality; and hence, believes that man is basically good and unhindered by sin when he chooses to experience God.

This is an important point, as those who do not believe they need mediation between themselves and God assume that they are able to experience God directly because they are basically unhindered by sin. Whether sin would hinder them because they would be incapable of discerning the divine from devils, or because they simply encounter a righteous and holy God who cannot tolerate evil in His presence, seems to simply be dismissed (or just assumed to be false without much thought into the matter). If I do not have a spiritual problem, namely one of sin limiting my ability to experience God directly, then why seek mediation?

But there is an even worse problem than this, as I am incapable of experiencing God without mediation, even if I were without sin. The reason why is because humanity is finite, and as such, it cannot know as God knows. Its knowledge is analogical, meaning that it has to be given its knowledge about God by way of analogy, i.e., through words and the logic of thought and language. It cannot know anything directly, especially God. This means that two things must take place in order for me to experience God: (1) I have to be given a logical understanding (i.e., a reasoning mind) to understand the things in my world; (2) I have to be given revelation about God in language (i.e., analogy) in order to understand Him. None of this is direct knowledge and experience of God.

So the options are either we are in sin and incapable of knowing and experiencing God directly, or we are without sin, basically good, and incapable of knowing and experiencing God directly. Which do you prefer? The terrifying fact, for those of us who believe that God has given us mediation through Christ in the Scripture is that we are both hindered by sin and our finitude. In other words, you can't experience God directly, and the idea that one does not need mediation in order to have a relationship with God is false. But what does this mean for those who believe that they do have a direct relationship with God without mediation? It means that they do not have a relationship with the true God, or that they do have a relationship with mediation, but have been influenced in theory so much by American religion that they just don't know that they are contradicting themselves.

But what is the mediation? The mediation must be via both a Savior and Scripture if we are to get past both obstacles to experiencing God. We must have God remove our sin, so that it is not a hindrance to our relationship with Him, and we must have God reveal to us by way of language (i.e., through Scripture) who He is and what He has done in order that we might know and experience Him in truth.

Now, that is where this theology comes from, and that is the solution to it, but let me just comment for a moment on where it has and is going. If one does not believe that one needs mediation to know and experience God, then all people can experience God directly. And since all people can experience God directly, their different religions just might be expressions of their genuine experience with God. What this leads to is a type of universalism, where any religion is valid simply because it is not the religion that saves (albeit a perhaps imperfect way of expressing the experience), but the experience itself. What this further leads to is a Christless Christianity, where one thinks being a good person and overall swell guy with divine experiences is the sum total of the nature of salvation. After all, if one can experience God directly, and many people in other religions do just that, then what need is there of Christ? Sure, He provides a nice example for the kids in Sunday School (except for all of that table turning, condemning to hell, and name calling He does), and He certainly is a great expression of our direct experience of God, but He's not really needed. We could be Muslim or Hindu and have great expressions of our experience too.

Here is what the Bible really says to the subject: (1) There is no mediator between God and man, but Christ; (2) Christ becomes our mediator through our entering into a relationship with Him that is Lord to Servant, Shepherd to Sheep, Parent to Child, Teacher to Disciple type of relationship that requires us to listen to the actual words through which He has revealed God to us; and (3) one must hear the words of the gospel and believe it in order to enter this relationship (something I bet most people reading this may not know the Bible says).

The fact of the matter is that we are so much in need of a mediator that Christ is said to be seated at the right hand of God the Father  (i.e., remains in God's favor) as the exalted God-man, both now and forever for our sakes, making mediation for us. This means that there has been, is not now, and never will be a time when we can experience God, who alone dwells in inapproachable light, directly. Instead of listening to the lie of the serpent, who told us we can become divine and experience divinity directly, we ought to listen to God and seek Him through the means He has provided. To do otherwise, is to disbelieve and to not seek Him at all.

So American religion remains in the dark. From fundamentalists to evangelicals to emergings to liberals, the pursuit to know and experience God directly is a heresy of the highest order, as it condemns mankind to never know and experience God, all the while telling it that it has.

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