People who have command of an ideology wield a powerful tool for directing – if not possessing – the minds of other people. When the ideology is a theological system, the tool has usually been honed over generations, and whatever anomalous data the Bible presents has already been accounted for. The explanation may not be particularly compelling – especially to those not ideologically possessed by that particular theological system – but whatever the passage or objection, they’ll have an explanation already worked out, and it will work.*
*work = keep their adherents from dwelling on the problem passage
Experience, however, is another matter. It is one thing to ignore a verse that doesn’t quite make sense to you anyway. It is another thing entirely to ignore getting fired, being unable to conceive a child, losing a loved one. Major crises in life compel our attention: “God shouts in our pains” as C. S. Lewis said.
For a leader who depends on his command of theology to order his world and his followers, reality is threatening, intrusive. A demand to base your theology on Scripture rather than experience is a way to throw pesky experiences out of court before they can be properly accounted for.
That’s ridiculous on the face of it, since every experience you’ve ever had happens in God’s world under God’s control. The world and the Word do not contradict, and it is necessary to rightly interpret them both. But rather than exert the effort to properly interpret both, some people would rather insulate their poor interpretation of Scripture from falsification by disallowing God’s acts in the world as evidence. Jesus told people to believe the works, but some teachers would tell you otherwise. One wonders what they’re afraid of….
That’s bad, when a leader is running that game on you. But the really bad news is that a lot of us don’t need some nefarious cult leader to run that game on us; we’re busy doing it to ourselves. Having invested in learning a theological system that was supposed to make the world make sense, we refuse to consider anything that might upset the apple-cart and force us to revise our sense-making scheme, whether it’s a problem passage in Scripture or a problem event in life that falsifies our theology.
What should we do? Let’s go back to the Garden.
Eve looked at the forbidden fruit, and saw that it was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise. Three parts to her thought process. How did she know it was good for food? She’d never had fruit from that tree before. This is induction from experience, and if she’d been looking at any other fruit, she’d have been right. It was pleasant to the eyes – straightforward sense experience. Desirable to make one wise? That one she got straight from the serpent.
We all know the story – on the basis of those three factors, she was deceived and she ate. What did she miss? The divine revelation. God had already told her that this particular fruit would kill her. The threat was imperceptible to her senses, which should have caused her to thank God for the warning. Instead, she was deceived and forgot the warning.
Every other time she’d made that inductive judgment about a piece of fruit, she’d been right. And with any other tree in the Garden, she’d still have been right. But this tree was deadly, and because God is good, He’d warned her about it.
The lesson here is not that we can’t trust our senses and reason. God made us for the world and the world for us; it is comprehensible to us. We can trust our senses and our reason, but we can’t trust them alone to get us to the truth. We also have to receive what God has told us. If we ignore divine revelation and try to go it alone based on sense data and reason – the Eve mistake – our grasp of the world will be fatally flawed.
It will be equally flawed if we expect to navigate the world with God’s word alone apart from the senses He gave us. Eve ate the fruit of the trees, not the bark.