Thursday, May 07, 2009

Experience can be Deceiving

{Job 4:12-17; NLT}
“This truth was given to me in secret, as though whispered in my ear. It came to me in a disturbing vision at night, when people are in a deep sleep. Fear gripped me, and my bones trembled. A spirit swept past my face, and my hair stood on end. The spirit stopped, but I couldn’t see its shape. There was a form before my eyes. In the silence I heard a voice say, ‘Can a mortal be innocent before God? Can anyone be pure before the Creator?’”

I started to read through the book of Job this morning during my devotional time. I was struck by what Job’s friend Eliphaz said concerning Job’s condition. The “truth” that Eliphaz gives to Job came to Eliphaz through a spiritual experience, and because of that experience Eliphaz was certain that what he was saying was true. Yet as I read through what he said there were a few red flags that popped up to remind me that this isn’t truth.

Before I get to the red flags I want to mention something about spiritual experiences: they are real. The Bible is clear that there is a spiritual side to creation, and it is equally clear that not all spiritual beings are good. We can have many different types of spiritual experiences, but that doesn’t mean that all spiritual experiences are good. I believe that the vast majority of spiritual experiences people have are deceptive, ways Satan gets us doubt God, His goodness, and His love. Therefore a spiritual experience is not an evaluation of truth. I am certain that people who follow different gods and religions have powerful spiritual experiences, but that doesn’t make their religions true, all that it does is to remind us that there is a spiritual side of life.

Eliphaz fell for the trap of experience. He had a powerful spiritual experience, and because of that experience he allowed Satan to deceive him. I hope that we can learn a few lessons from Eliphaz experience so we are not equally deceived through experience.

The first red flag that I saw was that this truth was given like a secret whispered in his ear. This just feels wrong to me. I recognize that God can speak to us privately by that still small voice in our hearts, but what Eliphaz describes seems to be something different. I think that we need to be wary of truth that is given to us in secret and evaluate it against God's Word. This is not about a lack of faith, but it is about making sure we know the truth. God commends those who earnestly seek His truth.

The second red flag was that it was a disturbing vision. The vision caused, not just fear, but dread in the heart of Eliphaz. There was a spirit, but it hid its true shape. When you think about the encounters people had with angels in the Bible there was something to see, a shape and a form that people recognized, many times the angels had the appearance of men. Though angels often also produced fear in people, they also told the people not to fear. These angels often brought news of hope and joy, not of fear and trembling. Jesus told us that we would know false teachers by their fruit, and the fruit of this spirit seems to be contrary to what we expect from an angelic servant of God.

The third red flag was that the “truth” Eliphaz was given is just part of the story. It is true that there is no one who is pure and innocent before God. One of the basic truths of Christianity is that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Yet, there is more to the story. The amazing part of the story, the Good News, is that God loves us and made it possible for us to become righteous. We can stand before God pure and innocent, not because of what we have done, but because of what Christ has done for us. So the people in Eliphaz's day knew that faith plus animal sacrifice dealt with their sin (we understand that animal sacrifice merely rolled their sin forward until the sacrifice of Jesus), and we know that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus has taken care of our sins and that we no longer have to fear death and hell.

Spiritual experiences are real. They can be intense and life changing, but if we are not careful we can allow Satan to use them to deceive us and lead us away from God. Please remember: Not all spiritual experiences are from God! We have to be vigilant and test all the experiences we have against the word of God. We need to ask ourselves the questions: Did this experience teach me something contrary to what the Bible says? Is the truth that I received from this experience tell the entire story? Does the experience lead me to love God and people, or does it lead me to exhalt myself?

There is no question that spiritual experiences can be exciting and powerful, but don’t let your faith be built on spiritual experiences, because sooner or later Satan will deceive you. Let your life be guided by Scripture, because then you can be certain that you will experience the life God created you to live.

6 comments:

Stan said...

Amen! (Wrote something similar myself recently.)

Paul said...

Stan,
We are in agreement. There is a place for experience, but too many people allow their faith to be built on experience, and in the end they are taken out or led astray. It is crucial that our faith is built on what we know God has revealed to us: the Bible.

David B. Ellis said...

On what do you base the conclusion that the Bible is God's revelation to us?

David B. Ellis said...

Feel free to just point me to a previous blog post if its a subject you've written on before.

Paul said...

David,
Thanks for stopping by, but I am not going to answer your question. I have a policy that I don't do debates and so I am not interested in having this conversation with you. I am sure that you can find another Christian blogger willing to discuss this issue with you, but I am not.

Stan said...

David, assuming it's a genuine question and not the prelude to a fight, the easiest answer would be 2 Tim 3:16-17. If the response to this is, "Oh, yeah, where do you get that idea?" or something like it, I'm with Paul. If the response is more like, "Oh? I didn't know that. Tell me more", then I suppose Paul wouldn't mind talking to you.

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