“God created us in God’s own image, and darn it, we’ve returned the favor,” says Richard Rohr. He’s right—especially in modern Christianity.
We’ve made experience the cornerstone of theology and it’s created so many anti-Jesus ideologies to chase after. Recently I skimmed a book about God gifting Christians with wealth—not because I wanted to, but because it was written by a leader I used to really enjoy and I wanted to be clear where he stood on the topic. I sighed aloud as I read through his interpretations of Bible verses and felt even less secure with his movement than I had before.
You don’t build a theology that testifies to your experience of wealth—you submit your experience of wealth to (as revivalist John Wesley was known to do) Scripture, then tradition, then reason, then experience. Why does experience go last? Because our experience hinges entirely on us and our perception of that experience—and if we validate our experience as God and it’s not, then we have just made God in our own image. This is why a faith bent on chasing after the “experience” of God is a faith bent on theological destruction. Yes, we might experience him, but we won’t know him. Isn’t that similar to—and I don’t mean this profanely—what we call a one-night stand?
Start experiencing God by opening your Bible. You don’t always need to chase down a “word from God” when you have 66 books full of words right in front of you. And if you don’t feel like you have the greatest Bible study skills, then at least soak yourselves in the gospels for now as you develop them. Get to know God incarnate and let the Holy Spirit get under your skin. Once you’ve done this, your experiences will have to bow before Scripture before they integrate themselves into your theology. Likewise, when you come across a book like I did, you’ll be able to recognize theology that submits itself to Scripture and theology that doesn’t.
This is important because sometimes our experiences write heresy. Note God’s words to the wicked in Psalm 50:16-21.
But to the wicked God says:
“What right have you to recite my statutes
or take my covenant on your lips?
For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
If you see a thief, you are pleased with him,
and you keep company with adulterers.
“You give your mouth free rein for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
You sit and speak against your brother;
you slander your own mother’s son.
These things you have done, and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. (Emphasis mine.)
Did you catch that? There were people who hated discipline, ignored God, robbed people, slept around, deceived people, and slandered family members, and they did all of it thinking God was cool with it. Actually, worse than that: they thought God was just like them. They interpreted their experience of God’s patience and silence on these matters as His image. Because they got away with it, they figured God must be cool with it. And so they built God in their own image through their experiences. They didn’t need an idol for God—they were the idol.
Soak yourself in Jesus. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Test what you think the Holy Spirit is saying against what the Bible says. Remember, you can operate in the power of the Spirit and still be as far off from looking like Jesus as Samson was. Therefore, it’s for your protection and the church’s protection and the protection of everyone around you that you don’t let your experience run your understanding of God.