Reason, Experience, and God’s Truth: Where do I start?

In his “Messianic Jewish Musings,” Derek has an interesting article on Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “God in search of man.”  Heschel believes that the God of the Prophets is the source of reason. Reason, however, according to Heschel, is not able to find God, let alone experience Him. The Prophets taught that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was also the source of everything, including experience of Him, and that the only right way to experience Him is through the Hebrew scriptures. Christianity is an extension of this belief.

Here are a few excerpts from Derek’s article followed by my comments.

“But if we approach God by experiencing him, why start with the Judeo-Christian scriptures? Why not start with some other metaphysical or religious ideas? Doesn’t experience open the door to any experiential belief? You could, actually. I’m not saying I recommend it. But you could seek to experience the Hindu notions of deity and meaning or approach meaning through paganism.”

This raises the relativism of all roads lead to “home,”  which would contradict the notion that the Creator of human reason (the God of the Tanakh), who is also regarded in the Tanakh as the creator of the heavens and the earth, is the creator of the Truth. He is not the creator of “my truth, your truth.” Truth connotes who God is as well as how we know/experience Him. As I said elsewhere,  by “truth” I mean something that doesn’t depend on how I feel, that is, something that really exists; that originates outside of me.  But aren’t feelings – which are, by nature personal to me –  also real, and therefore true? Yes they are true, but the question is whether what I am is what I ought to be. For many, “ought” is at best a figment, at worst, an insult.

Derek then asks: “Does your experience through these other revelations cohere with your knowledge of who you are? Do the claims of these other systems fit with your own sense of being? You could test it.” This method is not in harmony with the God of the Prophets. It also relies on too many subjective criteria. For example, many Jews, as well as non-Jews, feel that Eastern thought fits in with their own “sense of being” (Derek).

The NT teaches that unless God opens your dead eyes, you will never see the Truth (Ephesians 2:1-10. That truth, the NT teaches, is Jesus/Yeshua, in whom “the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).

Derek advises:

“But meanwhile, there is no fault in starting with the tradition that has come down to those of us who are Jews and Christians. And it just may be that you will find a sense of his Presence as you do this.”

The NT teaches that if you don’t find a sense of His (the God of the Bible) presence, it’s because He has not (yet) opened your dead eyes.

Ephesians 2:

1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

But, of course, Derek is correct; why not start with what you have? After all, it’s God – the God of the Bible that gave you that start. For the Christian, it is Christ working in you from start to finish: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

My title says “Where do I start.” Deeper still is why do I start, why would I start? Here is the answer:

37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day (John 6).

The Father does not give you to the Son because you came. No, no, that is a terrible misunderstanding. The scripture says that the reason why you come is because you have been given. The giving to the Son causes the coming; the coming doesn’t cause the giving.

Derek Leman at “Messianic Jewish Musings” responded:

“To be clear: I’m not saying all paths lead to God. I do believe the Bible is the self-disclosure of God. But, I’m less apt than you to disdain the “subjective.” We are whole people, not walking brains. Heschel emphasizes the subjective (so it’s not as if I simply made that part up). I don’t believe that pantheism will satisfy the searcher like Judeo-Christian theism. Pantheism is not true to who we are. I simply don’t believe that one has to begin from Judaism or Christianity, as if God limits his search for men and women to those who begin in this sphere.”

I replied:

“Derek, I agree with you entirely that one doesn’t have to start from Judaism or Christianity, or any other religion, or any thought system, or an experience of any kind. What I mean is that you can only (begin to) come to THE truth – which I believe is only to be found in Jesus/Yeshua – when He draws you to Himself. Salvation is entirely a work of God. So when you say: “Do the claims of these other systems fit with your own sense of being? You could test it,” I don’t think you can test it without the measuring rod of the Word of God (the Bible). That measuring rod is a gift from God.”

In a nutshell, the biblical position is this: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” So, all our own efforts to find the way the truth and the life are worthless. So, philosophy, for one, is out; and mysticism/meditation, for two, is also out – as ways to find God – the God described in the Bible.

“And you, who were once alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled, in the body of His flesh, through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreprovable in His sight” (Colossians 1:21-22).


Related:  The Quadrilateral of scripture, tradition, reason and experience