Tuesday, March 4, 2014

No other has ever known how Jesus lives within the unseen things above my heart...

My article from this week's newspapers about feeling God within us:

Q:  Sometimes, I feel so certain that God is real and with me.  Other times, I don’t feel Him, or He feels so far away.  Since God is unseen, how can we be sure that He is real and with us?
This question has been a challenge for Christians for generations.  Sensing has been such a prominent element throughout the history of religion that in the academic study of world religions, one of the categories most religion textbooks use is “Characteristic Emotional Experiences.” 
At times in Christian history, this has also been emphasized by well-meaning Christian preachers.  One example of this was 2 generations after the Reformation when people began to feel that Reformation theology was too dry and unemotional and wanted to reinvigorate it with a more personal emotional experience.  This same intention also motivated the Wesleys in a later generation to begin the movement that led to those we call Methodists today. 
Here in the United States, we also saw this current driving the revivals of the 19th century, and it is still with us today as many of that era’s popular hymns and songs, or those inspired by that era, are still with us today. 
One of these centers around the line, “You ask me how I know He lives; He lives within my heart” – directing Christians to look within their hearts to find the risen Christ.  The Apostle Paul, on the other hand directs Christians in 1 Corinthians 15 to look outside of themselves to the Cross of Christ and His empty tomb.  Instead of directing the Corinthians to find the risen Christ within their hearts, he catalogues Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances and the eyewitnesses who observed them as the foundation for the Christian’s belief that Jesus rose from the dead. 
Another similar song begins, “I love to tell the story; of unseen things above…” but this also differs from the way that the Gospels and Paul point Christians to Jesus.  Instead of concentrating on the unseen things of God, they repeatedly direct their readers and hearers back to the events that occurred here on earth as the foundation for their hope and the source of their righteousness before God, and to the eyewitnesses who observed them as evidence, rather than within themselves or into the unseen reaches of heaven. 
A final song, and one of the favorites of a certain generation, describes the relationship between God and the Christian as an experience “…no other has ever known.”  This is certainly an appealing and sentimental image, but again, one that arises out of 19th century popular culture expressions rather than Scripture.  The New Testament Epistles, the ancient Church Fathers, and the Reformers never direct Christians within to any kind of personal experience as the evidence for faith – because those feelings come and go, leaving the Christian to wonder if their Savior or their trust in Him has also come and gone. 
Instead, they direct people first to the empty tomb of the Resurrected Christ and the eyewitnesses who saw it.  Then they direct them to the Church where this message is proclaimed and applied to individual Christians through the preaching of the Word, through Baptism, and through the Lord’s Supper.  These are the methods through which God desires to assure us of His promises for us, and these are the sure foundation which cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:27-28)

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