Wednesday, May 5, 2010

From Faith into Knowledge and Experience

There are Christians who believe and teach that faith is the end all of our experience with God, that nothing exists beyond faith.

As a matter of fact, I cannot remember ever being in a church service wherein faith was presented as something that moved a person from point A to point B, rather it's just something to have and to hold for the purpose of "pleasing God."

Furthermore, I don't recall hearing that faith moves into or becomes something else. I have always heard faith being something you possess, a thing that you keep and maintain, but never as something which changes or goes away. Rather it is presented as once you've got this elusive, all needed ethereal faith, then you just need to maintain it: keep the faith, as they say.

In a previous post, I discussed natural faith vs. Biblical or God given faith. I provided an example of natural faith which, contrary to popular belief and custom, is used routinely and relied upon daily. In regards to faith, God has imbued man in the natural with that which he must exercise in Spiritual. In either case the results - though differing - are the same.

The Scientific Method
The scientific method requires that we postulate either an outcome or the reason for an outcome (observation vs. idea), and then set about proving or disproving our postulate. This postulate is known as the hypothesis (defined here and here), and the mechanism of proving or disproving it is known as the scientific method.

For example, man observed water in its various forms in rivers, lakes and oceans as a liquid and a solid. So, he set about to discover for himself exactly how water exists in nature and then, lo and behold, discovered exactly what the scriptures had already told us.

But lets break this down just a bit more. Clearly man had knowledge of water in several states (liquid and solid), and a at least one other variation known as the condensate (i.e., clouds). The question was, how do we get from water to condensate and back to water? That was the invisible, missing link.

So, he said to himself, "Self, I believe that water evaporates from a source, becomes a gas, travels through the air, condenses into a cloud, and then falls back to earth as rain." As a matter of fact, he believed it so firmly that he set about to prove it.

In this process of discovering for himself the nature of water, what exactly happened? Man made an observation, created a hypothesis and proved himself right. Or, we could also say that he accumulated a system of beliefs (based in observations) regarding a subject domain (water), created a hypotheses regarding that subject domain, and implemented a method to discover if his system of beliefs were correct.

When man went from a simple hypotheses into observing his hypotheses proven, he went from trust and belief into knowledge and experience.  Interestingly enough, the scientific method is inextricably tied to man, through and by his observations.  It could be argued (and very well, I might add) that man's scientific proofs, and their underlying theories, are based solely upon man's trust and belief in himself to first properly conjecture, and secondly, to properly observe a given phenomena.  It's why we have a thing called "peer review."  Peer review is the vetting, the process of other people reviewing anothers' findings in order to determine if the other person has postulated and observed correctly.

What is Faith?
In it's simplest definition, faith is trusting and believing.  Therefore, when man observed water and proved it's circulatory path, it is just as valid to say that man went from faith into knowledge and experience as it is to say that man went from hypothesis into proof.

What exactly are we saying? When trust and belief is well placed and well formed, it always results in a knowledge that proves and substantiates the belief. We no longer just believe that water turns into vapor and condensates into clouds, we have empirical evidence resulting in knowledge that it behaves in this manner.

Faith works exactly the same way. Faith is trusting and believing, and faith brings experience and knowledge.

Seeking the Experience: The Spirit of Religiosity says it's a no-no
There are Christians who will tell you that seeking an experience with God, other than the mental ascension which you can acquire through faith based in doctrine (doctrine as derived from the knowledge of reading scripture) is wrong. What are they saying? Head knowledge good. Mustered up belief good. Actually expecting to have your cancer or migraines cured because of what Jesus commanded us in the Gospel according to Mark? Uhm ... no: don't go there.

On one point I must agree: seeking the experience for the sake of partaking in the experience can be wrong.  In example, when one has no desire for relationship with God nor the creation and nurturing of Godly Life.

An Example of Experiential Faith
So then, why did Moses raise his staff and his hand at the Red Sea? Well, because God told him to: 
But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. (Exodus 14:16)
Did Moses believe God? Apparently so. What was the result of that belief? Works, experience and knowledge were the result. What exactly did Moses do? In my view, he thrust out his staff with his right hand in an upward and outward motion parallel with his body. His left hand went forward over the waters, perpendicular first to the left, then to the right in a parting motion.

That is probably not what you had in mind, but it does reflect exactly what God said to do: "... lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it." Have you ever understood before now that God told Moses to "divide" the sea? That's not exactly how it happened in the movie, is it?

So, when did Moses stop believing God would part the Red Sea?

Ah, I can hear the wheels in your thoughts spinning! "Moses never stopped believing God would part the Red Sea!" Are you sure? "Yes", you're probably thinking.   As a matter of fact, not only do I disagree, I assert that you've believed a lie. I maintain that at a given point, Moses stopped believing God would part the sea. Hear me out and keep reading.

Are you a parent? (if not, imagine that you have a 3 year old running about).

When did you stop believing your child would be born?  Seriously: in the midst of the labor, when did you stop believing that your child would be born? Do you still believe your child will be born?

Once the labor was over and your child was in your arms, you stopped believing your child would be born: at about that point, you moved from faith into knowledge and experience. You knew that your child had been born. And as our curtain climbing, crumb-grabbing rug rats continue to evade even our simplest logic of normalcy and move into child hood, teenage years and adult hood, we no longer believe that our child will be born, we continue in the knowledge of the ever changing ramifications of that simple act of our child being born.

I submit to you that once Moses believed God and stepped into the works of his faith, he stopped believing and entered into knowledge of the sea parting from left to right and forward to the other side, just as God said it would.

Semantics you say? Hardly. Are you telling me that you sill believe your child will be born, after the fact?

Did God part the sea? Yes and no. Of course, God provided the power for the works. But He also told Moses to "divide it." So, not only did Moses have to believe God, to take him at His word, Moses had to provide the works in order to prove God, to provide for an experience of the nature of God.

In doing exactly what God told him to do, Moses moved from belief into knowledge, just as you moved from belief of your child being born into the knowledge that your child has been born. So, once Moses moved into the works of proving God, Moses stopped believing the sea would part and moved into the knowledge of seeing that it was parted before him.

Attacks against Experiential Faith
This tidy argument of rejecting an experience with God falls squarely into the plan of Satan: for if he can convince you that experiences with God are wrong and should not be sought, then he has short-circuited your faith journey. And by damaging your faith journey he effectively prohibits your ability to abide in Christ.

Biblical Faith Produces Knowledge
Biblical faith, that which is given by God, always produces an experience based in the faith which came beforehand. It's the law. If faith does not produce knowledge, then it was not Biblical faith. Scripture clearly says this about faith:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1
What happens when the "thing not seen," the "thing hoped for" shows up? You no longer have faith: you have knowledge.

The experience provided by faith produces knowledge of God and the experience is always the effect of the faith given. Faith producing an experience is a cause and effect relationship: God gives us cause, reason and ability to believe Him and then provides a tangible experience of the faith He authored.

Practically speaking, I don't believe God heals, I know that He does (and I have seen the MRIs that prove it). I don't trust that God saves, I know that He does.

God's gift of faith always moves us into an experience resulting in knowledge. And once we have the knowledge He wanted to impart to us, we have a place of abiding and operating because we have knowledge of who God is.

Consider the first few verses of 2 Peter.
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, ... For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God said that we would have knowledge of salvation, that Jesus came to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins (Luke 1:77)

The only way to have knowledge of salvation is to execute (perform) the works of faith for that which is given through grace. You can go to church, hear the good news and believe that Jesus is the Christ, but until you act out on your faith, you will never experience salvation. You do not go to heaven for being good, and you don't go to hell for being bad. Goodness and badness are results of belief systems acting out. Life and death, on the other hand, are states of being. You are either alive to God or you are dead to God.

That's why the Atheist cannot comprehend the Christian: the Atheist is operating from a position of disbelief where as the born again Christian is operating from a position of knowledge. Darkness cannot comprehend light because darkness has no substance, no reality.

A Bit About Darkness and Light
Enter a room and turn out the light. What happens? It becomes dark. Have you ever stopped to consider that darkness is not a thing? Light, on the other hand, is a thing: it's a photon. Conversely, darkness is simply the absence of photons. Darkness, in a real sense, does not exist - it is not a tangible thing. Darkness is simply the terminology we use to describe the absence of photons. But we certainly treat darkness it as if it were a tangible object.

The absence of knowledge is like darkness. Knowledge exists, and so does ignorance. But ignorance is not a tangible thing, it can only be defined by that which is absent: knowledge.

However, belief and trust without knowledge is still faith: faith has substance, it is evidence and substance of things hoped for. When God gives faith, He is providing a tangible substance of things yet to be. When God proves Himself, faith is no longer needed for that given thing for knowledge has arrived. It is this knowledge of God that we call abiding, since abiding provides fruit, or knowledge of salvation:
I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
You cannot observe a tree bearing fruit without the fruit being on the tree. Observation of the tree bearing fruit is knowledge of the fruit. Knowing in the dead of winter that your apple trees will bear fruit in the summer is well placed faith. That well placed faith will be proven out in knowledge when you pick the fruit in the harvest (assuming frost does not kill the buds and the bees do their jobs).
Therefore, it is impossible to please God apart from faith. Why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
The Experience of Salvation
Although you, as a Christian, know that salvation is a gift given by grace through faith, have you ever stopped to think that salvation has a tangible and quantifiable effect? It results in a change that provides not only an immediate experience, but a life long experience as well.

This is why scripture admonishes us to work out our salvation (Philpians. 2:12) and that we will know them by their fruit (Matthew 7:16). If you do not have the experience of salvation or observe the fruit of salvation in another, then you have reason for suspect. The result, the experience of salvation is quantifiable, it is something of which you have intimate knowledge.

An Example of Failure in Faith
On the other hand, Jesus told the disciples to feed the 5000, and they said "with what, 200 denarii?" Jesus set them up to respond and act in faith so that they could have an experience of feeding the multitude and thus move into knowledge of what the proper application of trust and belief can provide. Even though they failed the faith test, Jesus still fed the people, in order to provide knowledge that might grow their faith in the future.

The same thing happens today. When God provides faith that He will do something or does something unexpected, people may sometimes become fearful and reject His presence, just as the Gadarenes did. If God's presence in your life is offensive, then you run the risk of excusing Him to move on to someone or someplace else.

Conclusion
God has provided in the natural an example of how His gifts of faith function. He provides reason to believe, gives the substance and evidence of things not seen through faith and then follows it up with an experience reflecting the faith He provided. Through trusting and believing we learn to abide in Him through the partaking of his Divine nature. Seeking the experience provided by God through faith is natural and expected, but seeking an experience for the sake of the experience only is rejecting the One who wishes to prove Himself to you through faith and knowledge. We all have the capacity to believe and to exercise faith, to take His word and believe it, and as such, it is impossible to please God apart from faith. Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

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