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Subjective Experience Versus Objective Truth

January 16, 2013

Our culture, and our generation, is obsessed with personal, spiritual experiences. Many people decide where they go to Church based on how the service made them feel. The ongoing argument over the right type of music to use in worship, and whether or not instruments should be used, is heavily based on people’s experience and how a particular form of music “makes them feel closer to God”.

Sure, this doesn’t apply to everyone in the Church but I would argue that this is an accurate representation of the majority of our generation. Just think about what happens in your local bible study or Sunday school class. We all sit around in a little circle, we read a passage of scripture, and then the leader asks, “What does this verse mean to you?” The worst form of subjectivity happens when someone applies it to the biblical text. By asking “what it means to me” rather than “what it means”, you turn the bible into silly putty and it ceases to be the Word of God. The Word of God means what God wanted it to mean. If it means something different to you then it has become the Word of Joe, or Bob, or Sue.

On the other hand, subjective experiences aren’t all bad. We were created and wired to have personal experiences. It’s how we live, how we remember, how we learn, how we grow into maturity.

Subjective experiences are a reality for humanity; they just aren’t very trustworthy…

Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Your heart WILL deceive you. Your heart is quick to justify your sinful desires and will be quick to help you fulfill them. Your heart will pacify your conscience with “it doesn’t feel wrong” or “I feel closer to God by doing this”. Jesus carefully reminded us that it is out of the heart that all evil and idolatrous actions come from (Matthew 15:19).

How are we to think about life and truth in a way which recognizes the reality of our subjective experiences and yet guards our hearts from the false things that we tend to believe and worship?

In order to get a good grasp on what the answer may be, let’s take a look at Peter.

Peter’s Subjective Experience:

If you are like me, then you have probably wondered what it might have been like to be back in the first century and to be around Jesus during his earthly ministry. What would we see and experience? Well the bible records many events that we can read and think about. The story that I would like to point you to for the sake of this discussion is commonly known as “The Mount of Transfiguration”.

Matthew 17:1-8
“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”

Surely this was a magnificent experience for Peter. The disciples experienced many things during their walk with Jesus but if I had to point to two of the top ones, it would be seeing Jesus in His glory on the mount, and seeing Him after His resurrection.

Have you ever wondered what Peter told people when he was trying to validate his claim that Jesus was the Messiah? Have you ever wondered if Peter would use this experience and if he did, what would he say about it? Wonder no more because Peter was kind enough to record it for us…

The Objective Truth

2 Peter 1:13-21
“I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Peter tells his hearers that he will soon die (vs 14) and then he began to prove to them that the message that he brought them concerning Jesus is a trustworthy message. He begins his proof by telling them that he, and the other Apostles, didn’t make this stuff up. Instead they were eyewitness to what Jesus did and taught (1 John 1:1-4). Notice that Peter uses this magnificent experience as an example of some of the things that he and the disciples experienced…

But then Peter says a very odd thing,We have also a more sure word of prophecy” (KJV).

The first question we should ask ourselves is “what is meant by word of prophecy?” The text answers this question for us; Scripture (vs 19).

The second question we should ask ourselves is “more sure than what?” Again, the text answers the question; the Scripture is more sure (or “more fully confirmed”) than Peter’s subjective experience of the Mount where he saw Jesus in His Glory.

Peter thinks about his experience and then he thinks about the written Word of God and says, “The written Word of God is more sure and more faithful than any experience that I ever had. Pay attention to Scripture because we know for certain that the Word is not man’s opinion but it was produced by God working through man.” (my paraphrase of  verse 19-21).

Although Peter referenced his spiritual experience, he didn’t point people to that experience as the ultimate source of truth. Peter didn’t tell his congregation that they should believe because of what Peter saw on the Mount. Instead, Peter says the they should pay attention to the sure Word of God for the foundation of their faith because the Scripture doesn’t come from man, instead it comes from God through man.

I didn’t say it, Peter did. While you may experience many things in your life, there is nothing more sure than the Word of God.

  • What do you use as the determiner of truth in your Christian walk?
  • How do you know God hears you when you pray? Because you felt it or because you trust God’s Word when He says that He hears your prayers?
  • How do you know that you are under no condemnation (Romans 8:1)? Because you felt it or because you trust God’s Word when He says that He has forgiven you(1 John 1:9)?
  • How do you know that you have peace with God? Because you felt it or because you trust God’s Word when He says that you are Justified by Faith (Romans 5:1)?
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