As part of my morning devotional I am reading through The Glory of Christ by John Owen. This is truly a rich book and not one you can read through quickly because it has so much to meditate on. In my reading this morning I came across a statement about "feeling after God," and thinking about it crystallized for me some things I have been observing in the church. As we in the West have moved from the modern era to the post-modern era we have moved from a time of rationalism to a time of experientialism. This has been reflected in the church as we have seen an emphasis on experience as the primary means of "connecting" with God.
The prevailing thought seems to be that the way to find God is by experience, that the only way to truly know God is experientially and to know God more deeply requires more frequent or more intense experiences This is manifested in the "worship experience" in many churches. Pastors dress up as different bible characters or secular characters so the audience will feel more connected to the sermon or can more readily identify with the character. We see more stage production in the music portion of the service with brighter lights, louder music, more graphics, cutting edge technology, drama and dance, all designed to create and enhance the "worship experience." So for many churches the experience of the worship service has become primary and the message of the worship service has become secondary, or less. Even in the way the message is presented experience or feeling is emphasized over content.
This is also reflected in religious literature. In the book The Barbarian Way Erwin McManus touts experience and mysticism as the keys to a deeper spiritual life as if you can't have a deeper walk or deeper communion with God without them. It is one of the themes that flow through the books Wild at Heart and Blue Like Jazz.
Church members and attenders have become addicted to the experience much like the cocaine addict who keeps seeking the next high. Even those who sense or know something is wrong, or are abhorred by the theatrics and disgusted by the lack of content in the sermon can't leave, but keep coming back for the high of the experience, just like the cocaine addict who knows it isn't good for him but keeps chasing the next high.
Feeling and experience are touted as the way to know God instead of their rightful place as the result of knowing God. The deeper spiritual life, the deeper communion and fellowship with Christ is a result of our seeking after Him, of knowing Him more fully. The Christian life is not one that is dry and devoid of feeling or experience, but the experience is the result of knowing Him not vice versa. Paul talks about this in Philippians 3:8-12 and it is spoken to in Hosea 6:3 & 6. In fact, we should not try and manufacture the experience because that becomes a work of the flesh and is profitable only for the flesh.
So, my friends, are you truly seeking God or are you seeking the experience, or are you seeking God through an experience? Take a step back and look at yourself and your family. Are you addicted to the experience so much that you can't let go even though you know that what you are getting is not good for your soul and the souls of your family? The true experience comes from God by and through His Spirit at His discretion, and is profitable for our spirit, and is rich, satisfying, and lasting. Those who truly encounter God must come to Him in Spirit and truth, and for such He is always seeking. Proverbs 16:25 tells us that there is a way which seems right to man, but it only leads to death. There is only one narrow well worn way to God and to intimacy with God, His word, which is truth, and it gives us the knowledge of the Son of God, who is truth.