Let’s say a friend is reading a book. The opening draws him in. The characters are compelling. A fascinating plot unfolds. This is a great read, but then a unicorn walks into the scene.
What? A unicorn? Unicorns don’t exist. They’re pretend, right? He’s never seen one and doesn’t know anyone who claims to. He reads the unicorn passages with suspicion.
Another friend reads the same book. She believes in unicorns. She’s seen glimpses of them for years and knows several people who interact with them regularly. Reading about a unicorn is not fantasy to her, it’s normal. She reads in anticipation.
Why do these friends react so differently? They read using the lens of their experiences. The one having no involvement with unicorns dismisses the sections about them.
The one familiar with unicorns accepts their appearance without alarm. Their personal experiences inform how they read the book.
The same is true with the Bible. We understand its words through the lens of our experiences. For example, if we regularly encounter the power of the Holy Spirit, then we see him throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament.
The accounts of him are normal to us, and the Bible reinforces our experience as being applicable today.
However, if we have no experience with the Holy Spirit’s power, then reports of him in the Bible seem nonsensical. We either dismiss him or explain him away as we skip to the next section.
Our experience or lack of experience with the Holy Spirit influences how we read the Bible and the conclusions we make.
Part of my life I went to traditional churches that diminished the Holy Spirit. Yes, he was in their creed but not their lives. We treated him like that eccentric relative most of us have, the one we try to ignore and talk about in embarrassed whispers.
I also went to evangelical churches that had much the same perspective. They sought to explain away the Holy Spirit. They acknowledged that Holy Spirit power existed in the early church but claimed that once the disciples died, most of his power ended.
They understood scripture through the lens of their experience. Then they concocted a theology to support their experience, irrespective of what the Bible said.
I remember one preacher mocking Christians who supernaturally spoke in other languages, healed others through God’s power, and moved in faith at the Holy Spirit’s prompting. He laughed at their claims and called them deluded.
Another preacher labeled all charismatics as heretics. These men vilified what they didn’t understand because their experiences limited what they could see in the Bible. They forgot that God doesn’t change and is all-powerful.
Though I have never seen a unicorn, I have seen the power of the Holy Spirit. I like reading about him in the Bible and experiencing his presence.
I believe in the Holy Spirit. I hope you do, too. However, if your experiences have pushed the Holy Spirit aside or you’ve been taught to diminish him, please ask God to open your mind to new possibilities.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.
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