Thursday, February 28, 2013

Our Words & The Living Word

One of the greatest strengths of the Quaker tradition is that each of us is encouraged to discover the risen presence of Jesus for ourselves. It is not enough to read about Christ in the Bible, or to recite theological statements. Our faith is not based in our ideas about God, but in our lived relationship with God. This kind of faith is an encounter that comes through the daily practice of dwelling in God. We learn to say together with the apostle, "No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us."

Through this lived experience of Christ's indwelling love - and through the practical application of his love in community - we come to know who God really is. Through this process of growing and maturing in faith, we come to believe and share the core teachings of the New Testament. As we grow in love, we are drawn together in the reading of Scripture, the retelling of the gospel story, and the application of biblical principles to our lives.

But the experience of the risen Jesus, and the power of his love in our lives, must come first. We love because he first loved us, and we trust his words in Scripture because he first spoke his word into our hearts. When we claim to believe certain ideas about God, this is not simply because we have been told these things or read about them in the Bible. Instead, our starting place is this living experience of God. Our intellectual beliefs are simply an outgrowth of a life lived in relationship to God and the community of those who are seeking to follow Jesus and love one another.

Our beliefs are testimony to those things that we have experienced first-hand - that which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and touched with our hands. The words that we speak and the beliefs we hold are meant as a reminder of and invitation to the full-bodied experience of God's Spirit. Such beliefs are the fruit of a life lived in God's love. How could we not want to share that kind of beauty, grace and power?

Are there weaknesses to this approach? Absolutely. Individuals and even whole communities often deceive themselves. We easily become too subjective, allowing our personal feelings, assumptions and interpretations to dominate when we should be listening to the reasoned witness of others. This is why it is so important for each of us to live in relationship with a rooted community, and for each community to be in humble conversation with the wider body of Christ.

Despite the dangers of subjectivity, Friends believe that the lived experience of Christ's power must be the foundation of our faith. Without his presence and love, all our religious rituals, all our beautiful words, charitable actions and correct beliefs are nothing but empty forms. We trust that, as we dwell in the love of Jesus, the Holy Spirit will move within us and among us, gathering us together into lives of faithfulness that fulfill the New Testament witness - not according to the legalism of words, but by the grace of the Spirit.

3 comments:

Unknown said...

Hello Friend.

Thank you for your words. You linked to 1 Cor. 13 when citing the primacy of felt experience of Jesus' presence.

I interpret this passage as meaning that love, itself, is more important than a felt experience of God's presence: the Holy Spirit.

I don't believe that the Holy Spirit is known by all people in all phases of the Spiritual journey. Certainly she should be sought after, but I believe that God removes God's spirit for periods of time as a way to teach us to obey him.

Our creeds, our Scripture, our theologies, keep us grounded in the times of darkness. They are a form of obedience. In fact, they are a dialog with our ancestral Christian community.

I see the Holy Spirit as the revealer. She has been called, the spirit of truth (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=229152132). Truth is good, but love is better.

Sometimes we are in darkness, without the revealer. In this way God teaches us humility and steadfastness.

Have you had a chance to read Larry's latest piece? http://www.priestlygoth.org/home/2013/02/27/presence-absence-and-belief-in-god/

(This is Jeremy, http://glassdimly.com. Often your blog marks me as "unknown," despite linking my google account which has a completed profile.)

Micah Bales said...

Hey Jeremy,

We read in 1 John 4:7-12 that God is love, and that we know God when we love one another. Based both in my reading of Scripture and in my own personal experience, I would say that God (Creator, Jesus and Holy Spirit) is both love and truth, and that any firm distinction we make between the two stems from our own fallen condition, not from any division within God's nature.

Love is revealing!

James Breiling said...

There is the God that is responsible for the prime laws of natural, biological and psychological science. That God is outside of ourselves and is revealed to us through scientific studies.

Then there is a spirit of love that can arise and flourish within us and find expression in our words and deeds and in community. Looking around the earth at human history, there appear to be many routes to this spirit. Jesus is prominent among those who taught about this spirit.