Question: how do we deal with conflict between scripture and experience?
A week after having been invited to write on this topic, my mind remained empty of any sagacious or settling response. So just a minute ago I opened up the Word to see what might jump out of the pages on the matter. The first thing I read was Jesus saying, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury the dead” (Matthew 8:22)—a perfect answer.
Jesus never quibbled about Rabbinic law. When others quibbled about things like washing hands and remaining inactive on Saturday, Jesus repeatedly redirected attention towards love as the essence within law. That which is not of love is dead. Let the dead bury the dead, but we are called to follow the One whose simple message is that we get on with the attempt of laying down the self for the sake of others (John 15:12-13). Jesus’ words are spirit and life (John 6:63).
When considering this topic, it is tempting to ask if scripture contains mistakes. I am only able to observe scripture through my own full-of-mistakes mind so I couldn’t possibly arrive at a truthful answer about scripture. Had I not been exposed to Secrets of Heaven, for example, I’d have surely chalked up the Old Testament with its violent God as one rather large mistake. So I’ll sidestep the question of scriptural infallibility and take another angle to explore conflict between scripture and experience.
Now, scripture is experience. It is a means of interacting with the Divine. Perhaps apparent mistakes, contradictions and the like are a part of the Divine plan, a plan that is both revealed and also catalyzed by scripture when exposed to human consciousness. In other words, struggling with problematic passages is all part of the game. Perhaps they are there because grappling with scripture is what we need to do. Overly-obedient Abraham went up a mountain prepared to kill a human being—his own son—for the sake of an imagined God. He came down the mountain having instead killed an old, self-based vision of God that in its ram-like gusto had been caught up in the thorny delusion. When Jacob wrestled all night with God, he came out with a new vision of himself—a cripple. But he also had a new name—Prince with God. He realized he’d never be perfect, but that God accepted him. The woman who rebelled against Solomon’s decision received back her beloved baby. In contrast, when the apostle Peter attempted to defend his unwaveringly false vision of Jesus, all he succeeded in doing was harming others and severing himself from his beloved Lord with denial. All of this is to say better to have a flexible, dynamic and evolving relationship with God than a rigid and static one defined by a rigid and static organization. Rigidity is indicative of human ego, not God’s plan.
Wrestling with and against God—or whom we mistake as God—is sometimes the only way we’ll break out into the dawn of a new truer vision of God. Probably, points of contention are present within scripture so that we’ll get up off of our complacency and wrestle. Our heavenly Father loves to play rough and tumble with us, his children. If throughout the midst of all the struggles we stay focused on the singular message within all scripture—that we learn to lay down self for the sake of others—the struggle will strengthen our ability to convey love.
Just as scripture is an experience, so experience is a scripture: God is immediately present in all space and time. So all experience is God’s writing into our hearts. This means how one interprets written scripture is necessarily going to be different from how another does. Variety is not only the spice of life, it is also the crucial expression of God’s infinite love and is foundational in the structure of heaven. If the seeker-wrestler is earnest, and tries to keep the New Commandment, our Father will keep His promises: we’ll discover that for which we searched; He’ll open the doors; He’ll provide what we seek.
Kent Rogers is co-founder of the Loving Arms Mission (lamchildren.org), a not-for-profit fundraising organization dedicated to creating and supporting New Church children’s homes.