The Experience of God vs. God
I was praying over Romans 8:39, “neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate you from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ our Lord,” (NIV, if memory serves) not long ago, and I found myself spinning in circles a bit. You see, I know this to be true. There is no doubt in my mind that God loves me (and us all) regardless of circumstances, regardless of our failures, regardless of death itself (vs. 38). But my mind isn’t all of me, and the rest of me weighs in with its own complaints.
I know that nothing can separate me from the love of God, but what about being separated from the experience of that love? My own unwillingness to enter into that love, my capacity to distract myself or to be distracted, some deep-seated and unconscious expectation that God isn’t really there, all of these things and plenty more can get in the way of my experience of the love of God. And that’s disheartening. While I’m not diminishing God or His love, I am losing an experience of it, which means how it affects me. That’s quite a loss. I don’t intend to get in the way of experiencing God, but I do, despite my best efforts.
However, the most important thing is not my experience of God, but God Himself. If I never experience God or His love for me, that doesn’t negate them. They’re still true whether or not I ever experience them. Very few of us will ever experience individual electrons, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. They still affect things, change the universe, hold molecules together, even if we don’t experience them directly. So it is with God. He is and He loves regardless of whether or not we experience these things. The importance of the reality trumps the importance of the experience.
This is just as true in relationships. Relationship is about the persons involved, not the experience of those persons or their love for one another. That love is crucial to the relationship, but it is not the focus. Experience is something personal, not directly relational. Therefore, if I am in relationship for the experience of my wife and not for my wife, then really I’m in it for me, not for her or for us. Similarly, if I want the experience of God more than I want God, then I am really in it for me and my experience. I have managed to unseat God and transform my experience of Him into what I am actually chasing after – what I’m actually worshiping. The experience of God has become an idol in place of God himself!
We tend to want to put the two together – God and the experience of Him. At least, I know I do. And I think we’re sort of hardwired that way. We learn from a very early age that what is real is what affects us. Hunger? That affects us; therefore it is real. Nuclear proliferation? At that point in time, we don’t know what it is, we don’t care what it is, and there’s hunger or Mom or cold or blanket that’s right there, affecting us. Therefore, those are real. Experience, at that age, defines reality, and we never quite escape from that on all levels. Our deep heart still bases what it believes upon what it has experienced or is currently experiencing. So whether we experience the love of God determines whether or not some deep part of us believes in it, counts it as real.
Part of growth, therefore, is to learn to separate these things out – our experience of God and the reality of Him. What do our hearts truly desire? Him? Or an experience of Him?
Sometimes, I think God does not give us an experience of Him because of this very difficulty we have. We have these two things so closely glued together in our hearts, too closely. And God is a self-proclaimed jealous God (e.g., Ex. 34:14). He won’t stand for us worshiping an experience of Him over worshiping Him for Himself. So God may not allow us sometimes to experience Him so that we have the opportunity to begin separating these two things. Only when the reality is not reflected in our experience do we have a chance of coming to terms with the difference. And only then do we have the capacity to come to Him for Him.
This wasn’t the only thing I ended up pondering in this time. But it’s the place I had to start. At some point, I’ll probably post more of where I ended up, but that’s for another time, I think.