Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Myth of the Spiritual Desert Part 2

Last month I posted the Myth article which was kindly linked by Lisa Robinson at Theologica (she is also a contributor at the Parchment and Pen Blog of Credo House Ministries) in which she solicited some responses from a much more broad and present audience regarding the proposition(s) in the article. After reading the responses and considering some of their approaches I am compelled to respond in a Part 2.

I believe there is great value in addressing concerns of those who take issue with any theological proposition because it provides for both its proponents and those challenging it an opportunity to retract, modify or refine their view. Since reading the responses I have joined Theologica so that I may participate in the varying discussions. However, on this occasion because the topic originates here I want to render the service of my response at my blog which will permit far greater movement in the exercise. Each response I address will be without citation to authorship since their identity is not relevant.  So let me begin here:

1. No, I don't think there are spiritual deserts in the sense that we are without God and His presence.  There are times that most of us…find ourselves struggling with the blackness of depression and despair…We should indeed trust God in those times.  We should cling to the promise of His indwelling Spirit and the promise of His presence with us…We shouldn't define our spirituality by our experiences, but by Christ.  I don't see any problem with giving a descriptive label to some circumstances, though. I also think one needs to read the Piper quote in context, also.  I think they would come away with a different view than the person who wrote the blog.

This response best represents one of the overriding principles taught in Scripture which is the promise of God, to us, that He is always present and as such this promise (as stated in various ways throughout Scripture) must not give ascendancy to our experiences. With regard to descriptive labels, I do agree they are appropriate with one key essential which is that when they are used they must be accurate. And the term spiritual desert I believe is doctrinally or biblically misleading with respect to God's promise of continuity in our lives which is the issue at hand. As to Piper, I happily resubmit the quote and do so in the context of his emotionalism laden erring doctrine of Christian Hedonism.  But that is a discussion for another day.

2. But I get the sense that he is denying that reality, that to equate feelings of abandonment and discouragement with reality is to succumb to an unbiblical emotionalism that is seeped in mysticism.  I think this denies our very humanity. 

Feelings are real, I do not deny this but feelings are just that, feelings. They are not spiritual realities. While your feelings go from up and down or calm to elated none of these are adequate or even biblical gauges for what is real, spiritually. In fact, to rely on emotions, even in part no matter how minuscule, is to deny the very nature of our spirituality!

3. You know another thing I kind of object to is that he suggests that the experiences of the bible characters are extraordinary and we shouldn't compare ourselves with them.  Well, why not? 

My objection is not that we cannot compare ourselves with the experiences of others in the bible but that we cannot impose upon those contexts our experiences which may not be parallel. And this is a common practice by many believers and of course is encouraged by many Teachers. And even when we may, in part, find a principle in a biblical event which applies to the separate context of our lives we cannot claim the whole if it does not apply.  And the examples I gave are quite fitting as displays of contexts often abused by believers in this way.

4. David spoke of the valley of the shadow of death. Periods where God seems absent. The Bible has more than a few words for that. 

Let’s address Psalm 23 and the valley of the shadow of death and see what the “more than a few words for that” are from God's Word.

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name' sake. 
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou annointest my head with oil; My cup runneth over. 
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.

Had the respondent paid closer attention he would have noticed what immediately followed, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death", which is, “I will fear no evil; For thou art with me”. David understood that it is not God’s removal of Himself but our ignorance or denial of His presence which robs us of our spiritual benefit. In fact he goes on to say that even in the presence of his enemies God prepares a table for him and his cup runs over. In the seemingly bleakest moments David understands he is in no desert with regard to God, rather God is ever present.  

5. Christ, at the crucifixion, sure thought God had foresaken him.  Wouldn't that alone indicate that we feel His presence at some times more than others?  Was a perfect Christ buying into emotionalism?

As a segue into my closing thoughts this particularly response is very fitting. Our Lord Jesus did not just think he was abandoned rather He knew in fact that he was suffering the separation that we no longer must suffer. It is this very act by our Lord Jesus which insures that we never again will be forsaken, separated or find ourselves in a spiritual desert. And to bring this into consideration as it was is to demonstrate a very grave misapprehension of the scope and nature as well as the blessings and benefits of our reconciliation to God in Christ.

The concept of spiritual deserts for the believer remains built upon a non-biblical foundation. Either experiences are being elevated or the promises of God ignored and/or denied. I do realize people have feelings but our feelings or even our best efforts to use our human senses as detectors of the presence of God will never work. 

God has not said that he will never forsake us, that his Holy Spirit permanently indwells us, that in fact the Trinity, the Shekinah Glory, has taken up residence in us and that we are walking temples of God because can detect it through some experience and if such experiences are not present then we are in a spiritual desert. It is not just that we are not but we cannot be in spiritual deserts because this would deny the proclamations of God’s abiding presence.

Perhaps you find yourself still frustrated or still thinking about times you simply seem not to be hearing from God or sensing His direction. Again I present to you the declaration of Scripture. He speaks daily in His Word, more so God speaks any time we expose ourselves to His Word. He does not speak through emotions or experiences rather through His Word. Even our experiences are understood in light of His Word and not His Word in light of our experiences. Your experiences may be saying,  "empty", "silence", "no motivation" or "depression" and so on.  God's Word says, "I will never leave you or forsake you". Your challenge is to believe Him over yourself.

Finally, it may be you are in a season of negative discipline; even now, in your state of negative pruning God is with you. In fact who do you think is doing the pruning? But you feel bad, isolated, abandoned, and empty and so on. Okay, certainly such feelings are to be expected but what does that have to do with God’s presence? Actually nothing.  Those are your feelings, not indicators of God’s presence. God’s presence is promised by Him, not us.  We cannot be the assurance or insurance of such a promise, only He can.

Christian, you have a choice to either believe the Word of God or trust your experiences. Open your spiritual eyes and ears to the God that surrounds you, to the God that indwells you and to the God that cannot leave you and will never leave you because He has promised it so and be blessed every moment in His presence as you hear from Him in His wonderful and eternal Word preserved for us that we receive it and live by it through faith by the power of his Holy Spirit which resides in us. 

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