In his follow up observation on the authority of Scripture (https://inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/the-authority-of-scripture-23/) ‘m’ questions the place of reason and personal experience in the life of faith.
3. Some degree of reason can be “a useful trajectory for regular folks.”
Like tradition, reason gets a bad rap in many circles today. But, reason in and of itself is not the enemy. If our spiritual lives could be most deeply enhanced by abandoning all reason, I suppose our spiritual journey could be most easily enhanced by hallucinogenic substances.
It is not reason itself that is the problem; it is the misuse of reason and the over-dependence on reason that gets us into trouble. We come to grief, not not because we are rational, but because we put too much faith in reason and allow ourselves to believe that reason alone can to provide ultimate answers. When reason brings us to “egoism and fixed positions” we come to grief.
I say regularly to the congregation in which I serve that four of the most important words in the life of faith are, “I may be wrong.” Reason has its limitations. The faith journey may lead beyond reason but never entirely abandons reason.
Spirituality is not unreasonable. The journey of the spiritual life is not inherently irrational. The deep truths of all spiritual traditions may at times challenge our reason. But, if we look more deeply, we will generally discover that the teachings of the spiritual traditions do not run contrary to what is reasonable. Unbridled irrationality can be a dangerous thing. Like ego, reason is a good servant but a poor master.
4. The matter of personal experience can be tricky.
I remember a conversation years ago with a married man who had entered into an intimate relationship with a woman in another city. He described the beauty, intensity, and wonder of this affair. Finally, he said, “If only you knew how alive this relationship makes me feel, you would have to believe it is from God.”
I felt sad about the pain I knew this affair would cause his wife and the chaos it was going to inflict upon his entire family. But how do you argue with what someone apparently believes is his deepest and most personal experience?
Of course, in the end, we only have our personal experience and we must trust our deepest inner knowing. But, I have a healthy awareness of my own ability to deceive myself. I know how easily I allow self-interest and ego to cloud my vision and shape my perspective. I need some external reference points to challenge my tendency to self-interest and to help me confront those deeper questions that have the power to keep me honest. These deeper questions come to me through the community with which I am connected, through the tradition to which I am committed, and through the external “authority” of the Bible in which I seek wisdom.
If the Bible appears to contradict my inner experience, I question my understanding of the passage but I also submit my personal experience to the probing questions generated by confronting this foreign and sometimes strange text. When I enter fully into this process of self-examination through reflecting on the Bible, the words become for me, “the word of the Lord.” These words take on an authority and power that I believe flows to me from the divine source of all life, truth, wisdom, and beauty. In my experience, this process enables my heart to open to deeper wisdom and greater truth.