When Does Personal Experience Trump God’s Word?

Recently, I went to hear a Christian leader talk about his conversion from Islam to Christianity.  It seems that one of the chief influences in his life was his girlfriend at the time, who was a Christian.

The Christian girlfriend (now the man’s wife) spoke of the internal conflict she felt while the two were dating.  She told us that she knew that it was wrong for a Christian to date and/or marry an unbeliever based upon 2 Corinthians 6:14-18.  However, she did not want to end the relationship.  She told us that she prayed to ask God what she should do and that she “felt an overwhelming peace”, which she understood as God’s approval of the relationship.

Since the woman felt that God had given his approval, she continued on in the relationship.  The two were later married and still later, the man came to be a Christian.  Everything worked out, which all involved saw as further confirmation that God had approved of the relationship all along.

Here is my question:  When does our subjective experience outweigh the clear word of God?  In this case, should the woman have understood that God had approved of her relationship even though 2 Corinthians 6 tells us that believers and unbelievers do not belong together?

Is it possible that the woman desired God’s approval so much that she convinced herself that he had given it?  Just because things worked out in the end, does this signify God’s approval of the entire process?  Could God have worked even in the midst of disobedience?

What are your thoughts?

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10 Responses to When Does Personal Experience Trump God’s Word?

  1. Matt says:

    Yeah. That’s tough because people take their experiences very seriously. I would imagine the conversation would not go well if you tried to broach the subject with the couple. Scripture should definitely take precedent. The hard part is trying to weigh sensitivity to people’s feelings/experiences and clearing up theologically muddy waters with them. Hope that makes sense. I’m watching a two year old!

  2. Don says:

    For every couple that has had this experience, you could probably find ten others where the situation was reversed. Normally, the non-believer draws the believer away from God, not the other way around. When God gave the command to believers to only marry other believers, I believe that He desired to spare them the grief that usually comes in mismatched relationships.
    The fact that this man ultimately came to the Lord is just an example of the grace of God. Even in our disobedience, He can work good, but it usually comes at some cost. I think of David’s high profile example of adultry with Bathsheba. Though God had expressly forbidden coveting another man’s wife, David followed his feelings and had relations with her, resulting in her becoming pregnant. This led to the staging of Bathsheba’s husband’s murder in battle to cover up his adultery. After this, David married Bathsheba and bore him a son. As most readers of your blog know, this son ultimately died as a result of God’s judgment on the sin of David. Later though, Bathsheba bore another son to David that they named Solomon, who later became King Solomon. In 2 Samuel 12:24 We read this about how the Lord felt about this child; Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and lay with her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The LORD loved him; and because the LORD loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah. I say this to simply illustrate that good outcomes do not condone disobedience in any form, and that disobedience will cost us something somewhere along the way. It also illustrates that God can work good out of even the most flagrant disobedience imaginable.
    How much conflict and strife did this woman go through before her husband finally became a believer. Did it for a season affect her own relationship with the Lord in a negative way. I have to believe that she suffered in some way. And I question whether God would have directed her to go ahead with the relationship knowing that it would cause these problems.
    Anytime that we try and filter the Word of God through our feelings, we are bound to err. Though God certainly does give us direction and insight through the Holy Spirit within us, we still battle with a sin nature that distracts us too easily. Deep down, we still struggle with being our own god, and we can reinterpret Scripture to make it say just about anything that we want it too or justify any action and say that it is blessed by God.
    In this case, the fact is that God spoke very clearly on the matter and had it written down. There was no reason to seek God’s direction, to do so amounts to asking for permission to disobey. And God will allow that and use it to teach us lessons, but at what cost?

  3. Tim Farley says:

    Matt:

    Thanks for your comment. I believe you are right. It would not have been received well if I, or anyone else, tried to discuss this situation with the couple. I believe anyone who disagreed with them would have been seen as judgmental and closed-minded. We would have been seen as those who have no right to judge because we did not share their experience.

    This is the problem. Can we ever think that a person’s subjective experience outweighs the clear commands of Scripture. I say “no”. When God’s word is clear, we must follow it. Just because things worked out in the end does not justify how we get there.

  4. Tim Farley says:

    Don:

    You wrote: “Though God certainly does give us direction and insight through the Holy Spirit within us, we still battle with a sin nature that distracts us too easily.”

    Exactly right. How can we be sure that it is God’s voice we are hearing and not our own sinful one? The only clear guide is God’s written word.

  5. Jakob says:

    On commenting on Matt’s comment you said,

    “I believe anyone who disagreed with them would have been seen as judgmental and closed-minded”

    I know three different girls who are all in relationships with un-believers. The one that I have approached on this reacted in just that way. I was quickly accused of being judgmental and closed-minded. What’s more, is that she even tried to use Scripture against my point by saying that Hosea was told to marry a prostitute. True story, but bad argument- to which I could have asked her if she was a prophet.

    Anyway, thanks for the post, and as for her feeling peace- the question would be, can we really expect God to ever give us peace in regards to sin?
    I would argue no.

    But how can we convey this truth lovingly?

  6. Tim Farley says:

    Jakob:

    Obviously, I am not surprised by the response of the girl you mention. Her use of the Hosea story really shows that she either did not truly understand the point of Hosea or that she was looking for something to justify her relationship. As I am sure you are already aware, the prostitute in Hosea was supposed to be a picture of the nation of Israel, who had been “sleeping around” with other gods rather than being faithful to God. Hosea’s marriage was a living sermon and was not supposed to be taken as an example to emulate.

    How can we address issues like this lovingly? Well, I think we need to understand that there are true feelings involved. Then we must explain that the reason God has given this instruction is not because he desires our misery, but because he created us, he loves us, and he knows what is best for us. If we truly want what is best for oursleves, we must be willing to trust God – even when we may think we know better.

  7. Jeff Lahr says:

    Great question with thoughtful responses. I was the unbeliever that the Christian girl was dating even though her Christian friends said “dump ’em.” happy ending. However, I can’t suscribe to the idea that feelings trump God’s word, that is a slippery slope, indeed.

    But I think Christians in many situations beyond dating trust the experience over scripture. In fact, every time we willing sin we are valuing our own experience over the word of God. I think a lot of scripture based Christians probably rely on experience more than they would like to admit.

  8. Ben A says:

    Many Christians think that they are prophets. They attempt to listen to God and get clear revelation. The truth is that most of us are not prophets. And attempting to listen to God turns into listening for coincidences.

    In OT days, a prophet was judged on their word’s harmony with the established Word of God. If there were inconsistencies, then the “prophet” was killed.

    This lady would have died.

    God works even after our disobedience. That is called grace. And grace was heaped up and poured out on this couple.

  9. Tim Farley says:

    Ben:

    Good observation. I think you are right about Christians trying to listen to God for clear revelation rather than reading his word, which provides clear revelation. I think your comparison of testing OT prophets against God’s word is important. We must be always test our subjective reasoning (and others’) against Scripture. If it contradicts, it is not of God.

  10. Mark Ashbrook says:

    Good Stuff!! Preach it.

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