The Role of Human Experience In Reading The Written Word of God

SJLC ElderNews

*I wrote this article while serving in Wisconsin, but it was recently published online at: 
I remember a pastor at seminary giving us the terrible advice that you shouldn’t preach against abortion because you will have members who have had abortions—“they might get hurt or be offended.” I said, “So we shouldn’t preach against sins that might have happened in the past? There would be no sin left to preach on! We warn of the dangers of sin. We don’t ignore sin; we name sin so that it can be forgiven.”
You have heard pastors teach in Bible class the proper use of fallen human reason when reading God’s Word. We are to put human reason under Scripture (a ministerial use of human reason) in service to It, rather than to put fallen human reason above the Holy Scriptures (a magisterial use of reason). What does this mean? When our human reason can’t grasp what God says, we submit to God’s Word rather than making God’s Word submit to what we understand. A classic example is when Jesus takes bread and says, “This is my body.” Human reason can’t understand how that is. This is why many change God’s clear Word “is” to “isn’t” or “symbolizes.” So, as Bible-believing Lutherans we confess as true what God says even if it blows our minds—from communion to the virgin birth to the resurrection of Jesus.
However, I wonder if the devil has used our life experiences to deceive in a similar manner like he has used fallen reason to lead many away from the clear Word of God. I have observed many Lutherans try to make God’s Word submit to their life experiences instead of the other way around. Just as reason is ‘offended’ over bread being the body of Jesus, so too are sinners [unjustly] ‘offended’ when God’s Word seems to contradict or confront our life experiences. (As a side note: being offended doesn’t necessarily mean an offense has been committed. Many are offended at the teachings in Scripture. The problem is not God’s Word or the one preaching It, but the sinful ears that despise what they hear.)
What does this look like? It is the one who is offend when a clear verse of God’s Word is read and he is offended because it confronts him or someone he loves. For example, God’s Word clearly says that those “who practice homosexuality” will not inherit the Kingdom of God (I Cor. 6). Yet, parents might get offended because their child has just announced that he has stopped struggling against the temptation to sexual immorality. They get offended, “Zion Lutheran Church, can’t you tone it down? I’m offended! You are going to drive people away.” Do you see how their life experience is leading them to deny clear verses of Scripture? How about Ephesians 5, “Husbands love your wives…wives submit to your husbands in everything.” If these verses were used wrongly in someone’s past, might he or she get offended and end up throwing out the baby with the bath water? “I don’t like the words “love” or “submit.” What about Jesus’ preaching against divorce (Matt.19)? Scripture is clear on divorce. Yet, if you have been divorced, might these verses offend you? What about God’s Word to “obey your pastor (Heb. 13)?” If you had an unfaithful tyrant-pastor when you were a child, might you be quick to dismiss God’s Word outright? So, is the problem God’s Word or the baggage we 2
may bring to our reading of God’s Word? I am convinced that if I got into the pulpit and read certain verses verbatim that I would get angry phone calls by the many non-members who listen to our service on the radio Sunday morning. Additionally, I think we too should do some reflecting on teachings that we find “offensive.” Are we justified in being offended? Was a wrong committed? Or is our real beef with God and His Word in view of our life experiences?
What is the answer? Obviously, submitting to God’s Word above our emotions and experiences. And I would add, God has graciously given you a shepherd—a pastor—to lead you. Bring your questions about the verses you don’t understand or don’t like—pastors won’t be offended. Don’t remain in willful ignorance and despise God’s clear words. Grow in knowledge and understanding. Let your pastor lead you to a proper understanding so that you can understand your life experiences correctly under the Word of God.
Friends, God is not out to make us miserable, rub our noses in our past sins, or against us in anyway. No, He is on our side, He is for us, and wants the best for us. He sent His Son to die for all our sins—the sins in marriage, homosexual sins, divorce—all sin. All of God’s Word is good and profitable.
By God’s grace, may we submit to Christ, Who is the head of the Church, Who gave His life up for us!
-Pastor Stark