They flow from my computer and across my desk. I am speaking of those “testimonies”; testimonies that detail the most incredible “supernatural experiences” imaginable. These experiences supposedly have happened to the correspondents personally or, more often than not, to someone they know, or about whom they have heard.
One gentleman tells of the time when his father accidentally cut off a finger. According to the “testimony,” he simply stuck it back on, wrapped it up, and it was miraculously “healed” in only a few weeks. That was hardly the manner of healing in the case of Malchus’ ear (Luke 22:51).
Another story concerns a family member who ran out of automobile fuel. He simply prayed, poured water into the gas tank, and drove on! One cannot but wonder how many miles per gallon “miracle-water” produces.
This morning another kindly soul tells me of an experience wherein he became “spiritually intoxicated,” and saw clouds floating around inside a church auditorium. He interpreted this as a reception of “Holy Spirit baptism.”
Of course one can pick up a supermarket tabloid and read almost any week of some person who was captured by aliens and spent a weekend on Mars. Then there are those who die and travel down that long, dark corridor toward the bright light, or they float above the surgical table, only to return to their normal environments and “thrill” us with the fascinating details of their out-of-body adventure.The catalog of “experiences,” religious or otherwise, virtually is endless.
Just how does one evaluate these phenomena?
We are reticent to wound the feelings of sincere people; at times, however, the teacher of truth must run that risk and be blunt. The honest Bible student should consider several possibilities, based upon scriptural data.
Some “experiential” claims are born of absolute dishonesty. Whatever the ultimate motive may be — whether publicity, the solicitation of a following, the acquisition of money, etc. — some people are duplicitous. Consider the following Bible case.
A courageous man of God went to the city of Bethel and rebuked a corrupt king, Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who led Israel into sin with his idolatry (see 1 Kings 13:1ff; cf. 14:16). After the completion of his sacred mission, and en route toward home, an old prophet approached the man of God. The elderly gentleman told of an “experience” with an angel that involved an invitation to the man of God to accompany him back to his house in Bethel for refreshment.
The fact is, however, the alleged angel’s message was directly contrary to a revelation from the Lord, and scripture explicitly declares that the older gentleman “lied” to the man of God (v. 18). As a result of believing that experience-oriented lie, the man of God lost his life. Some religious leaders are liars — and that is one of the more complimentary things that may be said of them.
Eliphaz, one of Job’s erstwhile friends, in attempting to buttress his argument that the patriarch’s suffering was the result of egregious, personal sin, told of a horrifying “experience,” mystical in nature (see Job 4). In the dead of night, Eliphaz claims to have heard a “whisper,” and saw a “spirit” pass before his face. Such struck terror in his heart; he exclaimed that his whole frame shook and the hair of his body stood at attention! The “spirit” allegedly spoke, providing a message, the essence of which cast Job into a shadow of disrepute.
The motive behind Eliphaz’s story is not revealed in the sacred record. Was he, like the old prophet mentioned above, merely lying? One need not assume that necessarily.
Was he delusional? Was he so anxious to conjure up evidence supporting his theological position that he forced himself to believe the event actually happened? This, without doubt, is a common occurrence.
There are folks — honest, genuinely devout people — who are members of sects that are super-emotionally charged. Their services commonly are a “baptism” in adrenalin. They are urged by spellbinding leaders to “expect a miracle.” They feel that somehow they are not “spiritual” if something supernatural does not happen in their lives. Hence, they “seek,” and they “find” — though not in the biblical sense!
The important point to remember is this: No “experience” can be a substitute for the truths that are revealed through the biblical documents. Experience is to be measured by, and controlled by, the plain testimony of scripture.Scripture must not be forced into the mold of subjective sensations.
There are two ideological extremes that must be avoided. One is “empiricism,” a philosophical concept that suggests there is no reality apart from one’s personal experience. For example, the skeptic would contend that since no miracles are obvious today, the possibility of a miracle is nonexistent. That is not a logical conclusion.
On the other hand, the knowledgeable Christian does not argue for the validity of those miracles recorded in the Bible on the basis of what we experience today; nor does he contend against the possibility of modern miracles simply because he has not experienced them personally.
Rather, the genuineness of miracles, such as those performed by Christ and his apostles, are established on the ground of the credibility of the ancient witnesses (who were willing to forfeit their lives for what they saw and heard), along with the integrity of the documents that record those testimonies. On this web site there are various articles that argue this case.
This point is crucial; one may not set aside the plain Bible teaching regarding the cessation of miracles, just because he believes he knows of a modern “miraculous” experience. Using strong hyperbolic language, Paul contended that the message of the gospel may not be altered — if even an angel should declare it otherwise (Galatians 1:8).
One may not take a modern “experience,” therefore, and argue for its supernatural nature if, in fact, biblical argumentation clearly establishes the reality that supernatural phenomena served a specific and limited role in the divine scheme of redemption, and that miraculous experiences, therefore, are no longer operative today.
In reality, this is precisely the case. For further consideration, we invite our readers to carefully study the article on What Does the Bible Say About Miracles?.
Do not confuse experiential “mirages,” with genuine “miracles.”