By Phil Young, MD
In chapter one of his second epistle, Peter recounts one of the most wonderful experiences possible for anyone to have—of the time he, James, and John were with Jesus on a mountain where Jesus was glorified before their eyes, and they saw a glimpse of His true majesty and heard the very voice of God declaring, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (2 Peter 1:17). But then Peter adds, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; where unto ye do well that ye take heed” (2 Peter 1:19). The context of this passage is one in which Peter is speaking against the many false fables that were entering the church of his day. The important aspect of Peter’s comment is that he considered Scripture more reliable than experience, no matter how glorious. To keep false notions from creeping into our thinking, everything, including our most breath-taking experiences, needs to be checked against Scripture in order to determine if the experiences are valid or not. Experience never trumps the Word of God.
Consider Adam and Eve. They tried to use their own experience and wisdom to reject the clear admonition of God not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The fruit looked good, and Satan told them eating the fruit would benefit them—a clear lie. And after all, everything they had eaten in the Garden of Eden thus far had been excellent. So largely based on their own wisdom and experience, they disobeyed God, and the results, as we know, affected all of mankind.
The problem with human experience and wisdom is that these have blind spots. It is extremely difficult to go beyond the cultural background in which we grow up. When I taught briefly in a Christian college in Southern California years ago, the faculty stated that it took most of the incoming students two years before enough of the brain washing of the public schools had drained away before they were really ready to grow in God’s truth.
Too often as Christians, we look at the fallen culture around us and congratulate ourselves that we have not sunk as low as it has, not realizing most often the weaknesses of our own culture are our own weaknesses as well. Look at the prayers of Daniel, the holiest individual of his generation. He prayed as if all the sins of the children of Israel were his own sins.
Year ago the Scientific American reported on an interesting experiment. Kittens were taken before their eyes were opened and placed in artificial environments. One environment had no horizontal formations, the other no vertical. After their eyes had been open for several weeks, the kittens were placed back into a normal environment. The two sets of kittens remained blind to what had been lacking in their environment. One set of kittens could not see table legs (vertical). The other set could not see table tops (horizontal).
Only if we are exposed to the Word of God, the Bible, will we be able to see the world as it actually is. All human theories have blind spots, and those who adhere to them do not realize all the theories they think true—on which they rely—are full of holes. Literally, men just can’t see the truth because of their blind spots.
That brings us back to the point that in the final analysis the only thing one can truly trust is the Scripture authored by the omniscient God who cannot lie. It also means that all of our experiences must be measured against Scripture to test their validity. Yes, one wants the churches to experience the joy of the Lord, but at the same time, experiences need to be kept within the boundary of Scripture.
There is no question that some individuals have had spectacular experiences using contemplative prayer. But experience does not validate—only the Word of God can. A seemingly wonderful experience does not transform error into truth. And since contemplative prayer (i.e., mantra-like meditative prayer) is forbidden “fruit” in Scripture (e.g. Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Matthew 6:7) and leads individuals to reject the Gospel, it should be clear that the whole method is in error and is leading many astray.