Theology of Experience
Theology Based Upon Experience.
“Now when Jobs three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him…they made an appointment together to come and sympathize with him and comfort him.”
The friends of Job are often maligned for their criticism of Job and their accusations against Job. However, before we look closer at their arguments, we must affirm that they genuinely cared for Job. They were friends in the truest sense. They were deeply touched and wept when they saw Job, and they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and nights, just being present with Job. The problem was not in their concern for Job. Their love for him they dramatically demonstrated. Their problem was in their understanding of God. As the three friends gather, they represent traditional wisdom, focusing on the truth that God blesses the righteous and judges the wicked. However, they also represented three different perspectives of how we know and understand God. The problem is that their perspective of God was distorted, so their perspective of Job’s circumstances was also distorted.
Eliphaz began the lengthy discussion between the three friends and Job. As we examine the premise of his arguments, we discover that he represented those who determined their understanding of God and wisdom based on their personal experience. In chapter 4, Eliphaz begins his discussion by appealing to his experience. In 1-11, he appeals to his past observations. As he has observed life, he concluded that it is the guilty rather than the innocents that are faced with calamity (vs. 7). In his experience, you reap what you sow (vs. 8). In verses 12-16, he describes a supernatural encounter with the spirit of God. For Eliphaz, truth comes through our experiences; through them, we gain knowledge. Consequently, his experience has shown that all men are sinners, and suffering is God’s judgment upon them because of sin. Because even the righteous experience God’s disciple for their sin. Therefore, the only proper response of Job is to recognize his sin and confess. Rather than Job trying and defend himself before God (as he did in chapter 3), he should instead repent and acknowledge the righteousness of God in bringing this suffering upon him. His personal experience affirms this. This becomes a theme throughout all his speeches. In his second speech in 15:17, he again appeals to his e experience as proof that God is bringing judgment upon Job because of some latent sin in Job’s life.
What Eliphaz should have recognized is that experience can be deceptive. We live in a fallen world where sin taints the circumstances we face in the world. Furthermore, sin has affected our perception, and as a result, our perception of the cause and purpose of our experiences can be faulty.
This is true for us today. Often, we determine truth based on what we experience. If our experience and circumstances have a positive outcome (at least in our minds), then it must be proper. If it makes me happy, it must be good, and if it is good, it must be morally right. Debbie Boone captured this essence in her song, “You light up my life,” saying, “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right.” This has become the mantra of our society today. If it feels good, it must be right. Or, to put it another way, if it makes me happy, it must be morally right. But feelings and experiences are deceptive. Antifreeze is highly toxic to dogs and cats. However, they find the liquid tasty and will quickly drink it when given a chance. The same is true for us. What makes us happy can also kill us. Eve found the forbidden truth appealing, but it brought death into the world. The Proverbs warn us that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov 14:12). Do you trust your feelings and past experiences to guide you in truth, be forewarned, it may lead down a primrose path of disaster.