When I come home from the office after a busy day of work I know that my six year old daughter will scream “daddy” at the top of her lungs, and start running at me. She follows this up with what I would call a “leap of faith” into my arms.
I have learned from repeated experiences with her that when I enter into my house I must quickly set down anything I have in my hands because she is going to throw herself at me without any concern for her own welfare. Often times her leap is followed by my eight year old son also leaping into my arms (and I wonder why my back is often hurting).
The other day my son and I were watching a movie with some friends. He crawled up in my lap and sat there for a large portion of the movie. I realize that I will not be able to have him sit in my lap much longer so I probably spent more time focusing on my son in my lap than on the movie.
The experiences I have described are an important source by which I understand my relationship with my children. I have knowledge of our relationship (my love and care for them) based on the experience of them jumping into my arms or sitting in my lap. For anyone observing my experience it appears very different to them. This is the way that most modern sciences understand the human experience.
To describe our relationship in terms of sociological structures or scientific mechanisms would be to strip what is most fundamental out of our relationship. I could see it described this way…
The approximately six year old female human first turns her head to locate an auditory disturbance which emanated from the actions of the dominant male closing the entrance to the dwelling. Upon locating the source of the auditory disturbance she begins what could be described as a greeting ritual. This ritual consists of the rapid acceleration of the young female while, simultaneously, she loudly vocalizes the word (daddy) she uses to identify the dominant male. Once full acceleration is attained the young female leaps into the air with a clear expectation of being grasped in mid-flight by the dominant male. At this point the dominant male grabs the child in mid-flight and clutches the female child to his chest and presses his lips to her cheek which culminates the ritual. This greeting is repeated whenever the dominant male has been away from his domicile for more than two hours, and often the older male sibling of the domicile participates in this greeting in a way very similar to the young female.
This obviously reduces the event to nothing more than a report of someone’s observations. The experience of love that is real and a known part of our relationship cannot be articulated in this empirical description of the event. CS Lewis in the short piece “Meditation in a Toolshed” says this about our experiences:
…it is perfectly easy to go on all your life giving explanations of religion, love, morality, honour, and the like, without having been inside any of them. And if you do that, you are simply playing with counters. You go on explaining a thing without knowing what it is. That is why a great deal of contemporary thought is, strictly speaking, thought about nothing–all the apparatus of thought busily working in a vacuum.
When we equate our experiences to observable component parts it does not equal the experience itself. It does not correspond to the total reality that is being manifest during the actual event. So much of our understanding of the world around us is made up of living experiences and relationships which are, as Lewis calls them, “inside” experiences.
The difficulty is that our inside experiences are seen as subjective in today’s modern academic world, and therefore have no truth value. Anything that is an internal understanding of an event is just an opinion. Yet, most of our important and richest interactions with the world are understood in light of our inside experiences. Many academicians want to reduce events to empirical descriptions, and hold that empiricism is the only objective means by we should describe reality.
In light of these modern academic expectations what should we think about God? In scripture much of our understanding of God comes through are relational which are necessarily grounded in experiences, and, therefore, unknowable in the mind of many in the modern empirical university.
For Calvin to know God is not just to obtain facts about him, but to have an experience of God through a personal relationship with him. Calvin holds that we should understand God, “…as he is towards us: so that this recognition of him consist more in living experiences than in vain and high-flown speculation.” Calvin believes that knowing God is driven both by an understanding of scripture and by knowing God through inside relational experiences.
To know God one must, necessarily, experience God relationally. Without this experience one does not truly know God, but only facts about God. Knowing facts about God is not the same as God revealing himself to you through personal experience. The understanding that is gained through experiences is a source of knowledge.
Empiricism is not, as CS Lewis states, “intrinsically truer or better” than our “inside” experiences. We must hold that both empirical truths and inside experiences both give us insight on the true nature of God’s created universe. To call our inside experiences subjective is to remove a necessary access point to reality and to a proper relationship with God.