by Bob West
March 23, 2010.
About 15 years ago I was writing a book about my spiritual journey, which I called "Awakened by the Spirit." I never finished it, because the Lord opened a door on the internet for my autobiographical serial comic strip, "Theophilus and the Powers of Darkness." So I put the book aside to work on that and "Our Father's Children" comic strip after that. Now I will share some of the contents of that book here. I will begin with the book's "Introduction."
In the Garden of Eden after he and his wife had believed Satan's lie, Adam used the word "naked" to describe his new condition. This has more in it than the idea of nudity. It includes ideas being exposed, scrutinized and found imperfect. It suggests that Adam wanted the ground to open and swallow him up. He wanted to be invisible. I know the feeling.
I, too, have believed Satan's lies. And through the years I have tried to hide my "nakedness." But there is no place to hide from God. He found Adam and Eve, and He found me. And I'm glad that He did, because now that I know His unconditional love is real, I don't need those fig leaves anymore.
This is not a book I wanted to write. This book is Jesus' idea. As I began this work on March 5, 1995, I was still a little uncomfortable without my fig leaves -- even after all of the marvelous and wonderful ways Jesus had been showing me His power and His love. It was still embarrassing and painful to tell about some of the things revealed in this book. But sharing my story has been therapeutic and part of the healing process. That's reason enough to write this book, but I suspect that the Lord has another purpose in mind as well. And it may have something to do with you.
I thought I was going to attain a certain amount of anonymity by doing this story as a graphic novel starring Theophilus and an imaginary character, an artist with many of the same experiences I've had. But apparently the Lord only let me think in those terms to get me used to the idea and prepare me for the real thing.
If your religious background is similar, this book may surprise and even shock you. You may be tempted to discount the testimony of my experiences as irrelevant subjectivity and accuse me of basing my beliefs on experience rather than the Bible. Let me assure you that I believe the Bible now more than I ever have. As you read this story, you will find me searching the Scriptures to see if these things are so. And don't be too quick to ridicule testimonies of personal experiences. After all, the only knowledge you and I have of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, is from personal testimonies -- Matthew's, Mark's, Luke's, and John's.
And we can have the personal experiences of reading their testimonies.
Those who believe in spiritual gifts are often accused of building their theology on experience. However, those who think gifts ceased after the first century ultimately build their theology of the miraculous gifts on their lack of experience with them. Even their appeal to contemporary abuse is an argument based on negative experience with the gifts.
So, how valid is experience? What do you do when your doctrine conflicts with reality?
I live on Rich Mountain near downtown Brevard, North Carolina. Suppose those of us who live here had a doctrine which said, "There are no deer on Rich Mountain today. In an earlier century, deer lived here, but that was back then. There are positively none today!"
The reason we can be so sure of that is because of what we read in our book, "Early Days on Rich Mountain." According to the book, early settlers had to depend on their hunting skills and deer for food. There were plenty of deer in those days.
One day a grocery store opened in nearby Brevard. The people went to the store, looked around, and said, "This is perfect! Everything we need is right here in this store. We don't need to hunt anymore."
Suppose there are dedicated men who go to college today and major in Rich Mountain History, and then make their living lecturing on the subject. They assure us that deer were only needed so early settlers would have something to eat -- until the grocery store came. Now there is no further need for deer, so they have been done away. Besides, if there were still deer on the mountain, they (the experts) would surely have seen them.
Then one day, while driving on Rich Mountain Road, two deer cross the road in front of me -- just a few feet away! I am amazed. I say, "Hey -- there are still deer on Rich Mountain!"
Excited over my discovery, I tell my neighbors the good news. Some believe, but many do not. They dismiss my testimony as irrelevant subjectivity and accuse me of basing my belief on experience rather than our book about the early days. They just shake their heads, and say, "Poor Bob. He's been deluded. He has left the faith."
Some of us decide to take another look at our doctrine. As a result, we find that our book, "Early Days on Rich Mountain," says nothing about deer ceasing to exist after the grocery store came.
As you probably guessed, this is just a parable. As far as I know, no one who lives on Rich Mountain would deny the possibility of deer being in our woods. I have seen some deer on three separate occasions. Do you have trouble believing that? Probably not.
But what if I told you that I've seen, and experienced, spiritual gifts in use today? Would you believe I was telling the truth? Could you believe that I was sane enough to discern what had really happened? Would your doctrine allow my experiences to be valid in your mind?
Like doubting Thomas, I was very skeptical myself. Remember Thomas? He thought he couldn't believe until he put his hands in the holes in Jesus' hands and side. He was looking for experience, not testimonies. When Jesus gave him the proof he required, Thomas said, "My Lord and my God!"
With that experience, even Thomas could no longer deny that Jesus had risen from the dead. Likewise, with the experiences I've had, I can no longer deny that spiritual gifts are present today.
Because of his doubt, Thomas missed out on the joys of sharing in the knowledge of the resurrection with the other disciples for at least a week. Because of doubt for much of my life, I have missed out on some of the richest blessings Jesus had for me. I didn't realize what I was missing!
In our modern evangelism that emphasizes salvation to escape hell and go to heaven, we sometimes miss the fact that we are saved to companionship with God. Before the fall, Adam wasn't religious. He walked with God. Jesus came to earth and paid the price to restore that relationship between God and mankind and then returned to heaven to sit at the Father's right hand. In the modern emphasis, the Holy Spirit is seldom defined as the Person of God now on earth making that friendship a reality. But that's who He is and that's what He's doing. And He's doing it for me.
I hope you're letting Him do it for you, too.