“NO MATTER HOW FANCY and metaphysical a doctrine sounds, it was a human experience first. The doctrine of the divinity of Christ, for instance. The place it began was not in the word processor of some fourth-century Greek theologian, but in the experience of basically untheological people who had known Jesus of Nazareth and found something happening to their lives that had never happened before.
Unless you can somehow participate yourself in the experience that lies behind a doctrine, simply to subscribe to it doesn't mean much. Sometimes, however, simply to subscribe to a doctrine is the first step toward experiencing the reality that lies behind it.”
-Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words by Frederick Buechner
Language and words are the best we can do describing the realities, immensities, and truths about God, humanity, and the world.
Doctrine has become such a curse word in our day and equated with people who are dogmatic, legalistic, oppressive, and arrogant. When in reality, we all live by particular doctrines, rules, and language that try to give shape to our reality.
We are all indoctrinated.
For one group to say: we have a doctrine, and they don’t. Or, they have a doctrine, and we have the Bible is silly and trite. Or, they are religious and have a doctrine, and we secular people don't is unfounded.
Everyone has words, language, and expressions of defining their world. We all use words to define truth and reality and what makes sense of life.
Doctrine is about finite humans trying to explain and express and define what is happening in reality. No easy task. But to describe something, and not experience that thing, is empty and meaningless. It what’s theologian, philosopher, and pastor Jonathan Edwards said about experiencing God:
“There is a twofold knowledge of good of which God has made the mind of man capable. The first, that which is merely notional … And the other is, that which consists in the sense of the heart; as when the heart is sensible of pleasure and delight in the presence of the idea of it. In the former is exercised merely…the understanding, in distinction from the… disposition of the soul …Thus there is a difference between having an opinion, that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet and having a sense of its sweetness. A man may have the former that knows not how honey tastes; but a man cannot have the latter unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mind.” (Jonathan Edwards, A Divine and Supernatural Light)
Until doctrine moves from an idea in the head and into an experience in the heart… we just have words. We can say: the honey is sweet, but how do you know?
May the words we know to to be true in our minds become real on the heart. It makes all the difference.