A few years ago, some friends contacted us about visiting the Grand Canyon. They had never been, but were hopeful to take a trip in a few weeks to see it for the first time. We cheerfully complied in giving them more information than they ever needed, and they had a great time with their family on the canyon’s south rim. When they returned, we convinced them (it didn’t take much prodding) to come over to our house and show us their pictures.
We had a great time seeing their pictures. In fact, I think we had more fun looking through the photos than they did.
Why did we enjoy those pictures so much? Partially because the wife is an excellent photographer – and therefore captured some very nice shots – but there was more to our pleasure. We had been to the Grand Canyon before; we knew what it was like. We had experienced what they had experienced and therefore we could enjoy the falling-short-of-the-true-experience photos our friends had taken. It was almost like experiencing it over again, ourselves, with them.
Photos fall short of what we see in the wilderness. Previous experience makes up for what is lacking in the pictures we see taken in various locations we have visited over the years.
The same is true in our experience of God. Words don’t do Him justice – He simply cannot be defined in words. We can sing about the greatness of God – but His greatness cannot be defined by even the best song.
Without an experience of God, He is little better than a nice picture.
He looks great, just like a picture of a snow-capped mountain or a lovely sunset. But without the experience of God, or the experience of what that trail through the mountains actually looked like, what the sunset actually felt like, it falls so far short of the truth.
Once we have experienced Him, once we have experienced the beauty of a place, the words, the pictures, are far more than just an image.
It’s like everything has suddenly become 3D. The Canyon is no longer a 2D intriguing photo; it’s living color, and we know what it looks like outside the photo, what the aura of the place felt like, the smells, the feeling of actually standing on the edge of the abyss. God is no longer a mythical idea expressed in words; He’s real, alive, active; you know what He feels like, what it’s like when He’s moving.
We appreciate pictures because of what we know is there. We appreciate testimonies because we have tasted and seen the same God who worked on behalf of the people in the story.
Experience, quite simply, brings the words, pictures, and ideas to life – in both our experience of the wilderness and in our experience of God.