To participate in a group experience is not a guarantee of common experience.

Let me explain using two Biblical illustrations. Do you remember in the book of Numbers Moses sent out scouts to explore the land of Canaan? This Israelite delegation was tasked with bringing back a comprehensive report. The mission was comprised of leaders of the twelve tribes — experienced, hand-picked navigators, team players, with clear instructions, on a mission from God Himself. Their six-week mission was successful. They braved the elements, eluded ferocious wild animals, trekked the rugged terrain, and avoided being seen by the locals. They even returned samples of the produce from the land – grapes, pomegranates, and figs so huge two men carried then on a pole between them.

Their reports give us insight into how their experiences differed. While they all saw the same things, they interpreted what they saw in diverse ways. Ten of the twelve saw big and powerful locals, enormously high walls protecting the cities and guards along the sea and the River Jordan. The prospects of invading the land were totally impossible. In fact, they projected their own feelings onto the local citizens, they said, “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” However, two of the twelve reported a unique perspective: “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

Another example, this time from the New Testament: in Acts 2, all the disciples in the room were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

The people from twelve different language groups said, “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues.”

Although they could not explain it, they all heard God’s message to them in they own local dialect. Note, however, that some of the same people who heard the message made fun of the disciples and accused them of being drunk.

In the two examples, the audiences were exposed to the same information, yet they all interpreted the data differently. I am not a psychologist, so I am unable to explain how the minds of people process data differently. However, as a pastor I have seen congregations receive the Word of God together, and some heard the “wonders of God” while others made fun and accusations.

So it is true, group experience is not the same as common experience. Quod Erat Demonstrantum.

What do you think, in which group do we find ourselves when “we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own language?”