Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Hearing God: Experiencing God

Lake Erie, Sterling State Park, Monroe

I am both a student of religious experience and one who has experienced God. In my MCCC Philosophy of Religion classes I've taught the argument for God's existence from religious experience. We begin with the classic work of William James and move through other scholars such as, e.g., Wayne Proudfoot, Merold Westphal, et. al.

For the experiencer, this forms a powerful argument for the reality of God. As William James has told us, the recipient of religious experience cannot be refuted, not logically at least, but in the sense that you will never convert them to atheism or agnosticism because they have experienced God (in the same way that Harvard neurosurgeon Eben Alexander is now unconvertible). In this way experience, not theory, breeds conviction.

In my life I have had many such experiences. A few of have been of the watershed variety, and I've recorded them in my journals. One example is my conversion experience, to Christ from practical atheism. I go back to it often. I've used what reductive-analytical skills I have to evaluate that experience and can only come up with this: God visited me (by inference to the best explanation).

Dallas Willard, in Hearing God, cites the famous encounter D. L. Moody had with God. Moody wrote, after many years of successful ministry:

"I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it, it is almost too sacred an experience to name. . . . I can only say God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand. I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths; and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world; it would be as small dust in the balance." (In Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God, p. 65).

This is the power of experience. God is experienceable, and desires that we experience him. Expect this as you abide in him.