A couple of weeks ago I posted on the song "He Lives!" It was a hymn we sang in church growing up and deals with how a person can know that God exists. The song makes this bold statement: "You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!" On this blog, I've talked about different ways people throughout history have tried to prove that God exists. We've looked at arguments based on reason and arguments based on faith, but what about the argument from religious experience? Is there any validity to saying, "I know God exists because I just had an encounter with him"?
One of the best-known example of a religious experience (and there are many) is the follower of Jesus known as "Doubting Thomas". Many of Jesus' other followers had seen their fearless Leader after his resurrection, but Thomas had not. When they tried to tell him about their experiences, Thomas did not believe them. This seems a little odd given the fact that Thomas had been living with the rest of these guys for more than three years (give or take). After everything they'd been through together, all the miraculous things they'd seen, the miraculous things they'd participated in, you'd think Thomas would take their word for it. But he doesn't. And this brings us to an important point:
Because their story sounded impossible, Thomas was pre-disposed to disbelieve it. He had some presuppositions, and he reasoned from those presuppositions to a pre-determined conclusion -- even when that conclusion was wrong and disagreed with the conclusions of all his trusted companions.
In other words, his philosophy prejudiced him against reality.
The argument from religious experience simply says that God exists because people have experiences with God and can tell us about them.
Obviously, there are some difficulties already because there are so many different definitions of words like "religious" and "experience". Mostly, a religious experience is like pornography or art -- you may not know how to precisely define it, but you know it when you see it.
Religious experiences tend to change a person's life and have lasting effects. They usually leave people feeling more able to cope with things afterwards or give a person a sense that their life has new meaning.
I had a conversation in the cafeteria of Pepperdine University a couple of years ago with Ross Thompson, Jeff Peterson and Edward Fudge about these kinds of experiences. We couldn't quite put our finger on them. They were always fuzzy around the edges and had a whiff of "too-good-to-be-true" to them. But we took turns going around the table and sharing our best "experiencing God" stories. Some had happened to one of us personally. Some were relayed second-hand. All had left an indelible impression.
So, let's hear yours. I'm sure many of you have had a remarkable experience with God -- a truly religious experience. Let's hear it.