by ProfDave, ©2021
(Oct. 20 2021) — My friend Jordan sent me an article on the proofs for God. It is interesting that all the great philosophers of history from Socrates to Kant and beyond tried their hand at proving the existence of God. It is still a hot topic, although metaphysics generally is out of fashion. The nature of “proof” is debatable, but clearly theism is a rational and intellectually defensible hypothesis.
It strikes me that one sort of proof has not been fully explored: human experience. The vast majority of mankind, in all ages and all places, has been aware of an invisible intelligent power or powers beyond nature. Even atheists often believe in ghosts and aliens – go figure. That some do not have (or want) this awareness cannot prove that God doesn’t exist anymore than color-blind people can prove that there are no colors. And perhaps we don’t “see” Him because He is too big. How do you “see” infinity? Does the fish “see” the ocean? Do we “see” outer space? But we can experience God. I have. I’ll try to tell you about it.
Most human beings have some awareness of an intelligent Entity beyond science and nature. Logic tells us that the origin of space, time, and mind must be beyond space and time and of inconceivable intelligence. But details get difficult. The greatest figures in human history are those who profess a special enlightenment in these matters, but they are in fundamental disagreement. All enlightenments, obviously, are not equal. It is no surprise that it is difficult for the finite to understand the infinite, comprehend the incomprehensible, and see the invisible. No matter how compelling the visions, most – if not all – must be inadequate, mistaken, warped by culture and personal prejudice, or flat-out wrong. It seems like there is something out there trying to turn us away from The Good.
Many, including myself, believe that we can know nothing of this infinite, eternal Being unless He chooses to reveal Himself. Christians believe He has revealed Himself through the Hebrew prophets, in Jesus Christ and through the Apostles. Moreover, ordinary Christians believe they experience Him on a daily basis, speaking through their minds and consciences by the Holy Spirit (as they read the Bible, receive the sacraments, pray, and/or meditate) and also in transforming their character in ways they do not think otherwise possible. Hopeless addicts and reprobates have come to walk with God and man in sobriety and self-giving altruism. You can’t tell me there is no God: I talked with Him this morning and I’ve seen his work in my own life!
My childhood home was suffused with the consciousness of God. My mother sang me to sleep with hymns and taught me to pray, “Now I lay me down to sleep” with hands folded and eyes closed as soon as I could lisp the words. Bible stories and Bible readings were daily fare. Family worship was a daily habit and grace was real prayer– and heart-felt. Food, clothing and heating fuel literally came from the Lord in our hard-scrabble country parsonage! My father’s extemporary prayers were almost as long as his Sunday sermons and King James English was almost a native tongue. I might fidget and day-dream, but I was sure God was listening. He was the head of our home and practically a member of the family. And our “Sabbaths” would do a Puritan proud. God was in the house.
My first personal encounter with God began when I was five. I had been taught the difference between right and wrong but had chosen to do the wrong thing whenever I thought I could get away with it. During an evangelistic meeting it dawned upon me that my little heart was sinful and separated from God. My childish innocence was shattered. I asked forgiveness, gave myself to Jesus, and was born again (see John 3). Yes, it was a childish thing, mostly about hell-fire insurance – “if I should die before I wake” – but the relief was sweet and spiritual life began in me. Living for Jesus was a little more complicated, but we had a relationship. I didn’t “say prayers” anymore, I talked to Him. Still do.
The God-experiences of children tend to be ambiguous and conditioned by family environment. Frequently they are repudiated in adolescence. There are, however, stories coming out of the Soviet Union of adults who report believing in God as children despite atheist parents and schools. Unlike my father, who experienced it at age 3, my behavior did not dramatically improve. I still struggled with expectations and sometimes wished there was a way out without going to hell!
But I became more and more aware of a Presence in my life. Occasionally there would be sunbursts of what C.S. Lewis calls “numinous joy” – an indescribable wonder coming from outside myself. More reliably, I saw the Lord supply the needs of my family almost daily and the impact of God in the lives of adults – like the 70 year-old town drunk delivered in a moment as he was ‘born again.’ It isn’t always “once and done” – that’s why we have 12 step programs – but deliverance from all sorts of addiction is common in the Christian world. I have experienced it myself. What we cannot change, God does.
Adult conversions often have dramatic effects (Chuck Colson, Born Again). Everything becomes new. The mind is renewed, and the heart is transformed. Habits change. Attitudes change. Guilt and shame are lifted – not to mention (more gradually) the behaviors that brought them on. There is a new peace and hope. Holiness is not instant, but a spiritual journey begins.
How do you experience God? Perhaps guilt and shame and brokenness drive you to your knees in humiliation and you cry out for a fresh start? Or you look up to the sky – or into a microscope – and you are filled with wonder? Or in pain, or danger, or fear of death you cry out for help beyond all hope and something Other – other than yourself, other than the wind, other than the paramedics – responds? Or was it the Other who called in the first place? In the Muslim world, far from Christianity, people are having dreams of Jesus calling them, then they look him up on the internet and become believers!
Christians experience God through the Bible, prayer, worship, sacraments (physical symbols of spiritual things) and meditation (listening). But the critical thing is to distinguish between God and your imagination – or perhaps a wrong number. If you “hear the voice,” make sure it is Him. A lot of my “impressions” turned out to be wish fulfillment and my conscience was sick. It is important to have a written, well attested guide (the Bible) and to join with others who are experienced in identifying his voice (the church). If God is real, He will be consistent across time, across culture, from one person to another. He will treat you as an individual person, but you do not make Him, He makes you. It is our understanding of Him that is fallible and variable. But there is strength in the written Word and in the consensus of wise and holy men and women. The other big mistake is to try to control God. If you can control him, he’s not God – you are! You are chasing your tail!
It would be easy to challenge the validity of my childhood conversion, but you have to start somewhere. You don’t become a Christian by being born, like you become an American. Jesus made it clear that “you must be born again.” OK, baptism can make you a Roman Catholic, but it isn’t complete until you are confirmed, right? But whether celebrated in a sacrament, an emotional crisis (like mine), or a dawning awareness, something must happen to you and in you to make you a Christian – a light goes on inside and a relationship with the Living Lord begins. If that hasn’t happened to you, you haven’t lived.
Simply put, it is as simple as ABC. You A – admit your sin/separation from God, B – believe that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, died to pay the penalty for you, and C – “call upon the Lord” to take you into his family. Theologies vary as to the role of God, the Church, and the individual will. Do you choose or were you chosen? I say ‘yes.’ Does “the bishop” have to lay hands on you? I say ‘nice,’ but if God is there, don’t wait for “the bishop.” Don’t wait. Come out of denial and into amazing grace. You will experience God for yourself!
David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College. He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020). He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.