Every kid that experiences God discovers, with joy, that most other people have contact with the Divine. There comes the moment, however, when he discovers many different religions or denominations. My acquaintances who are atheists always make a big deal about this moment of discovery, so it may be at the heart of what produces irrational doubts.
Why irrational? A few people think that different interpretations of experience of God means that God does not exist or that we should question the personal experience.
There is nothing shocking about different people thinking differently about a person, even if the person exists. My son and I met Mitt Romney briefly during his last Presidential run and were struck by what a humble man he was. We shook his hand and later watched him rolling his own suitcase out to his rental and drive the modest car off to John Wayne airport. I read everything I could find by Romney and about Romney, but I never lost the impression of meeting Mitt. I let my superficial impressions modify under the impression of facts, but also saw bias in some reports, just as I knew there was bias in my experiences and data selection. For example, I convinced myself that the man I “knew” could appeal to Ohio blue collar workers, but this was delusional.
When I met Mitt, I saw, in part, what I wanted or was preconditioned to see. Mitt Romney exists, but numerous contradictory impressions exist of the man. If we think how much less profound an experience meeting even so great a man as Mitt Romney is when compared to meeting God, we should not be shocked that we interpret our impressions of the Divine differently. That there is an Other-Than me that is not just another human mind, but something more and greater is a common experience to many people, but my interpretation of that experience is debatable.
Religious experiences suggest God exist, but they do not, by themselves, get a person to belief in the God of the Bible and orthodox Christianity. When we think of the religious denominations, sects, or even “spin offs” of orthodox Christianity, religious experience (by itself) will not be enough to settle many questions between the groups. The “other world” may itself contain many entities and humans are easily confused! On the level of religious experience all the world’s religions that postulate a personal god or gods agree: Someone exists. It will take something more, maybe data over time on humanities experience with this Someone or revelation of the Someone to us about His nature to know more.
You ask me how I know God lives? I experience Him, but my experience is so limited that other than His existence my experience teaches me little about Him which I am confident enough to express belief. I do not know the truth of the Trinity, and it is a truth of reality, based on my personal experience. Even the blessed few who saw Jesus baptized and saw the Son, heard the Voice of the Father, and the Dove that settled on Him representing the Holy Spirit did not grasp the full truth of the Trinity. They were more bewildered than illuminated! Understanding a profound truth, in any area of study including theology, takes time and hundreds of years later even so great a thinker as Augustine was still getting the Trinity a bit wrong.
When I see any person who says he or she met God, my first impulse is to believe that man or woman. What has he or she made of the experience? What have I done with my precious moments of Divine encounter? Left to myself, I am even more likely to make a mess of the interpretation than a scientifically untrained man is with physical reality! The theological differences between Mormon Mitt Romney and Orthodox John Mark Reynolds are vast, but from the point of view of how we have interpreted our personal experiences, they are not very great at all. In fact, they are less vast than Republican and Democratic interpretations of Mitt’s life!
And yet, you might wonder, is the whole idea of “disembodied” being irrational? More on that in my next letter! Until then, you might read some William James, always helpful, and consider the varieties of religious experience.
Under the Mercy,
First letter here.