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Can Religious Experience Show That There Is a God?

Religious experience is often cited by believers as a compelling evidence of God's existence. However, while such experiences can be profound and deeply personal, they must be scrutinized through the lens of Scripture to understand their true nature and significance. It is vital to approach this topic with a clear understanding that emotionalism and subjective experiences alone do not constitute definitive proof of God's existence. Instead, we must ground our faith and understanding in the objective truth of the Bible.


The Nature of Religious Experience


Religious experiences are varied and can include feelings of divine presence, visions, dreams, and miraculous occurrences. These experiences are often characterized by a profound sense of awe, peace, or overwhelming emotion. For instance, Isaiah's vision in the temple (Isaiah 6:1-8) and Paul's encounter on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6) are examples of significant religious experiences recorded in Scripture. These experiences, however, are not the norm for every believer and should not be expected as regular occurrences.


Scriptural Basis for Understanding Religious Experiences


The Bible provides numerous accounts of individuals having direct encounters with Jehovah. These accounts serve specific purposes within the redemptive history and are not intended to be prescriptive for all believers. In Isaiah 6:1-8, Isaiah's vision of Jehovah on His throne was a unique experience that commissioned him as a prophet. Similarly, Paul's encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6) was a pivotal moment that transformed him from a persecutor of Christians to an apostle.


In both instances, the experiences were extraordinary and had clear divine purposes. They were accompanied by specific messages from Jehovah, and their authenticity was confirmed by their alignment with God's revealed Word. This aligns with 2 Peter 1:20-21, which emphasizes that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation but from men who spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.


The Role of the Holy Spirit


It is crucial to recognize the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding believers. According to 2 Timothy 3:16-17, all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. The Holy Spirit inspired the biblical writers, and through their writings, He continues to instruct and guide believers today.


John 16:13 is often misinterpreted to suggest that all believers are promised direct revelation from the Holy Spirit. However, this promise was specifically given to the apostles, who were guided into all truth to lay the foundation of the Christian faith. Today, the Holy Spirit's guidance is found through the study and application of Scripture, not through personal revelations or experiences.


Discernment and Testing of Spirits


The Bible warns against false prophets and deceitful spirits. In 1 John 4:1, believers are instructed to test the spirits to see whether they are from God. This testing involves comparing any experience or teaching against the truth of Scripture. If an experience contradicts the Bible, it cannot be from Jehovah. Deuteronomy 13:1-4 also warns against following prophets or dreamers who lead people away from Jehovah, even if their signs or wonders come true. The ultimate test is fidelity to God's Word.


Emotionalism vs. True Faith


Extreme emotionalism is not a marker of genuine Christian faith. While emotions can be a part of our spiritual experience, they are not the foundation of our faith. True faith is based on the knowledge of God's Word and trust in His promises. Romans 10:17 states that faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Our emotions can be deceptive, but God's Word is always reliable and true.


The apostle Peter emphasizes the reliability of the prophetic word over personal experiences. In 2 Peter 1:16-19, Peter recounts his experience of seeing Christ's transfiguration but asserts that the prophetic word is "more sure" than even that extraordinary event. Believers are encouraged to pay attention to the Scriptures as a lamp shining in a dark place.


Historical and Objective Evidence


The existence of God is also supported by historical and objective evidence found in creation, as described in Romans 1:20. The complexity and order of the universe testify to an intelligent Creator. Psalm 19:1 declares that the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. This general revelation is accessible to all and provides a basis for belief in God apart from subjective experiences.


Conclusion


Religious experiences can be significant and meaningful, but they must be evaluated against the objective truth of Scripture. Emotionalism and subjective feelings are not sufficient to prove God's existence or authenticate one's faith. True Christian faith is grounded in the knowledge of God's Word, the guidance of the Holy Spirit through Scripture, and the historical evidence of God's works in creation and redemption.


By adhering to the teachings of the Bible and maintaining discernment, believers can navigate their spiritual experiences with wisdom and faithfulness. The focus should always remain on Jehovah's revealed Word, which provides the sure foundation for understanding and experiencing God.


About the Author

EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 220+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).


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