02 October 2023

Are you experienced?

Every so often someone’ll ask me, “How do you know there’s a God?”

This isn’t a rhetorical question. They aren’t looking for Christian apologists’ various proofs for God’s existence, and would in fact be very annoyed if that’s what I gave them: “Well we know there’s a God because the universe works on cause-and-effect, and if we trace all the causes back to a first cause…” Yeah yeah, they’ve heardd the “unmoved mover” idea before. They don’t care about deducing God’s existence through reason.

And if that’s the only basis I have for believing in God, they’ll move on. They’re not looking for a logical argument. They’re looking for God Himself. Have I, me, K.W. Leslie, the guy who talks about God as if he’s met him personally, encountered God Himself?

Yep. Met him personally.

No, really.

No, really. Three decades ago I was attending a largely cessationist church. There were some Christians in that church who were exceptions, who believed God still does stuff; but there weren’t many, and they weren’t in leadership. I had heard God still does stuff through some of their testimonies, and sometimes missionaries would visit, preach, and share their God-experiences; and sometimes people would leave copies of Guideposts Magazine—which is pretty much all about God-experiences. So I knew some Christians had ’em. I just figured I didn’t; not really.

So I told God to either reveal himself, or I was giving up on Christianity. I didn’t give him a deadline; I just figured I’d gradually fade out of church attendance, much like my high school friends had. Maybe I’d try Buddhism or something. Meanwhile I’d pay attention, ’cause you never know; maybe he’d show up!

And he did. And no, that wasn’t the only time. He’s revealed himself in many different ways, many times since, on a frequent basis. No way I’m ever quitting now. I might, and have, quit an individual church if they go bad. But never Jesus.

Whereas the folks in that cessationist church weren’t entirely sure “met him personally” is even a valid option when we’re talking with people who have questions and doubts. Most have been taught the usual God-damned rubbish that God stopped personally intervening in the universe, stopped interacting with his kids once the bible was completed or science was invented; that the only way to encounter God anymore is through a near-death experience. Miracles have ceased, and any “miracles” you hear of today aren’t God-things; they’re Beelzebub-things.

And of course these folks insist they’ve never seen a miracle, and since they presume (sorta arrogantly) they’re the standard for what’s “normal” in our universe: If miracles never happened for them, they never happen for anyone.

So when I tell these unbelieving Christians I met God—and continue to meet God—they figure I have a screw loose. Because deep down that’s really what they believe about God: Believing in him is screwy. He’s a figment. He’s imaginary. He doesn’t interact with the real world, and isn’t remotely “real” in that sense. He’s a platonic ideal or an anthropomorphized abstract. He’s myth.

The very idea God’s substantively real… kinda scares them a little. ’Cause that’d mean they should take God a lot more seriously than they currently do. Right now the idea of an impossibly distant, remote, otherworldly, outside-our-universe and doesn’t-intervene God kinda works for them. They’re comfortable with the arrangement: God expects nothing more of us than that we intellectually accept his existence and Jesus’s kingship, and in exchange he’ll graciously let us into heaven. Done deal. Easy-peasy.

Only problem: That’s not who God is, nor all he expects of us. We know better. He wants us to take much, much bigger steps. But before we ever do that—before we get radical about our Christianity (and hopefully not in crazy legalistic ways), we wanna know our religion isn’t based on wishful thinking. We wanna know there’s a real live God behind it all.

There is. If you’re Christian, he lives inside you. You wanna see him? You wanna silence your doubts about his existence for good and all? Then you gotta put aside that imaginary-God manure and start treating him like he’s real. And you’re gonna discover that all this time, while you weren’t paying attention ’cause you were too busy playing church, God’s been here all along.

“Don’t seek God-experiences.”

About 20 centuries ago, some Pharisees came to Jesus wanting a miracle, and Jesus blew them off.

Mark 8.11-13 NET
11 Then the Pharisees came and began to argue with Jesus, asking for a sign from heaven to test him. 12 Sighing deeply in his spirit he said, “Why does this generation look for a sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 Then he left them, got back into the boat, and went to the other side.

Luke presents Jesus’s public response with a little more detail.

Luke 11.29-32 NET
29 As the crowds were increasing, Jesus began to say, “This generation is a wicked generation; it looks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be a sign to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon—and now, something greater than Solomon is here! 32 The people of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented when Jonah preached to them—and now, something greater than Jonah is here!”

See, the reason τῇ γενεᾷ ταύτῃ/ti geneá táfti, “this generation”—the young people of Jesus’s day—sought “a sign” had nothing to do with seeking God. They demanded signs from him, not because if they saw one they’d fall on their knees and follow him forever; they had full-on unbelief, and expected Jesus to fail. And if he didn’t fail, they’d just claim it was a magic trick; it’s Baal, or Satan, or demons.

Exactly the same as cessationists claim about present-day miracles. True of Jesus’s day; true of ours.

But our generation of unbelievers put this spin on Jesus’s teaching, in order to justify themselves and their doubts: “See? Jesus’s rebuke means we’re not supposed to seek miracles. At all. That’s a sign of unbelief and rebellion, just like the generation Jesus condemned for it. We’re only meant to believe. Trust God even though he never, ever comes through for you, shows you nothing, tells you nothing, and is as powerless as a block of wood.” Is 44.9-20

And people wonder why the ancient Hebrews used to stick with Baal. Obviously for many of the same reasons the naysayers reject miracles. They are getting something out of it: A religion they get to control, not God. One which’ll gain ’em power and authority and money. For however long that lasts.

The real God responds to his kids. When Gideon wanted evidence the LORD really had called him to rescue Israel, God patiently fulfilled his two tests. Jg 6.36-40 When Thomas wanted evidence Jesus really had risen from the dead, and wouldn’t believe till he saw proof, Jesus patiently appeared to him, and invited him to poke his healed-up wounds. Jn 20.24-29

Throughout the Exodus, the LORD God demonstrated no problem whatsoever with proving himself time and again through his mighty acts. Ex 7.5 “You’ll know I’m the LORD,” he declared multiple times, when acts of judgment took place, when prophecies were fulfilled, when blessings came down upon his people, when people saw God act.

But thanks to one wayward interpretation of one of Jesus’s teachings, unbelieving Christians order us not to seek any such thing. ’Cause in this new age of grace, God apparently gets angry when we ask to see him. Yeah, it’s stupid. But it’s everywhere.

The excuse of the false experience.

One of the various blogs I read is by a cessationist whom I’ll call Ayberk. Despite Ayberk’s claim of love for the scriptures, he simply refuses to believe ’em when they state the Spirit’s supernatural gifts are to be the normal practice of everyday Christians.

Thus far Ayberk has had no God-experiences. (Or refuses to acknowledge them, ’cause he’s sunk an awful lot of time into his position as an anti-supernaturalist, and hasn’t the humility to confess his error. But I’m gonna give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s had no God-experiences.) Same as those people who can’t believe I met God, he trusts his personal experiences more than he does the bible.

As a theological conservative he would never, ever admit to doing any such thing. But it’s precisely what he’s doing. According to his firm personal conviction, every bible passage in which God’s described as a living God, is null and void in the present day. Until Jesus returns, God has become exactly like those mute idols the gentiles used to worship. 1Co 12.2 He’s no longer a speaking God. His bible does all his speaking for him.

I bring up Ayberk because a decade ago, one of his continuationist friends challenged him to actually try to hear God: For once, could he just put his personal skepticism aside and just ask God to talk to him?

Here’s the story Ayberk likes to tell about that: He took him up on it. One night he asked God whether he had anything to say, and if so, just say it. And overnight, Ayberk had an unusually vivid dream: He dreamed his wife was cheating on him. He even got the man’s name.

So Ayberk hacked his wife’s Facebook account (as if a smart adulterer would communicate over Facebook, but whatever) and couldn’t find the man. He asked his wife point-blank whether she knew anybody by that name, and interpreted her blank response as a no. I’ll presume, as did Ayberk, she’s not lying. He concluded his wife is innocent—and how stupid it was of him to believe in prophetic dreams.

So that’s what he blogged: He never shoulda sought a personal, extra-biblical communication from God. ’Cause error is what happens when you dare go outside the cessationist bunker. You’re led astray by your own fertile imagination. You could go all sorts of wrong, dangerous directions because you think—without proof—God told you to do such-and-so.

Ayberk’s partly right. But mostly wrong.

Here’s what he got right. When he dreamed his wife was having an affair, he didn’t immediately believe, then act upon it. He checked it out! As we should. Confirmation, people! Too many wannabe prophets skip that step, ’cause they think their spiritual ears infallibly know the difference between God, devils, and their subconscious burping up middle-of-the-night fantasies. They don’t, which is why there are truckloads of false prophecies out there. It’s why St. John instructed us to test spirits. 1Jn 4.1 Ayberk correctly tested his dream, found it untrue, and correctly rejected it. Good on him!

Where he went wrong: We logicians call this “the fallacy of proof by example.” It’s like arguing,

A white man stole my wallet.
Therefore all white people are thieves.

For Ayberk, this’d look like,

My “prophetic dream” wasn’t prophecy at all.
Therefore every prophetic dream isn’t prophecy at all.

Again, presuming your experience is the norm and the baseline for all humanity, which is just pure narcissism. All he actually knows is his dream was fantasy. The conclusion is still unproven. Y’can’t jump to general conclusions from one instance. That’s called prejudice.

And hey: If a devil overheard Ayberk’s request for God to talk to him, and wanted to drive a permanent wedge between him and God, guaranteeing Ayberk would never, ever listen to God again, this was a really easy trick! All this devil had to do was play God this one time, insert a ridiculous idea into Ayberk’s subconscious so it’d show up in his dream, get caught (or not; the resulting chaos would’ve done the trick too), and here we are.

Ayberk’s worldview was already against this experiment to begin with. He’s spent years defending cessationism. So he’s probably relieved to find it easily confirmed. Back into the comfort zone for him, with an inert God who’s really easy to ignore. Easier to ignore, now that Ayberk has “proof” he shouldn’t bother to listen.

Remember, I had told God to either reveal himself or I was quitting. Functionally Ayberk quit God a long time ago. He doesn’t see it that way at all; he’s entirely sure a close personal relationship with his bible counts the same as one with God. (I should point out he can also close that book whenever he wishes.) He’ll put off any real relationship with God till the End. Presuming God even identifies him as one of his, Mt 7.23 which I hope he does.

I don’t think it’s wrong to find Ayberk’s whole situation alarming.

Why you want these God-experiences.

Humans learn best by personal experience. The only way in which book-learning is superior to personal experience, is when book-learning preemptively warns us away from awful things, and we heed its advice. We read, “Don’t; it’ll burn you!” and don’t have to learn by the experience of getting burnt, and don’t have to have that knowledge emphasized painfully with skin grafts. That’s why we wanna read Proverbs and gain wisdom… and for that matter read the rest of the bible.

But when it comes to obeying God’s will: We learn by doing.

Ayberk again. He’s learning a little by doing. He’s likely obeying the Ten Commandments, more or less. He snoops on his wife, which exposes some level of mistrust and moral failing, but I won’t analyze that too deeply; we all slip up now and again. He’s studying his bible, and applying everything he thinks can still apply to his life. Without revelation and miracles though, it leaves out an awful lot. And shortchanges the rest.

Fr’instance Ayberk still has a lot of nagging questions about the scriptures. Thus far he thinks his only recourse is fellow Christians, and he’s particularly fond of Christians who already think like him. But humanity only knows so much, so Ayberk still has loads of questions. He’d like to take ’em to the Holy Spirit… but he doesn’t really believe he’s allowed to do that if God stopped talking. So he’s saving up all his questions for Kingdom Come: When he dies, or once Jesus takes over the world, he figures here’s his chance to personally stand before Jesus and ask him every little thing he’s always wondered.

Since I believe revelation and prophecy and hearing God are available to every Christian, I’m saving up nothing. I already ask the Spirit all these questions. And he answers, y’know. I still have to confirm everything he tells me, but man would bible study take longer if he didn’t point me in all the right directions.

I have found, to my regular annoyance, many of the Spirit’s responses are, “What’s that to you? Follow me.” Jn 21.22 Unlike Ayberk, I don’t expect in my later face-to-face meetings with Jesus, he’ll answer every last one of my nagging questions. He didn’t in the bible, Jb 38-41 and doesn’t now. He wants me to follow him, not play backseat driver with his wisdom. So I say, “Yes sir,” submit, and move on. Ayberk, in comparison, isn’t moving on. He’s just stockpiling ten thousand disappointments.

See? That’s something that’ll only truly sink in when you learn it from your God-experiences. It’s why Ayberk’s never gonna learn it at this rate. Among other things.

That’s why you wanna get these experiences. Start asking God for ’em. He’ll answer.