“How do you know there’s a God?”

Every so often I’m asked, “How do you know there’s a God?”

No, they’re not asking, “How can we, as humanity, verify the existence of God?” They don’t wanna go over Christian apologists’ various proofs for God’s existence. Sometimes they’ve already heard a few; sometimes they even found them reasonable. But they also found them unconvicting. They couldn’t make the leap from, “I think there’s a God out there” to “So now I’m gonna become Christian.”

In fact if I started listing the proofs of God’s existence, it’d be the fastest way to annoy them. “Well y’see, I know there’s a God because the universe works on cause and effect. So if we trace all the causes back to a first cause…” Yeah, yeah, they didn’t ask for a philosophy lesson. Most folks have heard the “unmoved mover” idea before, and nontheists are pretty sure that unmoved mover is the Horrendous Space Kablooie. They don’t care about that.

What they wanna know is how I, me, K.W. Leslie, the guy who talks about God as if he’s a real guy, the guy who talks about God as if I’ve met him personally, know God exists.

Well that’s easy. I’ve met him personally.

No, really.

No, really.

The problem with lots of people is they don’t believe “met him personally” is a valid option in this present age. Christians included: Too many of us have been taught some form of cessationism, in which God stopped talking to prophets, in which Jesus no longer makes personal appearances, in which saints can’t appear to people ’cause they’re dead, in which angels don’t appear to people ’cause that’s bible-times activity and we’re no longer in bible times.

The only shot of any such encounters, they’re convinced, is a near-death experience. You’ll even hear this in Christian songs.

But I know I’ll never know
Until I pass away to the next life
I know I’ll never know
Where your soul roams tonight
Until I reach the afterlife
Sixpence None the Richer, “Soul”

In many cases, they haven’t actually been taught cessationism, but they assume God must’ve turned off the miracles because they personally have never encountered a miracle, and if it’s true for them, it must be true for all. If they never saw a miracle, there are no miracles.

So when I tell ’em I met God, and continue to meet God, they figure I have a screw loose. I’m having God-experiences? I must be mad. Only madmen have God-experiences. God doesn’t intervene in our universe. He stays out there, somewhere, in his.

Or deep down, what they really believe about God is he’s a figment. He’s imaginary. He exists only within the human mind, within imagination, and never emerges to muck around with the real world. He’s not even remotely “real” in that sense: He’s a platonic ideal or an anthropomorphized abstract. He’s mythological.

The very idea God’s totally real, in every substantive sense of the word “real”… kinda terrifies them. ’Cause if he is, it means they oughta take God a lot more seriously than they currently do. They’re far more comfortable with an impossibly distant, non-interventionist God, whom we can put off till we die. In the meanwhile, all we gotta do is believe in him, and he’ll let us into his heaven.

Only problem: This is not at all how Jesus describes his Father. He has an interactive relationship with his Father, powered by the Holy Spirit, and gave us his Spirit so we can have the very same relationship. His instructions about living in his kingdom, now, require the interactive relationship. The apostles’ instructions likewise. The scriptures aren’t written for cessationists; they don’t work when applied to a cessationist lifestyle. It’s why cessationists barely even have a Christian lifestyle, and have to replace Jesus’s living religion with cold hard determinism. Or legalism. Or politics.

It’s also why a lot of ’em give up on God, quit church, and don’t share the faith of their parents. There’s no living God in their lives, so why follow him?

But there is a living God, and if you wanna silence your doubts about his existence for good and all, you gotta get rid of this imaginary-God crap and start treating him like he’s real. And to your surprise, you’re gonna discover all this time—when you weren’t paying attention ’cause you were too busy playing church—God’s been here all along.

“But I tried that and it didn’t work.”

I grew up Christian. Baptized Catholic, but then Mom became Protestant, so I became Protestant too. We moved a lot, so we went to various churches, and while all of them thought of themselves as bible-believing, not many were miracle-believing. The church I attended in junior high and high school was most certainly not miracle-believing. Still isn’t.

In my early 20s I realized understanding God on a purely intellectual basis simply wasn’t enough. I knew of present-day miracle stories; I knew of bible-times miracle stories and knew there was no reason such stories couldn’t keep happening. I told God I wanted him to either reveal himself, and make his existence super obvious, or I was gonna quit Christianity. (For what, I had no idea. Certainly not atheism; probably some eclectic combination of things.)

Now, when people challenge God like this, some of ’em decide to preemptively quit Christianity, and wait at home till God gives them some vision and calls them back. I didn’t do this. I kept following. I presumed God would answer. Some folks have told me, “Well that’s what made all the difference; you still had faith.” Meh; I’ve heard nonchristians share their stories, and they insist they totally had faith, but God never showed. Contrarily Christians will say they had no faith, yet God showed up. So I’m not gonna naïvely insist faith is part of any necessary formula. There is no formula. Faith helps. Earnestness helps. Pure stubborn determination helps. But God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do.

In my case, God came through. I experienced what I later came to realize was a baptism of the Holy Spirit. I started to identify when he talked back during prayer time. He showed me stuff, then confirmed it. He showed me miracles. He revealed himself to me in many different ways, many times since. Any doubts I might have had in God’s existence, are absolutely gone.

How do I know there’s a God? Because I’ve met him personally.

How’d the apostles know there’s a God? Same answer.

1 John 1.1-4 NRSV
1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

Unlike today’s Christian apologists, the apostles didn’t give logical apologetic proofs for God’s existence. They totally could have; Aristotle of Athens had come up with the “unmoved mover” idea three centuries before. But they didn’t share that. They shared what they saw and heard.

Acts 4.19-20 NRSV
19 But Peter and John answered [the senators], “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; 20 for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
 
Acts 22.14-15 NRSV
14 “Then [Ananias] said, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear his own voice; 15 for you will be his witness to all the world of what you have seen and heard.”

That’s what people are looking for: Legitimate God-experiences. People who’ve had legitimate God-experiences. They aren’t looking for intellectual arguments or reasons to believe; those are easy to find, but they aren’t enough. If you figure they are enough for you, that’s awesome; even Jesus says so. Jn 20.29 But in the context in which Jesus said this, he was personally appearing to his skeptical student Thomas, who needed such an appearance before he was willing to believe. Jn 20.25 Y’notice Jesus didn’t tell Thomas, “Well, you doubt, so you get no such experience until you stop doubting.” He showed up. He’s gracious like that.

If he hasn’t yet showed up for you in a convincing way, it means one of two things:

  1. He totally did. But you weren’t convinced. You’re a particularly tough nut to crack.
  2. He hasn’t yet… and deep down you’re kinda happy he hasn’t, and have avoided looking for him where he might be found, whether you admit this to yourself or not. You don’t think you can handle that kind of God.

I’ve met plenty of Christians who are avoiding the real-world God harder than they’ve been avoiding coronavirus, and I’ll write about them another time. Meanwhile I wanna encourage you to seek God-experiences. You wanna know there’s a God? Seek him where he might be found. Get your doubts eliminated, wiped as clean as Thomas’s.