July 10, 2020

The Unresolved Tensions of Evangelicalism Part 2: God-Proving Christian Experience

I am continuing my series on the unresolved tensions of evangelicalism, I want to explore disillusionment with Christian experience.

2. The Disillusionment of Christian Experience

Evangelicalism makes confident claims about the religious experience of its true believers. It is not hard to conceive of disillusionment when those claims are judged to be untrue.

It’s a well known saying that a person with an experience has nothing to fear from a person with an argument. This is certainly true in the area of religious experience. Millions of evangelicals have been brought into and kept in evangelicalism by its claims of religious experience.

While various segments of evangelicalism promise various kinds of religious experience with various degrees of certainty and various attending methods, it’s still a fact that there is a common “offer” of experiences such as “the joy of the Lord,” “God speaking” and answered prayer.

Religious experience for evangelicals carries major weight because it is the guarantee that God will show you that the evangelical message is true. It is important to evangelicals that the Catholic claim to miracles be countered with many examples of answered prayers, supernatural provisions and miraculous interventions.

Evangelicals also value personal testimony, and personal testimonies are reports of personal religious experience. Without dramatic stories of supernatural events and proofs of God’s power, evangelicalism sounds hollow. From Baptists saying they’ve been born again to Charismatics claiming to hear and see angels, evangelicals produce high-octane religious experience non-stop.

Is anyone surprised that any assessment of the demise of evangelicalism would blame a failure of religious experience to sustain belief in the God of evangelicalism?

And is anyone surprised that evangelicals are quite adept at explaining failures of religious experience and at providing religious experience through the use of technology and talent?

Evangelicalism has predictable stock responses to the failure of religious experience: human beings are sinful, God is sovereign, we live by faith, the Holy Spirit works differently with different persons, the experience of exemplary Christians shows many examples of a dearth of certain religious experiences.

At the same time evangelicalism promises the guarantee of religious experiences it also has a strong critique of those experiences and a ready explanation for a lack of religious experience.

I believe that evangelicals are well aware that the subject of religious experience is one that can expose a world of contradiction, confusion and disappointment. If there is one commonality among the “testimonies” of former Christians, it is the loss of confidence in their own religious experience as certain and foundational. The abuse of religious experience among some extreme charismatics obviously leaves the door open for disillusionment and bitterness at manipulation.

Accepting religious experiences as evangelicals tend to do requires a very generous and affirming attitude in the absence of proof. Those telling the report must be trusted. Pastors and teachers are trusted. Christian celebrities and leaders are trusted. Publishers, authors and Christians on the internet are trusted.

And you must trust yourself as you report your own religious experience. Trusting all of these people is easy for some Christians, and very difficult, even impossible, for others. Once a person approaches religious experience with a critical, skeptical attitude, the way they hear and interpret experiences will change. Of course, there will be “concern” that a person no longers believes in what they previously accepted as trustworthy. There will be arguments and answers. But in many cases, evidence won’t “convert” the doubter or the questioner. They will conclude that what they see and hear has better explanations elsewhere.

For example, what happens when a person doubts whether God actually answers prayer in the way they were taught? What if a person begins to doubt the truthfulness of many of the testimonies they hear? (I’ve heard so many outright lies and scandalous exaggerations in testimonies I can barely stay in the room.) What happens when a person begins to doubt the confidence people have that God is speaking to them? Or that the healings claimed are true?

What happens when the promises of leaders that God-proving religious experiences will absolutely follow certain events, music, meetings, speakers and responses are doubted or rejected?

What happens when when a suffering Christian does not experience promised miraculous interventions, but further suffering?

While some readers may have an arsenal of answers for these questions, the fact is that evangelicals have “loaded the gun” of the disillusioned and handed the weapon to him/her.

I believe millions of evangelicals have left over these issues and millions more will move either entirely out of Christianity or away from evangelicals to forms of religion that do not make the extravagant promises of religious experience.

Next: The Disillusionment of Christian Community.

Comments

  1. I hope you are going to offer some suggestions at the end of these critiques because you are bringing it hard!

    As someone who has experienced something friends, doctors, nurses and others called miraculous I should have the utmost confidence. After all, that’s where the evidence points. Still, as I hear the lies of evangelical testimonies and see the frenzy created over testimonies or the expectations created in others because someone experienced God in a particular way…I get doubts.

    But even though their are radical extremes and abuses and lies, I believe I have experienced God. I don’t think that’s a particularly evangelical claim. Many of Anglicans, Catholics, Lutherans, Orthodox, etc. would also claim to have experienced God. I would expect that the vast majority of Christians worldwide would claim to have experienced God in some way. The critique then is not against the general religious experience in itself, but against the extremities, lies and expectations created by the evangelical church, right?

  2. Oh, I do have a terrible story though. I was serving as a chaplain in the neurology ward near my college. I talked to one of the old chaplains one day who told me that there was someone who died back in the 70s after having been promised that a famous faith healer of the time would come and heal them.

    The family refused to give the body to the morgue for four days as they waited for the faith healer to finally come (and a very high expense to the grieving family). Upon arrival the faith healer went into the room and didn’t even pray with the family. She simply looked at the corpse and family and said that faith could have prevented the tragedy. Then she left.

    I have plenty of charismatic friends who do not believe these extremes and claim to have seen and experienced the miraculous…but its stories like this one that just plain make me angry…both because they show ministers treating people like crap, but also because they show the false god at the heart of some parts of evangelicalism.

  3. The New Testament is packed full of stories of religious experience. Is it any wonder that many modern communities, who claim their church to be like the NT church, expect to see signs and wonders? If it is “my bible” then shouldn’t there be “my miracles?” With faith we are asked to see the world with spiritual overtones. Of course when we are pushed (especially at times of brokenness) we will see things that are not really there. Discernment is not something that is easily taught or learned.

    Unfortunately, churches that do not emphasize personal religious experience and signs and wonders are simply called “dead.” A faith characterized by quiet patience and long-suffering just doesn’t fill the pews or sell many books.

  4. urban otter says

    Along with two other key factors, the evangelical emphasis on a religious experience destroyed my faith in Christianity.

    I had been hearing Southern Baptist testimonials from birth. Since God wasn’t giving me the spiritual experiences and consolations he appeared to be giving everyone else, as a teenager I concluded that God must hate me. Why else was he withholding such beautiful life-changing experiences from me?

    The Calvinist contingent in my church only made it worse by emphasizing that I would “know” deep in my heart if I was saved. Since I didn’t feel like I *knew* I was one of the elect, I secretly thought I was probably one of the damned. And there was nothing I could do about it! God had already decided!

    If either the Calvinists’ or the Arminians’ take on the Gospel was true, I appeared to be damned. What sort of Good News was this?

    Things were very black for a long time.

    An Orthodox priest once told me that he thought speaking of one’s personal religious experiences was as unseemly as describing one’s activities in the marital bed. Such experiences are intimate and *personal*, not universal, and as such should never be described. I am not sure I would go that far with it, but he has a point: hearing of someone’s spiritual experience of God can lead to anxiety, jealousy, and despair.

    I am not surprised that others have had some of the same problems I have. The emphasis on experience and rock-solid assurance leads certain spiritual types to despair. A faith that relies on feelings and experience is on shaky ground in a soul who is naturally given to questioning.

    I don’t know how we can solve all the issues Mr. Monk mentioned. But I’d start with teaching children the objective tenets of Christianity — the doctrines that are universally true and remain that way despite personal experience. I would teach them about the beneficial role of Christian suffering. I would not encourage personal testimony of spiritual experience at church, and only encourage it in a small setting among people who know each other well. That would hopefully keep people from exaggerating or outright lying.

  5. No doubt there truly are abuses of our experiences, or at least the verbal record of those experiences if they never actually happened. There are outright fabrications, and then there are stretches of what really happened. I think many who stretch do so from a noble heart, yet it is also mingled with legalism. What I mean is that, from my perspective at times, I have seen some people testify of certain healings almost believing that if they don’t testify, then God will be mad at them for their own lack of faith as they wonder if it was really a healing from God or just something they wished had happened. So, compelled by condemnation, they testify of what they aren’t really sure about, but feel the need to say it to show God’s goodness and testify of His work in the person’s life. It leaves the person distressed. This is a ploy of the enemy.

    Yet, we cannot deny that we are called into an experience with our God. What a sad day if our ‘knowledge’ of God is simply kept to the realm of black ink on white paper rather than actual experience. I also don’t want to put all my eggs in the basket of experience. Rather, it seems we are to hold a healthy tension between the two.

  6. Michael, another brilliant essay. It would be instructive to have a few more illustrations to clarify your points.

    I want to take up the Urban Otter’s point on miracles and the like. I firmly believe they are for personal revelation only. They are not to be used as an evangelistic tool, or a “proof”.

    Miracles, signs, visions are “Debited” from your account here on earth: The more you see and experience, the more you are responsible for, ultimately.

    We are unique, God treats all of us differently, some of us need to be knocked in the head repeatedly (to our detriment), others just a have quiet, deep faith without fanfare. The quiet ones are by far the most blessed. I think!

  7. I agree with you that this is a huge tension. My young Christian experience was one long drawn out illustration of the anguish that can be created by the way religious experience is understood in many Evangelical circles.

    I got through it by reading Frederich Buechner and other authors whose orthodoxy was supsect and whose books I always had the instinct to hide. But several of my good friends didn’t.

    Nonetheless I think the real problem behind this tension is not a reliance upon experience per se, but the use of experience as ‘evidence’ in the quest for certainty.

    I believe our faith should be grounded in experience – experience of the people of God as a transformed and transforming community, experience of time reshaped by liturgy, experience of being saved from death by the death and resurrection of our elder brother, and, yes, experience of the Holy Spirit as an indwelling reality.

    But the problem in many Evangelical circles is that these experiences are chiefly used for their apologetic value. They are ‘evidence’ in defense of a claims ranging from “God is real” to “God really loves me” to “there must really be Angels.”

    That is where we really go wrong.

    The experience of God in Christ and in his Church is not evidence to be used in defense of a claim but the foundation for deeply rooted covenant relationships, relationships between God and his people, among the people themselves, and between his people and the world.

  8. Urban Otter – that’s heartbreaking. I’m so sorry.

    Ranger – well said. I do have a concern, however – what you described sounds more like a problem with the abuses of pentacostalism, not evangelicalism. I know, I’m splitting hairs (but the Benny Hinn pic on this post also made me think the same thing).

    Usually us SBCers are criticised for not believing enough in personal miraculous experiences. 🙂

    The Lord is real. He just never promised that life would give us tingles at all time. I wish people read the Bible more thoroughly, to see the kinds of trouble and heartache so many of God’s followers went through, along with times of silence and discouragement.

  9. When I started preaching, “praise and testimony” was part of the faith culture. It had to go. What may have originated in innocence had turned into the “Me and My God Show”. The cue was when my wife, new to this scene, said,”God doesn’t talk to me all the time like that, What’s wrong with me?”

  10. Accepting religious experiences as evangelicals tend to do requires a very generous and affirming attitude in the absence of proof. Those telling the report must be trusted. Pastors and teachers are trusted. Christian celebrities and leaders are trusted. Publishers, authors and Christians on the internet are trusted.

    And you must trust yourself as you report your own religious experience. Trusting all of these people is easy for some Christians, and very difficult, even impossible, for others.

    What is interesting about this is that this “trust” co-exists with the distrust we are taught to have towards everything and everyone who disagrees with some commonly held concepts in evangelicalism. We are even taught to distrust our own motivations and thoughts.

    So how does one simultaneously trust one’s own experiences, and distrust one’s own experiences?

    We rely on our own discernment to inform us about God while in the same breath being taught that we can’t trust ourselves.

    It creates a conflict….another unresolved tension.

  11. In my youth our neighbor the butcher had crippling arthritis to the point of constant pain and using crutches. He went to a tent revival with a big name guy, which was a real stretch as he was Catholic. He came home jumping and hopping! Lasted 3 days then the adrenalin or stage hypnosis wore off and he fell down the steps.
    The miracle is that somehow this guys son came to love the Lord anyway and serves Him well.
    The whole neighborhood witnessed the spectacle thanks Oral.

  12. My, my, your recent posts have opened the floodgates for certain, and the deluge is overwhelming. I remember one of my first classes in seminary (Duke) when the late Tom Langford told us that the key issue in theology and church life for the next 50 years at least would be authority.

    Who has the authority to define Christian experience, what Christians should believe, how to interpret the Bible, what is real and what isn’t, etc. I could add more, but you will get to that in future posts.

    I used to keep a sign in my office–something that many have–which read: “Always remember two things: There is a God, and you are not God.” Maybe we all need to get back to Isaiah 55:8-9 and realize that we don’t know a heck of a lot about God after all and are blessed whenever, however, and wherever God works in our lives. As others have said too, perhaps we need to be somewhat discreet in sharing our experiences and defintitely not claim too much when we do because we simply don’t know all or why God worked as God did.

    Thanks for exploring these crucial and critical issues for us and for all who respond.

  13. “Experience, in the peculiar sense we teach them to give it, is, by the bye, a most useful word. A great human philosopher nearly let our secret out when he said that where Virtue is concerned ‘Experience is the mother of illusion’; but thanks to a change in Fashion, and also, of course, to the Historical Point of View, we have largely rendered his book innocuous.”

  14. There are a number of Christian experience claims I’ve heard my evangelical friends make over the years that just don’t ring true anymore –

    #1) God speaking – “God spoke to me or God told me to go to this college. God told me to work at this job. God told me to marry this person.” – I believe that God can do this, but I don’t believe He does as much as Christians claim He has. We have a set of written principles we are to use to make decisions – and thus decide to go to school here or work there. Isn’t it theologically dangerous for a Christian to claim that his life is all just doing what God told him to do, when his lost neighbor has made all the same decisions without this claim?

    #2) Healing – Of course, you’ve got the extreme sham of faith healers, a bunch of exploitative swindlers and charlatans. But most Christians will pray for their sick/or surgery headed friends & family. “Please guide the hands of the doctor, oh Lord.” And then when the patient recovers from surgery, or you get over your head cold – that was God personally intervening in your life. Again, how does this look to a nonChristian who gets over colds all by himself just fine, or whose father was saved by the skill of the surgeon. It wasn’t a “religious experience” for him, but it always is for us.

    #3) Promising that becoming a Christian will fix everything – “If you ask Jesus into your life, you’ll have warm and fuzzy feelings for the rest of your life. Jesus will make everything better – you’ll have a good job, a better family, successful finances, and emotional highs.” This is one of the worst promised “Christian experiences.”

    #4) The Worship Service – emotionally manipulative, touchy feely praise songs where the worship leader works him or herself into an emotional high by crying into the microphone “yes, Lord God, yes!” louder after each new romantic breathless love song is played – with lyrics like “Hold me close, let your love surround me. Bring me near, draw me to your side.” … “You’re altogether lovely, altogether wonderful to me.” … etc., are repeated over and over AND OVER with more intensity. The congregation waves back and forth, and moans in the throes of ecstasy – (yes! oh yes!) – the whole thing so contrived a bunch of atheists (if they were girly) could do it all in about 30 minutes. If this is Christian experience, I’m running sick to my stomach out the back door.

  15. “Nothing” – Mother Theresa.
    “Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe.”

    Such wonderful comments by people of faith. For all this discussion of faith, I am learning how little I understand just what faith is to me. Walking through shadows with hope. Most people with certainty of spiritual matters (what God is going to do or did do) scare me. Faith is a gift, certainty is not.

  16. When I felt secure, I said,
    “I will never be shaken.”

    O LORD, when you favored me,
    you made my mountain stand firm;
    but when you hid your face,
    I was dismayed.

    To you, O LORD, I called;
    to the Lord I cried for mercy:

    Ps 30:6-8

  17. Whoa.
    How sad when Life in Christ becomes “A Philosophy.”

    As for me…

  18. Scott Miller says

    Religious experiences inadvertently leads to a perceived vacuum when the experience isn’t seen or felt. And people run around upset because they aren’t “in the will of the Lord” or “don’t have enough faith”. It is simply another symptom of a self-focused Church who doesn’t understand history and who doesn’t read the Bible as a letter from God, instead reading it as a personal magic book given by God, their Santa Claus.

  19. I wouldn’t say it was so much “disillusionment with the Christian experience” as it is, “disillusionment with the AMERICAN Christian experience.”

    The Jesus of the Middle-East is a much different variant. The Christ of the Rest-of-the-World is a very different flavor.

  20. IM: I resonate with so much of what you are saying in this disillusionment series. I was raised and educated not only evangelical (that was actually a bad word to us), but fundamentalist (independent Baptist). I think I would now fit more into the post-evangelical category I have seen in your posts. I am in church, in fact I am an ordained minister serving in a United Methodist church. I have a question: are you simplying describing a disillusionment with the promise or predictability of Christian experience, or are you questioning the reality of Christian experience?

  21. One of the more life-changing points in my life was when I realized that Hebrews 11, the faith chapter, spoke of people dying horrible deaths “in faith.” While some shut the mouths of lions, others were sawn in two. As a missionary in Peru, I met people who lived faithful lives in horrible conditions.

    I would not care to go to the extreme of having my faith have no relationship with my feelings. One of the reasons for pietism was what has come to be nicknamed “dead dry orthodoxy.” To become purely intellectual, sitting to listen to lectures in a deliberately under-decorated building is definitely the other extreme from your experience description.

    There is a difference between faith and feelings, but I would not care to do away with either of the two. I would argue that “feelings” can have an appropriate place in both worship and the Christian life. As long as we do not forget the word “appropriate.”

  22. I’m just opinionating from my own observations and experiences.

  23. Commenters:

    If you think you are going to make me feel guilty about moderating a forum that I own and that is arguably the most successful discussion forum on any personal blog of its type, go right ahead.

    The entire Christian blogosphere is a free for all, and certain personalities want to bring the chaos with them whereever they go. Not here. This isn’t your free speech zone. It’s my free speech zone. And I have actively moderated for 7 years. I didn’t start with you.

    My blog isn’t about how you feel about me. If you can leave me out of it and talk with other adults without resorting to conversational drama, you’re welcome to post.

  24. iMonk,
    Regardless of how you said it, what you said is true – at least in the church in the West.

    But when you read “Heavenly Man” or “Lilies amongst Thorns” you may not find the word evangelical at all. What you will find is what is written about in Mark 15:17 – miraculous signs and wonders following the preaching of the gospel.

    I’ve personally witnessed and experienced “signs and wonders” myself but it’s been rare. The most wonderful “sign” I’ve witnessed has been regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Now that’s miraculous.

    I like what I’m reading here. It’s good stuff.

  25. I’ve been reading this blog for about a month now and have been enjoying it immensely.

    The “experience” thing is something that I have struggled with immensely, as I often don’t have the “correct” emotional or psychological reactions. I’ve spent a lot of time considering this particular issue and wonder if the evangelical community hasn’t engaged in some syncretism with existential philosophy. The idea of a “personal” experience which provides meaning for life seems to be part and parcel of a broader struggle for meaning over the past century or so. Even much of our extra-biblical language reflects Existential thought: “Personal lord and savior” is a great example. Perhaps this started as a means of communicating the faith with individuals caught in the spirit of an existential era, but it seems like many Christians have unwittingly adopted these thought patterns as normative.

    BTW, Mr. Spencer, thank you for some of the literature you provided me as a college student when I had serious questions about the faith, even if you don’t remember. Even small influences are significant. Not all of us leave Christianity or turn of our critical thinking capacities. THANK YOU!

  26. Well thought out, iMonk, and good comments from J.P.

    Honesty is a real problem, and although I did experience good favor and callings from our Lord early on, the favors didn’t last and I resorted to LYING about how the Lord got me through bad times when I was still embittered.

    I know the world is an awful place for the weak and timid but what about the church congregation or even God?

    Who do you talk to when the thing you BEGGED God for didn’t come to pass? What are you supposed to say, not yet? Or just keep blaming yourself for being a sinful bum?

  27. I enjoy intellectual pursuits. I also enjoy playing my guitar and worshipping the Lord until I am overcome with emotion. Both are genuine parts of my experiences with God. I want to love the Lord my God with all my heart (emotions), mind (intellect),soul(spirit) and strength (physical). I want to experience God in every way that I can. I will continue to seek to know God. Those who claim to have experienced God in ways I have not, I say “more to them.” If someone prays and receives a healing when I have not, I say “God has blessed them.” I am living, learning, growing and running the race. For those whose relationship and experiences with God are deeper than mine, I say,”Can I hang out with you for a little while?” If someone is found to be untruthful in their testimony regarding their experiences with God, I say, “What a shame; you have dragged God’s name through the mud.” It will not however change my desire to search to know God in every way possible.

  28. Christopher Lake says

    This kind of experience-centered thinking is *everywhere* within Christendom, and as the comments show, it does real damage to real people. I am a member of a non-denominational, Reformed-leaning church, led by a plurality of elders– not exactly the place in which I would expect to find reckless claims of “Christian experience.”

    Well, a few weeks ago, after the Sunday morning service, a man approached me, without knowing much of anything about me personally (even about whether I professed to be a Christian or not), and he said, “God told me to tell you that you are going to get up out of that wheelchair and walk.” (I have a milder form of Cerebral Palsy.)

    I asked him if he meant that I would walk in *this* life– because I *know* that I will walk on the New Earth! He replied specifically that God told him that I would walk in *this* life. I asked how he knew this for certain, and he replied again that God had told him.

    I told the man that earlier in my life, I had sincerely prayed to be healed, and at this point (at the age of 35), I had concluded that God wants to glorify Himself *through* my disability, not by necessarily healing me of it in this life (although I did qualify by saying that obviously, God can still do whatever He chooses!). He responded, “Well, the Bible says that it will be done according to your *faith.*” I asked if he was trying to tell me that I haven’t had enough faith, or the right *kind* of faith, for God to heal me. He quickly replied, “No, no, I’m not saying *that*– I’m just telling you what Scripture says.”

    I then asked him if he was claiming to be a prophet with his prediction, and he answered, “Yes, I am a prophet.” Maybe I was too harsh with my response; I’m not sure. I asked him if he was prepared for God to strike him dead if his “prophecy” were proven wrong, and thus, he was proven to be a false prophet! He was taken aback, to say the least!

    As for whether he should have talked to me about the Gospel first, before giving me his “prophecy” (given that he knew nothing about my spiritual condition before God), he simply replied, “It depends on what God tells me to do.”

    My point, with all of this, is to say that wild claims of “God experience” do at least three things that are extremely harmful. First, they de-emphasize the Gospel. Second, for the person on the receiving end of the claims, they render further conversation either impossible or almost inherently frustrating. Third, they have a tendency to leave many Christians thinking and feeling that there are different “rankings” or “tiers” of being a Christian, and that some believers have an “inside line to God” that others simply do not have– no matter how much they long for it.

    I may not actually be speaking directly to anyone at this website, but if I am, Christian brother or sister, *please* be careful with claims of what God has “told” you! If you don’t even know whether someone professes to be a Christian or not, ask that person questions, and depending upon the answers, please give him/her what he/she most needs, Biblically speaking– the Gospel!!!– before you say that God has told you something something that is not even in the Bible! What could be more important to share with someone than the Biblical Gospel?…. unless one lives one’s Christian life based largely on claims of “experience.”

  29. Christopher Lake says

    Sorry for the long post– as a man with a physical disability, this question of subjective claims of “Christian experience” hits very close to home.

  30. Are you sure all the false claims will really turn enough people away to close it down? Our largest denomination has for centuries promised miracles of healing, selling, finding, etc. There have been promises of victory at war and even provocations to war. They have been so judgmental as to actually tell people that they will definitely go to hell, on their say so no less.
    Maybe this behavior is just what Christians do when you get them in a big group. Honestly, you have to see the historical precedent.
    Those who seek to be so different end up as bad as, if not worse than, what they rebel from.

  31. Close it down? Oh no…I doubt that. They will cycle through fresh idealists and produce a regular crop of drop outs, but they won’t totally shut down. But at some point, culture is going to shift and these kinds of claims are going to get less traction.

  32. Question from a Catholic.

    Do evangelicals have people whose experience that they can trust who are similar to John of the Cross (with the Dark night of the Soul) or Mother Theresa of Calcutta, who spent a large portion of her life feeling cut off from God, yet continued to serve the poorest with all her strength, mind and body?

  33. Certainly. Both Catholic and Protestant. But the mystical tradition is under suspicion with a lot of evangelicals, who want to emphasize the sufficiency of scripture over anyone’s experience.

  34. Christopher Lake says

    Anna,

    As a Reformed Protestant, when it comes to feeling “cut off” from God, I might seek comfort in some of the more “lamenting” psalms (of which there are quite a few!). A good example would be Psalm 88, which, in the ESV translation, ends with “You (God) have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.” These are the parts of the Bible that seem to scare or unsettle many evangelicals, but they comfort me, because they show me that even men after God’s own heart, such as David, experienced very dark feelings.

    Finally though, the ultimate example to whom I look, and in whom I find solace, when I feel “cut off” from God is Jesus Himself, God the Son, on whom the Father poured out His just wrath for sinners (Isaiah 53). No one– not I nor anyone else– has ever experienced such agony (physically, but even more, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally), as Jesus experienced on the cross when He endured the Father’s wrath for sinners.

    Because of Jesus, I don’t *have* to feel cut off from God, because due to Jesus’s sacrifice, I never actually *am* cut off from God. When I *feel* cut off from God though, I can look to Jesus and know that He must have felt similarly to me (and even infinitely more so).

  35. Christopher Lake, thanks for sharing your experiences with the “prophet.” Every so often I encounter someone who has a “word from the Lord” for me. Your responses and your cautions to those who feel like they have something God told them to tell others are excellent.

  36. I can resonate with this post (as with most here). I’ll share a recent story. A woman in my town recently had a late miscarriage. Some of the woman in her church were distressed by this and started to pray and ask God what they ought to do about this. They all independently concluded that God wanted to raise the baby from the dead before she had a d&c (so much for the counsel of the saints). One of these woman actually told us that she knew that God was going to do this. She was convinced. Well, it didn’t happen. I don’t know if the poor mother knew about their “faith”; I hope not. The problem I see is that this throws all experience into question. These woman took a huge leap of “faith” to have the nerve to make this claim. Most people wuss out and only claim that God tells them to do unverifiable things. If taking steps of “faith” leads one to being a false prophet then similar but unverifiable claims are also very suspect.

    Honestly, I feel afraid to verbally challenge people’s experiences. I’m afraid of their inevitable defensiveness. Usually I simply scoff in silence and grow bitter. I need to find a better way to deal with this.

    Another part of me does believe that God gives people real experiences. I’ve read biographies of enough Christian missionaries to know that God miraculously and dramatically answers prayers. Sometimes babies are legitimately raised from the dead. I just find it next to impossible to not scoff at people’s claims. They’ve grown so old.

  37. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Upon arrival the faith healer went into the room and didn’t even pray with the family. She simply looked at the corpse and family and said that faith could have prevented the tragedy. Then she left. — Ranger

    Ever notice that if the subject is healed, it’s credited to the faith healer, but if the subject isn’t healed, the subject is to blame? Nice racket. Win-win for the faith healer, lose-lose for the shmuck who needs the healing.

    So how does one simultaneously trust one’s own experiences, and distrust one’s own experiences? — Terri

    doublethink, comrade. doublethink.

    But the mystical tradition is under suspicion with a lot of evangelicals, who want to emphasize the sufficiency of scripture over anyone’s experience. — IMonk

    AKA “Christ as Party Line/Christ as Sound Bite”. Just memorize and recite and BE-LEEVE and never ever ever doubt. How does that differ from the branch of Islam that spawned al-Qaeda? Or the Khmer Rouge?

    And by denying Christian mysticism, they just drive out any among them who have a mystical nature. Into Hindu mysticism, Buddhist mysticism, and occult mysticism.

    IMonk, in my experience “God-Proving Christian Experiences” are too often used for one-upmanship and putdowns. Like speaking in tongues, it all too often splits Christians into haves and have-nots.

    Plus, it can indicate a weak faith to begin with. One so weak it needs constant PROOF! from miracles and/or visions and/or whatever. Teeth turning into gold, gold dust and angel feathers falling from Heaven, wild Visions, even getting ridden by some Loa… (We Catholics have our own spin on this: Marian Visions, the favorite Catholic way to flake out. Makes me with St Mary would actually appear to some of these wannabe visionaries and slap some sense into them.)

    One non-believer friend put it this way: “A lot of Christians are looking for this Absolute Proof they can rub in everybody else’s face — “SEE! I’M RIGHT! SEE! SEE! SEE!” (This also ties into the whole End Time Prophecy trip; what better Absolute Proof That I Was Right than God ending the world exactly on my chosen choreography? “Don’t be Left Behind!” “Have fun in Hell! HAW! HAW!”)

    Which is why God won’t give them their Absolute Proof. Miracles do not come so cheap.

  38. I really try to avoid writing long posts because I know for every word I add, I loose ten readers. I just lost 190. But I really feel I should share a perspective that I have not seen in the comments so far. I do think Spencer raises another issue, which is another cornerstone to the Evangelical dilemma. To be concise, I will post in bullets.

    My definition of a miracle is something that is outside the laws of physics, human physiology and far beyond mathmatical probability.

    God certainly did do real miracles in human history.

    God certainly can do miracles now . . . if He chooses.

    Does God do miracles now? I honestly don’t know. After being a Christian for 35 years, I’ve never seen a real one. It doesn’t matter to me if I never see one before I die. It doesn’t change my relationship with God.

    I’ve heard thousands of testimonials about miracles from Christians.

    When I was an Evangelical, I frequently gave testimonials about miracles. When I gave testimonials about miracles, I was lying.

    I lied about miracles because it made me look spiritual in the eyes of my Christian friends and helped me to achieve rank in The Navigators, as church elder and Bible Study leader.

    I am highly suspicious that others who were and are now giving testimonials are lying too. I know at least some are. I work in medicine and I’ve taken care of the sick people whom they stand up and share about in Church. They deeply embellish the story to make it look like a miracle when I was there and I knew that it was well within the paradigm of human physiology.

    Lying, even lying for Jesus is sin and needs repentance. Lying will also set up others for failure, doubt and disbelief when they realize they were being lied to (read Philip Yancey’s “Disappointment with God”).

    The Church’s, on again-off again, love affair with Gnostic (or Platonic) Dualism is most responsible for the unhealthy focus on miracles and that is a sad commentary. Why? When you believe that this physical world, the laws of physics, the laws of human physiology and psychology are inferior (or even evil) when compared to the “spiritual” or supernatural, then you believe that only when something happens outside those laws . . .it is good (or at least better). So it is better to be “moved by the spirit” during a chruch service, than to feel really emotional. Emotions bad . . . spirit good. (eyes roll here)

    When you realize that God is the author of the laws of this wonderful universe, the laws of physics, the laws of human physiology . . . then you can see grandma get better from cancer and really, really praise God. You can praise Him for how he has made the human body, the gifts of smart scientists and medical practitioners, the “miracles” (not real miracles per my above definition) of chemistry etc. You don’t have to make up a story how grandma was healed completely by God (outside the laws of nature or medicine) and you don’t have to embellish the story by saying how amazed the doctors were etc. such as “The doctors had never seen anything like that and said it must be a miracle.”

    Lastly, stretching legs, dowsing, bending spoons, falling over backwards, speaking gibberish, feeling a strange feelings, running into Barb at the bakery, seeing the shape of a cross in a cloud or flames of a bonfire are NOT miracles. It is insulting to say that the creator the universe is reduced to doing card tricks, (somewhat like a George Burns) as proof that He is there.

    Real miracles are when God raised a decaying corpse from the dead, an uneducated Palestinian Jew speaking a strange Macedonian dialect of Greek . . . instantaneously, walking on water . . . and you know the rest.

  39. Bob Sacamento says

    OK, I kind of razzed you on part one, but you get no argument from me here. I’ve been waiting for thirty years to cash in on the promise of “abundant life.” I gave up asking, “What am I not doing?” a decade ago. The only answers evangelicals had for me were, “Is there any unconfessed sin in your life?” and, “Well, God’s timing isn’t always our timing.”

    We promise each other and ourselves “abundant life”. And yet we know plenty of good evangelicals who don’t ever get it. And then we go through all kinds of gymnastics to explain the problem away.

  40. AnonForaPurpose says

    J. Michael Jones and others raise interesting points regarding divine healing, and many are valid. I too have been appalled at the sensation seekers congregated in the limelight of television and large meetings. Still, I would like to offer a defense that God does indeed offer miraculous healing today in accordance to his will. Rather than offer a Scriptural argument I will use my personal experience.

    My church is of a holiness denomination, very small-town and conservative. This is my background and also my orientation toward Scripture, and since I have no theological training I would say that my my understanding of biblical matters amounts to simple understanding and Faith. There is considerable suspicion toward all things charismatic and pentecostal here, but my brethren do indeed believe that God can heal and will testify to that. Speaking in tongues, while not technically forbidden, is not evidenced or practiced here by my brethren or myself.

    I and other brothers have seen that when I pray over sick people that they get well in most cases, and usually in a timing and manner that indicates the miraculous work of Jesus Christ. I have nothing to do with the healing other than love and empathy expressed through intercessory prayer. I did not ask for this Gift — and that is what I believe this is, a Gift of the Holy Spirt for the edification of His body — but rather had it gradually become apparent that God wanted me to pray for people. I have no understanding why me, and I will testify that I am absolutely unworthy in my own eyes. I have come to accept this as a job or a duty, and I leave the why of it to God.

    My dilemma, and believe me I have prayed constantly about it, is that I do not want anyone to associate me as an individual with the healing they receive from God. I simply pray and can effect no cure by myself, but I have observed it to be human nature to express gratitude to the healer first and to the Healer second, and that is simply incorrect. To that end I have counseled with our pastor and others within the church and we are in agreement that there will be no services in which there is public healing before the congregation and that my name will not be used as that of a healer. Those who understand the matter are free to say an ill person “why don’t you ask (my name) to come over and pray with you” since it is common for us to gather in prayer for illness.

    I leave it with God in this manner: if He directs someone here for prayer then I will, but they must come to me personally or be referred by the pastor. I recently made an exception to that after some prayerful struggle when someone whose family member had been miraculously cured came with a minor ailment. My strong impression was that they wanted to “see it work” for themselves, and so I reluctantly refused because their motive was not pure. Going to God and making a sincere request for forgiveness and healing is not a matter of curiosity.

    I have no medical training and make no effort at a diagnosis of disease, though I ask about symptoms so that I can pray for specific healing. To date most of those who have come to me have suffered from severe and intractable pain. Migraines, back injuries, and infections among others. One case of an infant recently diagnosed with a genetic disorder. Mostly what I have seen are people who hurt so badly that they cry out to God for relief. The healing has in all cases but two been permanent and there has been no relapse. In one case there was no healing of a minor back injury, and in another there was an apparent healing of an infection but with a recurrence 12 hours later. That person sought medical treatment, as I would have done were I them.

    I always go the home of the ill person, and always invite others from family or church to pray with me for the afflicted. Usually I read from the Psalms and pray for about an hour while laying my hands on the patient (preferably the afflicted part of the body). I am very aware that Jesus is in the room praying with us. There is a distinct physical response to prayer since the recipient passes into a deep sleep within minutes of starting. Sometimes there are alarming responses from the body, such as muscles jumping and spasming in the back, or gurgling and breathing issues in the case of a lung disorder. This has alarmed me to the point of ceasing prayer for fear of harm or pain to my brother. The most striking evidence of divine healing is that the recipient of prayer seems to be in a deep sleep for several hours, and after waking they often weep and profess a closeness to God. I encourage them to take a time in prayer of gratitude and praise and to read from the Scriptures.

    I offer this as an honest testimony to the power of Jesus Christ, and there is no boast in this of myself but only of Him. It is my sincere wish that this cause your Faith to grow regardless of the charlatan “healers” existent who diminish it. Physicians heal the body in most cases, but Christ can heal the body and forgive sins. Sometimes that is what is needed.