“Experiencing” God


We often think of “experience” in a positive way, that is, that when we say, “I want to experience God” we think almost exclusively in terms of joy, happiness, pleasure and contentment. But I believe that this is such dangerous terminology and mode of thinking about how one is to experience God that it causes an unreasonable kind of despair that many would be rid of if they understood what an “experience” of God is. I say it causes and “unreasonable kind” because I do believe that there is a reasonable kind of despair that Christians are to experience, but this will be shown as I elaborate.

What happens is that Christians draw up the notion in their mind is that if they do such and such practices that it will ensure such and such results. For instance, if I “pray and read my bible” then they will begin having “positive experiences”. But this is not necessarily what the scriptures teach. Praying and reading your bible do ensure what kind of person you will be, but they do not always ensure the kind of experience that you will have, though they tend towards those results.

Christians often limit the kind of experience that they want to have from God. They set parameters on what they think God should give them. In fact, they go so far as to think if God gives such a kind of experience, namely, despair and trouble, that he surely is not there. But this is entirely inconsistent with the picture that is often painted of those who encounter and experience God.

Job, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Peter, Paul – all these men had terrible encounters with God. Just listen to what they say concerning their experience:

Job 42:5-6 states “I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear; but now my eyes see you; therefore I retract; and I repent in dust and ashes

Isaiah 6:5 “And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost… for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!

Ezekiel 1:28 “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face,

Peter in Luke 5:8 “But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet saying ‘Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!

Paul in Acts 9:3-4 “as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?

These are examples that help us see that there is more to experiencing God than simply sitting in an armchair and having an epiphany about his love and feeling good for the rest of your life. That does happen and God grants moments like that. But an experience of God is not always pleasurable. Peter asked Jesus to leave him alone. That’s what happens when someone truly experiences the holy God. In fact, I would suggest that person who experiences a deep amount of despair has come much closer to God that a person who has only experienced pleasure and happiness.

When we think of “experiencing God” we must be very cautious in what we think consists in that “experience”. If we limit God to only giving us pleasurable and enjoyable experiences, then in fact, i fear, you will never experience God, but only your own projection of God. But if you allow God to determine what an experience of him looks like, then terror, despair, and trembling fear must be in your categories of experience. It is when you have treaded down into the depths of your soul and seen the filth that remains there and seen the terror of God’s majestic holiness against you that you will ever learn to experience the tremendous love that extends from God’s hand down to a vile and dirty sinner as yourself. And that is the experience that we must come to expect and hope that the Lord gives to us.

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