Can I Believe in God Because of Personal Experience?

In this post I want to explore a very specific objection: is it delusional to believe in God on the basis of personal experience?

First, what does it feel like to have personal experience of God?

This experience may vary widely, but I think the internal thought process goes something like this:

I know God. I know God personally. I trust Him everyday. He loves me. What a great God I serve!

Nature, work, my family, friends, service – this all reminds me of God. I regularly encounter God when I read the Bible, go to church, and pray.

Being with God feels like being with my best friends and closest family members. I feel at peace, safe, and cared for.

So… why do I need to go find some philosophical arguments in order to justify my whole life?

Now, this perspective often drives nonChristians crazy. “How can you believe in something that you have absolutely no evidence for? You are deluded! There’s no evidence for God. This is just wishful thinking that comforts you. Grow up, face reality, and only believe what you have evidence to support!”

But… wait a second.

This kind of perspective makes a lot of sense to me. Does that make me crazy too? Maybe.

But consider: If the Christian God exists, then surely this God is perfectly capable of directly appearing to His followers and providing reliable experiential evidence of His existence and love.

Assume, for a brief moment with me, for the sake of sheer open-mindedness, that Christianity is true. Given that assumption, isn’t it possible – even likely – that the Christian God could regularly appear to people, in a way analogous to their sensory experience, so that they rightly formed the true belief, “God exists and loves me”? If an individual is having regular personal encounters with God, then it would actually be highly irrational to withhold belief in God’s existence until some other kind of evidence or reasons for God became available.

It would be like having someone make a marriage proposal with roses at a nice restaurant and hearing the response, “That’s nice, but where’s the band and the photographer and the helium balloon ride?”

Think this through – If GOD HIMSELF is going to the effort to PERSONALLY reveal himself to someone, by what argument can we show that this person should withhold belief in God?

I think the only argument available to us is to deny that such a God exists. Certainly, if God does not exist, then this personal experience of a non-existent God is delusional. If Christianity is false, then the commonplace experience of experiencing God’s love through nature, conversations at work, and caring for neighbors is simply, plainly delusional. The brain is clearly misfiring to give the perception of the supernatural when everything is really just matter and energy.

So if Christianity is false, you can explain away personal testimonies of God’s existence and love as delusional.

But if Christianity is true, you can explain personal testimonies of God’s existence and love as entirely rational.

If you are a Christian, and you want to be persuasive to others around you, then in addition to your testimony of experiencing God, you will need to give your friends substantial reasons to accept your testimony as true. The two primary means of doing that, it seems to me, are 1) a transformed life that is indicative of having met God and 2) clear reasons that justify claims like “Christianity is true.” The other means is that God will personally reveal himself to your friend, making it rational for them to believe in God as well.

In the meantime, if you wish to debunk people’s personal experiences of God, you will need to show them at least two things: 1) why life without a belief in God is substantially better, and 2) why there is in actual fact no God.

To sum it up: If Christianity is true, then believing in God’s existence on the basis of personal experience of God Himself is entirely rational. The only way to show that this is not a rational way of believing in God is to show that Christianity is false.

For a far more sophisticated version of this argument, you can check out Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief.