Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J

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The experience of God is not the hallmark of the mystic, but the birthright of every human being. Our experience of God is intuitive, subjective and personal. The reasoned arguments are hind-sight, in which we try to articulate our experience to others. The basis of faith is not reason but spontaneous religious experience.

Everyone experiences God. In fact, we experience God before we have a concept of God. Just as an infant experiences pleasure and pain before it has a concept of pleasure and pain, so we experience God before we have a concept of God.

This experience of God is the very heart and center of religion, supplying, as it does, the basis, the infrastructure of faith. If experience and faith do not intersect at some point, it would be unreasonable to accept any of the affirmations of faith. Confirmation of our faith is found in the experience of living it. Not only do we experience the existence of God, we also experience an orientation, a thrust, a “transcendental neediness” for God.

God is immanent, that is, present in his creation but not identified with it. God is the “ground of my being”. “In him we live and move and have our being.” God created us. He did not make us. Making and creating are two different things. We make something by organizing pre-existing material. And when we get finished organizing it we can walk away. It doesn’t need us anymore. But when God creates something out of nothing he must continually preserve it, conserve it in existence.

Think of a sponge in a lake. The sponge is upheld by the lake. Every fiber of the sponge is interpenetrated by the lake. The sponge is not the lake. And the lake is not the sponge. That is how God is present in me. I am not God. And God is not me. Or think of how the song is in the singer, and the dance in the dancer. It would indeed be strange if we never experienced this presence of God.

The experience of God, however, is not direct and immediate. It is indirectly mediated to us through creatures, and through other experiences. A student once told his professor that he would believe in God when God revealed Himself to him. The professor replied, “And if God does reveal Himself to you, how will you know that it is God?” The point the professor was trying to make was that our experience, even of God, is always a human experience.

The direct object of human cognition is material, sensible reality. Nothing is in the intellect that did not come in originally through one of the five senses. God is a pure spirit. So God is not the direct object of our cognition. We could not experience God directly and live.

Think of the sun, for example. If we experienced the sun directly we would turn into ashes. We experience the sun indirectly through the rays of the sun. In a similar way, we experience God indirectly through material, sensible reality that is created by God. The intellectual arguments for the existence of God are really hindsight efforts to articulate our experience in a way that is intelligible to others.

Do you want to experience God? Take your pulse. Is it fast or slow? That is an indirect experience of God. Now become aware of your breathing. Follow your breath in and out. That is an indirect experience of God.

We can experience God indirectly also in the dictates of our conscience. Who is this who has the power to command me, sometimes against my will? Who is this who has the power to reward or punish me? Why is it that when I go against my conscience I feel guilty, and feel the need for forgiveness?

We can experience God indirectly also in the innate, insatiable desire we all have for perfect happiness. That happiness that always eludes us. Isn’t there Someone who can fulfill this universal, innate insatiable desire?

We experience God also when we are lonely. Psychiatrists tell us that loneliness is the most universal complaint they hear today. A strange phenomenon indeed in a culture that is fearful of overpopulation and that has the most sophisticated communication media ever devised by man. You see, you don’t have to be alone to be lonely. There is the existential loneliness of the creature for the Creator. St. Augustine said it best, “Lord, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

We experience God also in our powerlessness, when we reach our limits. We feel that we cannot go on, we cannot do any more. But we do go on and we do more, and sometimes we do something extraordinary. And we know it was the “Power beyond our limits.” Most of the testimonies of a moment of grace, or of a born-again experience are about experiences that happened when the witness had reached their limits, when all human effort had been expended and there was no hope left. Then it was that they encountered God in the “Power beyond our limits.”

We experience God also as mystery. There are many mysteries in life. The most real thing we encounter, the ultimate context of all reality is mystery. Life itself is a mystery. God is this mystery. God is this “incomprehensible obvious.” Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived in faith, hope and love - and laughter, knowing that God will provide.

We experience God also in those peak moments of creativity, insight and performance that give us such an exhilarating feeling of joy and fulfillment. We experience God also in the pain of a limited life, when we desire a full and unlimited life. Sometimes we experience God in the most bitter experiences of life, in the death of a loved one, in a humiliating failure, a moment of stress or a sudden accident when we spontaneously cry out to God for help.

We experience God in our desire to pray and to have Someone to pray to. Prayer is our response to the initiative of God and to the events in our lives. We experience God in the desire for spiritual direction. Spiritual direction is based on the fact that we do experience God and want help in discerning what this experience means and how we should respond.

If we keep in touch with our intimate experiences we will discover many other glimpses of God working within us and in the events of our lives. And we will discover that the experiences of our head, our heart and guts are that there is a God.

This experience of God is not peculiar to me. There has been a vast multitude of men and women of every race, age and degree of mental acumen who have claimed not only to have known about God but to have experienced God. The Bible is a history of the human experiences of God. And the reading of the Bible in faith is also creative of an experience of God.

This experience of God, this sense of the presence of God is self-authenticating. It carries with it great conviction. With it we do not need any other proof that God is a reality. This certitude, of course, is subjective. It is for me alone. I cannot use it to prove God’s existence to anyone else. All I can do is to witness to my conviction by the way I live. And then, my life becomes another witness for the existence of God.

We owe it to ourselves to become aware of the presence and action of God in our lives. It will bring peace, security and joy. It will be a source of strength in the time of temptation. It will enable us to affirm God with the totality of the First Commandment, to let him become the center of our lives and the motivation of all of our actions.

We owe it also to others who do not have this awareness of the presence of God.
God is present and active in everyone. Our obligation is to present God in such a way that they can recognize it as the answer to the deep longings of their heart and the fulfillment of their existence.

We owe it also to our country. The founding fathers of our country may have opted for the separation of church and state, but they did not opt for the separation of God and state. The Declaration of Independence begins with a strong affirmation of God. We pledge our allegiance to “one nation under God…” And we inscribe on our money, “In God we trust.” Without God there is no morality. And without morality there is no state. There is only the state of chaos, confusion, and corruption. Atheistic capitalism would suffer the same fate as atheistic communism.

There is a God. And we know that there is. We know this intuitively, naturally and spontaneously. And we can confirm and formalize this knowledge with intellectual arguments, our own personal experience and the experience of the vast majority of the human race.

© 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J. all rights reserved