Friday, July 18, 2014

Can You "Experience" God?

Monotheists have never pretended that they know (or will ever know) what exactly God is.  As Genesis 1:1 informs us, He "created the heavens and the earth."  As understood in classical Judaism - through the lens on Kaballah - this means that God created both the spiritual as well as the physical.  This would obviously imply that inasmuch as He created them, that God is neither something physical nor something spiritual and there is no way for finite, physical beings such as ourselves to wrap our heads around such a being - one Who creates, but is not bound by space, time, matter or even spirit.  As the 18th Century Kabbalist Moshe Chaim Luzzatto wrote in The Way of God, "God's true nature is beyond comprehension.  No inference can be drawn to the Creator from what we see among created things.  The nature and essence of the two are not the same at all, and it is therefore impossible to draw any parallel between them."

Rabbi Luzzatto and others would argue that there are nonetheless cogent methods of adducing the necessity of His reality through logic and through the Sinaitic revelation.  What though should we make of people who claim to have had an actual experience of the Divine?  There are a lot of them - are they all false?  What types of thoughts, feelings and experiences should be counted as "reality?"  Are there any?

There are thousands of people who have claimed to have had a near-death experience - one in which they become convinced of a parallel world in which non-physical beings (souls, angels, etc) reside.  Dr. Jeffrey Long has painstakingly cataloged these experiences and their remarkably consistent features in a fascinating work called "Evidence of the Afterlife."  Materialists (those who believe that there is no other reality aside from the physical) generally ascribe these experiences as a projection of the dying brain - a fantasy created by neurons firing wildly before they flame out.  This certainly could be the case but it wouldn't help to explain multiple, documented features of the near-death experience such as the ability to perceive what was taking place at a distance from the hospital room well after brain function ceased entirely.

Oxford University has a research center that catalogs numinous (metaphysical) experiences.  Founded in 1969 by Sir Alister Hardy, it has recorded some 6000 accounts of people who affirmatively responded to the question "have you ever had a spiritual or religious experience or felt a presence or power, whether you call it God or not, which is different from your every day life?"  Even if we assume that 90% of these people were victims of wishful thinking, confusion or neuronal hallucinations, would we be prepared to say that 600 people had an authentic transcendental experience?  Notably, those same materialists who would be wont to dismiss these claims as 100% false tend not to concede that their own experiences - including their belief in materialism - are subject to the same rejections.

If we assume that the human experience of reality can be accurate or at least partially accurate, then despite our inability to define what the Creator is, it would seem that we do have several methods available to us to appreciate, understand and experience Him nonetheless.


  1. When I first lost my only son who was 17, I felt a complete absence of God. I am still skeptical (which I was before) but it seems as though it is necessary to search for God in order to find Him (or her or likely "it"!). I like the search and this column helps in that effort. To me, God is a concept and concepts are very real and produce effects. For instance, the concept of freedom inspires efforts to create different levels of freedom. The concept of God, creates a feeling of peace and acceptance which produces many positive effects. When I was about 7 years old, my catechism teacher said that God is love and God is everywhere. I like that because it makes God real to me. I'm no longer Catholic (dogma problem) but still feel God's presence--sometimes.

  2. To anonymous.... very beautiful. You can learn about the 7 Noahide laws. Its the way for non-Jews without converting to Judaism to live according to G-d without all the religious dogma that's been added in by (oh that's a whole other convo). Highly recommended you look into it.