“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” -Romans 8:16
I am just one human being out of many. I certainly have not experienced all of the same things that other people have experienced, so why should I pick on the Christian? I pick on the Christian because I was one, yes, a very seriously devoted person for many years. This is also an opportunity for my Christian readers to be challenged in their perspectives. Living a life of faith is definitely a different way of dealing with knowledge and certainty. How should people deal with knowledge and certainty? We’ll return to this later.
This verse from Romans that I quoted above is precious to many believers. Believers of all stripes are convinced that the Holy Spirit dwells within them, just as it was thought to indwell Jesus and his earliest followers. For some folks it may bring to mind these words, “I will dwell in them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 2 Corinthians 6:16
When people talk as if a God is in their midst. When they have a mindset that the Holy Spirit dwells within them I am brought to wonder if it is the language itself that they are most taken in by? I mean, let’s be honest, this is the language of intimacy. It’s the language of having a close union with God. I know how people feel when they use this language. People feel as if God is truly present. Like he is right there in the room. Like he is speaking to their hearts.
My challenge for those who feel this way is to ask whether they can truly speak from a place of knowledge, or whether feelings are the primary driver of this vehicle? Feelings can be deceiving, but not only can feelings be deceiving, our sense of interpretation can be poor if we are looking for subtle signs of guidance. Navigating this inward terrain of feelings and little subtleties that seem like guidance could well be a form of self-deception. Such can be the nature of subjective experience.
This is a fair warning for those who are interested in what is true. Being fascinated and interested in what is true involves practicing discernment, especially introspective discernment. What you once thought was guidance from God could later be understood as an indiscernible pattern. It is fine to acknowledge it as such. We want to be cautious about what is true. We want to guard the truth and avoid error, at least this should be the goal.
So here I am, a former Christian, putting it out there for those who still believe. How is it that you can know the difference between God’s Spirit and your spirit? If it is thought that God is an inner witness, how are you to know whether this inner witness is God or just you? Please take your time and think carefully about this question.
There’s a whole spectrum within Christianity that ranges all the way from people who think God speaks to them just like another person is talking to them, all the way over to those who say that they take a passage like this by faith. They take it by faith because they don’t have this sense of the inner witness of God’s Spirit. They wouldn’t know how to begin to tell the difference between their own inner witness and God’s inner witness.
As an outsider looking in, who knows what it’s like to be on the inside, I’m more prone to think that those believers who admit that they wouldn’t know how to tell the difference between God’s witness and their own inner witness, are likely being the most intellectually honest.
It’s a mighty heavy burden to say that one undoubtedly knows the voice of God. It’s typically the more Charismatic Christians that think God is speaking to them in some form. The question remains, how introspective are such people? How discerning do they strive to be? Otherwise, they are at risk of exhibiting delusional thinking.
At the end of the day, a truth seeker should be willing to say, I could be wrong. I may need to change my mind about whether I can know that God is actually giving me clear assurances. About whether I know the difference between God’s inner witness and my own self?
To take this a little further, I think it would be refreshing to see more people admit that they are not even sure if God is there. For many it would be an intellectually honest admission that God’s presence and existence in their lives may be in question. There is no fear in this because what we all should strive to avoid is pretending to know things we don’t actually know.
This gets us into trouble and it sets us up for a hard fall. So how should Christians deal with knowledge and certainty? Can knowledge of God be so private and subjective that there is virtually no longer any room for discernment? Is this honest?
Should certainty relate to what we know? Knowing something, truly knowing something involves ruling out alternative explanations. Are people interested in knowing things clearly? Should this move them to a more objective approach in their understanding of knowledge and evidence?
The reason I changed my mind is because I didn’t want to fool myself anymore. What I thought was God’s assurance, presence, and guidance in my life, was not. I had to reason hard about what was going on in my own head. It was met with personal trials. Hitting rock bottom is often when one is encouraged the most to not give up on faith, however, that in itself may be a myth.
Faith is thought to bring many folks close to God, but please pay attention to the other side of the aisle. For many folks there comes a point where faith loses all meaning. It loses all relevance if assurance cannot be obtained. If an honest person cannot tell the difference between a real God intervening into their circumstances and simply having an affair with the language of the Bible, then at some point, talking like Jesus talks in the Gospels, or like Paul talked in his writings begins to lose its flavor entirely.
A thirst for the truth is a thirst for knowledge. It’s a thirst for discernment. It’s a thirst for reliable forms of assurance and certainty. When I speak about the nature of reality I want it to be known to my friends and readers that I take that very seriously. Whether I’m accountable to God or not, I am first accountable to myself.
The same should be true for everyone, if God created us, He didn’t bless us with a knowledge of himself in the same way we know ourselves. We know ourselves best and it is from there that we work outward by interacting with other people and the reality of the external world.
Does God exist? I can’t ever entirely rule that out but thus far my accountability to myself and the reality of the world around me doesn’t impress upon me that God is the best explanation. I’ve heard the explanation, I’ve interacted with it, I was a devoted Christian for many years. I spent many hours over the years both in prayer and devotion, and I am either an orphan of a real God that hasn’t impressed upon me a knowledge of himself, or I am a child of nature. The clearest information that I can gather is that I am a product of this universe.
I’ll leave my readers on a poetic note. I recently wrote this.
We are all orphans, but we are not…
We are orphans if we think God is our Father
We are children when we know nature as our Mother
It’s all about perspective, you see?
We are orphans if we pray to a Deity
We are children when we stand in awe of the universe
Not only are we children, we are a way in which the universe knows itself