I believe people need to “feel” God. In order to explain this I need to go into egghead mode. I’m gonna ramble for a bit if that’s okay with you…
Church ministry is a tricky business. Taking concepts developed in an innocuous vacuum of journal articles, magazine op-eds, and…well…blogs and translating them into real life is difficult. Rarely is the transition a smooth one. There’s a reason for this: while theology involves concepts, pastoring involves people. Though everyone lives from a place of personal theology, the outworking of that personal theology is often drastically different from one person to the next. Nurturing the growth of such a diverse group of folks can be the undoing of the most industrious minister. But I’ve noticed something that helps direct my personal ministry. One of the things I feel most “called” to in ministry is to help people understand and facilitate their ability to “feel” God.
I like to describe this idea idea using the term of somatization: the conversion of cognitive, emotional, or spiritual aspects into physical or tangible expressions. For spiritual purposes, it’s the work of the Holy Spirit in bodily manifestation. Normally in the psychiatric/medical community, that term has negative connotations. But honestly, anything - good or bad, happy or sad – affects us physically. It’s the same idea found in the ridiculously overused term “psychosomatic.” Internal issues result in physical expression.
Over the years, I’ve watched many individuals have a spiritual encounter that completely shifted their personal paradigm of God’s nature and immanence. In each of those scenarios, experience (of some sort) confirmed the power of God available to them on a personal level. Personally, it struck me as odd that God would initiate a strong spiritual encounter when I knew that many of those who received it had little to no doctrinal knowledge. I believed God was doing things backwards; after all doctrine comes first, right? But it occurred to me that throughout the history of the church, many people openly rejected any attempt of indoctrination without a prior or accompanying spiritual experience to validate that doctrine’s truth. Once someone has an encounter where they “feel” God, they will desire to know more about the God who provided that experience. God anchors faith in experience until one becomes grounded in proper belief. I began to understand my pastoral role was to disciple a healthy and balanced Christian upon the foundation of those spiritual encounters – not denying their legitimacy or downplaying their appropriateness.
How Christianity translates the supernatural into daily life is the most important aspect of personal spirituality today. Many pastors and theologians are struggling with this. Contemporary Christians are eager to cast off strict, doctrinally-oriented approaches to Christianity without accompanying experience. We ask Christians all the time to follow their beliefs with actions – that our love relationship with God requires corresponding expression in a personal way. But today’s Christians have turned the tables: they actually expect to understand God’s love through the experiences he provides.
Christianity has always been a two-pronged religion. One side involves doctrinal ascent to a set of beliefs centering on the finality of Jesus Christ. The other side is more “subjective” – it involves the prospect of “feeling” God through experience. That experience becomes an anchor for faith that can be leaned upon as doctrinal maturity develops. Of course, ministers and theologians get this backwards all the time - we teach doctrine in hopes that it will lead to experience for our congregations. But people’s actions tell us differently. When they are forced to choose between experiencing something on a spiritual level or adopting a particular set of dogma, they most often choose experience, since they ultimately believe that experience will correctly inform their doctrine, not the other way around. In other words we’ve been doing theology backwards. Postmodern Christians don’t say “I believe because I know;” they say “I believe because I feel.” It doesn’t have to be crazy charismatic stuff…but it’s gotta be something.
Do you “feel” God?