I was recently asked this question, in a slightly different form, by a gentleman named Charles. The title of this post is from Gary Habermas' book of the same name. Gary was one of the people I asked for suggestions on how to answer Charles.
Here, we begin with the original series of questions from Charles. I then post an answer someone else offered on another site. Finally, I'll add a few thoughts of my own.
A couple of things. You mentioned you might not be the best person to answer my question - can you get me in touch with someone who can? I've tried to post, call, etc to get in touch with William Lane Craig (who uses personal experience as an evidence of God), but to no avail. I'm currently hoping to get in touch with Jim Dennison, but we'll see how that goes. Do you have someone better suited to answer?
(Note: Dr. Habermas responded by e-mailing me two chapters from his book. I'll be happy to pass them along, if you (or, presumably, other readers) give me an address.)
As for your answer - I can't help, but feel as though it is unsatisfactory. You first mention that you do feel God's presence. I would argue that is exactly the problem -YOU (meaning other people who ask for it and search for it don't) and Feel (is it really god you feel? Can you be sure? etc....) So you feel (or give God credit) for something you feel. I have always had trouble talking to God as though he were in the room. Would anyone take me seriously if I talked to my dead biological father, an imaginary friend, or even someone I knew was living, but wasn't "there"? I can't imagine they would (or at best one wouldn't believe they could hear me and respond).
Why would you suggest this tension is good for us? In what way? I don't think it is good for me. It has stopped me from going to church. (Although there are other reasons for that other than this one.)
You say that a few times you seen "objective" reasons to believe God hears you and cares about you. I'd be interested to know what they things were (and the possibility that it wasn't God at all), and would also ask is this a special privilege he gives to some and not all?
You mentioned that you think God does speak to us all the ways that I mention, but I think my whole argument was that he doesn't. As for your friend, did he really hear God and have to leave his homeland? Was it God that he heard? Did he have to leave? And if that is true, then why is it that God would only choose to talk to us and then make that the punishment? Is he punishing us for having to make himself heard? Seems a bit sadistic or unreasonable to me (assuming that is the case).
Finally, you mentioned that we do "walk by faith." What does that mean? At this point, I'm willing to say that most modern American Christianity is wrong and that it doesn't mean a "personal" relationship with God. So then, what does it mean? Does it mean simply trying to learn more about God by reading the bible, and also trying to follow the best you can while always just kinda waiting for heaven?
One last thought - I hope you don't read me as hostile or antagonistic. This is a serious problem for me. i recognize it isn't for everyone (or even most people), but at this point I am trying to find answers and trying to make sense of it all.
Lauren Kimball: Heavy question . . . I'm touched by his plight and sincerity.
I notice that your friend tries to discredit reading the Bible as having anything to do with hearing God's voice. His knowing an author vrs. knowing their work is an interesting analogy, but woefully off the mark.
Christ said that His sheep would know His voice. How do the sheep come to know His voice? How do the sheep filter all the static noise in their heads and determine what is from God and what is from self or worse? That, I believe, is where the Bible comes in.
Rather than using the analogy of, "knowing a book is not the same thing as knowing the author," I would look at the Bible as a manual that helps bridge the gap between man and God, not a book that simply describes God.
For example, you can't see radiation, but with the right text book you can learn how to recognize and detect when radiation is present. God is similar in that respect. We've lost touch with how to talk to God, so God's given us a tool so that we can bridge that gap. Don't know if what you're hearing is God? Filter it.
I can empathize with his frustration, I really can. Yet just because God does not speak to us in a way that we would like Him to does not discredit his existence. Not only do I think he has a problem in listening, I think he has a problem understanding the enormity of God.
A long while back I had prayed to God to hear His voice. I wanted to talk to God and was similarly frustrated at his perceived silence. Later that same night, I was awoken by one of the biggest thunderstorms I'd ever experienced. The storm was so tremendous and so violent, that it literally shook the ground and my house when the lightning sounded. In my half-sleep daze I was utterly terrified. I actually found myself on the brink of tears, feeling like a frightened child. I was so certain for a few moments that I might actually ACTUALLY hear God's voice, and all I wanted was for it to stop. Did I hear God's voice? Not necessarily. Was I reminded who it was I was talking to? Quite.
I don't think your friend would want to hear God's actual voice. He does us a favor by speaking softly. I don't know that there's really any other way.
DM: I think Lauren makes some good points, here, and I hope you'll read Gary's chapters, and see if they're helpful. Let me add a few points, and answer the questions you directed at me.
No, I don't think my post-Muslim friend took it as a "punishment" that he heard God's voice, and then was forced to leave his home. His experience reminds me of Jesus' story of the Pearl of Great Price. Having found one great treasure, the hero of Jesus' tale sells all he has, to purchase that treasure. What hearing from God directly did for this imam, was confirm to him that what he chose to purchase, at such a high price, was indeed most valuable.
How did he know it was God? All I can say is, he was in a better position than us to figure that out. He was there. It was his neck he was risking. As a legal scholar, now getting his PhD at one of the top universities in the world, he's no dummy.
But no one promises that the life of faith is without risk. Read Hebrews 11. Walking by faith doesn't mean believing without reason, but believing for good reason, and then acting on your belief, "stepping out" (often literally, as Abraham did, as my friend did) in faith.
CS Lewis points out that miracles and martyrdoms tend to cluster around the same periods of history. This may be because God doesn't want to overwhelm us with evidence (as Lauren put it, he usually speaks in a still, small voice), but sometimes we might need more encouragement.
If you need reason for faith, and you look for it, I think you'll find a good deal of it. If you look for certainty, I don't think you'll ever find that, at least not in this world, if you're constituted at all like I am. I don't think life is supposed to be easy, and I'm not sure it would be a good thing if it were.