A neurosurgeon was placed in a medically induced coma due to brain and spinal cord swelling. The coma made him essentially brain dead, supported only by machines, but he was revived. He later recounted leaving his body, entering a realm of bright light and great peace, and meeting a young woman he did not know. Adopted as a child, and long after his near-death experience, the neurosurgeon met his birth parents and was shown a photo of his previously unknown biological sister who died years earlier. He immediately recognized her as the young woman he met within the bright light of his death coma. His career in neuroscience previously told him that such a conscious experience while clinically brain dead was not possible. But it happened.
The immediate followers of Jesus of Nazareth claimed to have met and touched their crucified and risen Lord. So certain of their experiences, their previous fears disappeared as they risked death to proclaim this life-giving truth. Most, as history records, were tortured and executed for their message of Jesus’s resurrection. Paul of Tarsus, persecutor of early Christians, experienced the resurrected Christ and became a Christian, a spiritual encounter so profound that it completely changed the direction of his life. He, too, suffered afflictions for proclaiming the truth of his experiences. Why would all these followers of Christ abandon their previous fears and unbelief to risk death? They did so because they were certain of their spiritual experiences.
Millions of people across history and cultures have described similar near-death experiences of bright light, peace, and spiritual calm. Others have had such unique spiritual experiences that nothing can shake them from declaring what they know to be true. Still others prefer to whisper about their mysterious spiritual experiences that impacted their perspective, life direction, or view of God. And unlike with science and data, such personal spiritual experiences cannot be measured, duplicated in a lab, or placed under a microscope. Nevertheless, these encounters remain so real to so many people that they cannot be swept aside with a dismissive wave of the hand.
Consider also that we all accept certain things as true that cannot be absolutely proven. For example, we cannot prove that our existence was not created five minutes ago with a built-in appearance of age, nor that our brain is not just in a vat of chemicals being stimulated by a laboratory scientist. Yet, we all hold certain properly basic beliefs (our foundation of knowledge) based on our experiences such as sight, sound, and touch. We agree there is a physical world around us because of what we experience. We may not be able to prove we possess an actual history longer than five minutes, but we all rationally accept this to be true based on our experiences. Similarly, it can be entirely rational to believe that our personal spiritual experiences are true in the absence of any provably more rational explanation.
A young child hears the voice of Jesus telling her, “Paint what you see.” At age four, she begins to create. Having never been to a church and not raised in a religious home, she nevertheless paints Christian images with extraordinary skill, including the two paintings on this page completed when she was only eight years old. Should we discount Akiane’s spiritual experience? In the absence of a more provably rational explanation, it is, in fact, equally or more rational to believe her sincere and fervent accounts of her spiritual experiences that so impacted her life and the world.
Despite the fact that some people lie about their experiences, are simply mistaken, or can be explained scientifically, countless other personal spiritual experiences impact all kinds of people for reasons that are often difficult to comprehend and explain. Neurologists still cannot account for near-death experiences or for instances of consciousness apart from our physical body. Visions, healings, even prayerful guidance or insight astound and captivate us while insisting on deep spiritual discernment and consideration of God as Creator.
Aside from theologians, scientists, and philosophers, perhaps pop musician Justin Timberlake put it most clearly:
“I can honestly say I am a Christian, but my spirituality has been developed on the road and is based on my experiences with God.”
Want to know more about God? Consider reaching out to people who’ve had a personal experience with God and ask them. Chances are, they’d love to tell you.