If it weren’t for those experiences, there is absolutely no way anyone could ever convince me the supernatural is real. My mind is too set against it. My education—perhaps especially in seminary—has led me to believe it’s all superstitious nonsense.
But I can’t deny what I’ve seen.
Others may scoff at my childlike faith, but at the end of the day, I was there. I saw. I experienced miracles. And nothing—no argument, no appeal to rationality, no suggestion that I hallucinated or was unknowingly drugged—will ever convince me otherwise.
I’m not the only one who has had dramatic experiences of the supernatural. I will admit I am often skeptical when others tell me about their experiences. Isn’t that ironic? I suppose part of the blame lies with my upbringing. I was raised in a Pentecostal church, and it attracted some real kooks. I always wanted to help them adjudicate their experiences.
In college, I read Jonathan Edwards’ famous text The Distinguishing Marks of the Spirit of God. It’s a complete de-kook-ifier.
Edwards gives us five ways to discern whether something we experience really is “from God,” and I think we’re smart to remember his advice.
- Every true movement of the Spirit exalts Christ.
- Every true movement of the Spirit opposes the devil and cultivates the kingdom.
- Every true movement of the Spirit leads people to value scripture.
- Every true movement of the Spirit produces good fruit in the lives of its participants.
- Every true movement of the Spirit cultivates love for God, ourselves, creation, and one another.
Edwards also gives some cautions.
Some people will act like weirdos. Some smart people will dismiss the whole business as superstition. Some people’s imaginations will totally run away with them, and they’ll begin describing their experiences in spooky ways. Some people will only copy what they see others doing. Some people will take too much authority for granted and act like jerks. Some people will actually be phonies. Some will start out genuine and become corrupted along the way.
But none of these occurrences mean that the whole thing is a farce or that these people are not being truly affected by God’s Spirit.
Our tendency is to limit God to what we’ve already experienced for ourselves. But that’s foolish! If the first followers of Jesus limited God to their own understanding, they would never have become apostles.
Just because we’ve never seen anything like this before doesn’t make it illegitimate, only new to us. We ought not to limit God where he has not limited himself.