I had a roommate in college who was obsessed with Nutella. For those of you who don’t know, Nutella is essentially chocolate flavored peanut butter. He would put it on almost everything he ate – from toast to pancakes to apples. He always talked about how good it was and kept insisting that I needed to try it.
For a while I just trusted his opinion that it was good and never actually tried it. If people would ask me about Nutella, I would tell them that it was good simply because I had heard that it was good. I had no experience to base that statement on, and so I would never passionately defended Nutella to anyone who disagreed with me.
I THOUGHT that Nutella was good, but I did not KNOW that Nutella was good.
When it came to Nutella, I was only living in a world of half-truths. And then I tasted Nutella. And my eyes were opened to a wonderful aspect of this world that I had never truly known.
Isn’t this true about many things in our lives?
I could talk to you about what it’s like to fall in love – when your heart races, when you feel butterflies in your stomach, when you get nervous and excited all at the same time when you think about that person. But do you know what it’s like to fall in love after hearing me talk about it? Does my defining and describing of love really let you FEEL love?
Of course not. You need to fall in love for yourself to truly know what it feels like.
God works the same way.
Once again I could testify to what it’s like to experience God and to truly feel loved by God, but what good is that if you have never experienced it for yourself? How can you know the freedom that is found in God simply because I told you that I found freedom in God?
There is belief and then there is knowing.
Belief happens when you listen to the experiences of others. I believed Nutella was good because my friend told me it was and I trusted him. But knowing happens when you’ve experienced something for yourself. Once I tried Nutella, I KNEW it was good.
I moved from believing to knowing.
One of the more popular stories from the Bible is the story of the woman at the well. After the woman’s encounter with Jesus, she runs to tell all of the Samaritans in her town about him. They believed what the woman had told them about Jesus, but they had yet to find out for themselves. After Jesus visited the town, the Samaritans exclaimed “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
The Samaritans from this story moved from belief to knowing.
They believed what the woman had told them about Jesus because of her passionate conveying of the story. But they did not know Jesus until he came and lived among them. They finally got to experience Jesus. And this moved them from belief into knowing.
But how do we go from belief to knowing?
There was a woman who was driving her car on Christmas Eve and the roads were especially slick that night. As she was driving, she drove over a sheet of black ice. Her car swerved out of control and she started to spin. The car barely stopped before crashing into a tree. She immediately began thanking God for being there with her and protecting her.
So do we need a near death experience?
There was a man who was addicted to heroin. He eventually became broke and homeless trying to feed his addiction. One night he broke down and began cursing at God and wondering why his life turned out this way. As he lay there sobbing, God whispered in the man’s ear, telling him that he was loved.
Do we need to hit rock bottom to have God talk to us?
In Exodus, Moses was having a conversation with God and asked if he could physically see God. God told Moses to hide his face and after God walked by, Moses would be able to turn around and see the place where God had just been.
Do we need to catch a glimpse of God?
I was with a friend on the beach and as we lay there in the sand, the sunshine hitting our faces, the waves crashing in front of us, she looked at me and said “This is where I truly feel God.”
Do we need a beach and waves and sunshine?
I was seeing my Christian counselor one day and talking about all the ways in which I felt like a failure. As I sat there on the couch, I began to cry. Immediately the room filled up with a presence I couldn’t explain and it felt like someone gave me a great big hug.
Do we need failure and a hug?
A man has a conversation with his friend over a cup of coffee. They discuss their lives and joys and sorrows. The man leaves feeling fulfilled and connected and purposeful.
Do we need coffee and a friend?
The Samaritans were able to live with, eat with and share community with the physical Jesus. That is how they came to know Jesus and to know God.
So do we need to hang out with Jesus once or twice?
Which of these is the best way to experience God?
The answer, of course, is “yes.”
Or to put it another way, “all of the above.”
Or to put it another way, “and then some.”
To argue that God can only be experienced in a very narrow and specific way is to argue that Nutella can only be enjoyed on toast. It cheapens the experience and takes away all of the glory and wonder. God cannot be squished into a box with nice, neat boundaries, and neither can the experiences you have with God. The number of ways in which you can experience God are as limitless as the stars in the universe.
The problem is that sometimes we miss the fact that we are experiencing God. How easy it could have been for my friend to not recognize God’s presence on the beach that day. How easily I could have brushed off my hug as just a psychological part of my breakdown. How easy it could have been for the Samaritans to have missed the powerful presence of Jesus.
Many experienced the presence of Jesus and did not recognize who Jesus was or how Jesus could open their eyes to love of God. The Samaritans could have spent time with Jesus and STILL missed the presence of God that surrounded them.
But they chose to be aware and ready and willing. And it helped them move from belief to knowing.
The profound is not the only way to experience God. Sometimes it’s the small, everyday things and interactions that can open us up to the presence of God.
A smile, a conversation, a sunset, a prayer, a song, a rainbow, or a hug.
God can be experienced in all of those things.
And those can move US from belief to knowing.