Soon after Bill admitted himself to the Towns Hospital for what would be the last time, he cried out: “If there be a God, let Him show Himself!” His hospital room was filled with a white light. He was seized with an “ecstasy beyond description.” In his mind’s eye, he stood on the summit of a mountain, where a great wind of spirit blew right threw him. “Then came the blazing thought: ‘You are a free man.’” He became aware of a Presence, like a sea of living spirit. “This,” he thought, “must be the Great Reality. The God of the preachers.” Bill Wilson never took another drink. He had started down the path to become one of the cofounders of Alcoholic Anonymous.
Within our modern culture, “sensory override” encounters with the supernatural are met with skepticism or viewed as the ravings of fanatical individuals and groups. But rejecting the reality of the supernatural contradicts what William James described in The Varieties of Religious Experience and what T. M. Luhrmann reported in When God Talks Back. Bill Wilson read VRE to help him make sense of his encounter with the God of the preachers. And Bill would later refer to James as a “cofounder” of A.A.
Like William James, Luhrmann persuasively validated these experiences of the supernatural in When God Talks Back. She even provided some experimental evidence that “sensory override” experiences were not pathological. See a description here in “How Does God Become Real for Modern People?”
I have never worshipped in a Vineyard church. But I did spend some time in charismatic evangelical churches after my own personal encounter with God. A friend challenged me to read the book, More Than A Carpenter, by Josh McDowell. He said it had played a role in his own conversion. I remember being surprised by McDowell’s effective use of logical argument. But, I still wasn’t persuaded, as my friend had been.
One Saturday afternoon, I found myself wondering why McDowell said the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ was necessary for the redemption of humanity. Then in my mind (not audibly) I heard a voice say: “There was no other way.” I immediately knew the statement was true. And I immediately knew that voice was God.
I grew up in the Roman Catholic church, but had never been told that God would speak to you like that. Ironically, at that time one of the individuals I counseled actually believed he was Jesus Christ when he was in a psychotic state. I returned the book to Jerry, not saying anything about God speaking to me. My plan was to never speak of that experience to anyone. A few months later, some further, less profound experiences led me to acknowledge Jesus as my savior and Lord. I eventually did contact Jerry and tell him about God talking to me; and I have periodically told others of the experience as well.
God speaking to me is a part of my personal spiritual journey. But it is not an experience that I intentionally sought to cultivate (then or now), like the members of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship. This was over thirty years ago, and I have not had a spiritual experience of the divine that has ever come close to this encounter since then. I agree with T. M. Luhrmann that: “the problem of faith is not finding the idea of God plausible but sustaining that belief in the face of disconfirmation.”
You don’t have to have God talk to you in order to believe in Him. But if He does, it can make Him real to you in a profound way. Thanks Tanya for helping me to better understand my personal encounter with God. I look forward to your next project. And I have some suggestions, if you’re interested.
Have you had any sensory override experiences of your own?