Why do you believe in God?

“Because I know deep in my heart that he exists.”

Why do you believe Christ rose from the grave?

“Because I have experienced the same power in my life.”

Why do you think the Bible is true?

“Because it speaks to me in places that no other book has.”

Why do you believe God loves you?

“Because I was healed of a disease.”

These are all common answers given by well-meaning Christians concerning the validity of their faith. However, I have made the argument that these types of answers are not good apologetic outposts for the faith and can be misleading and, sometimes, destructive.

I have told this story before, but it is well worth saying again. Three months before my sister committed suicide, I was on suicide watch with her. After all, I lived right by her in Dallas and so the obvious go-to guy to run to her house and check on her. Over the previous year, I had to make that dreadful trip to her house no less than 17 times (if I remember correctly – things have gotten hazy over the years). I remember very clearly the first and the seventeenth. On the first time, I broke down the back door and found her in her bed with an empty bottle of sleeping pills by her bed and a note pad with letters to all of her family. I could not wake her and immediately rushed her to the hospital for treatment. She survived. The last time, I went to her house to check and make sure she was okay. I always feared what I might find and how she might have found a way to pull the plug on her life. Would she be in the bed again? Nah…she knew that I would come and find her too quickly. I figured either the garage or the bathtub. But what I feared most was…a gun. She had talked about a gun a lot lately, believing it would be the quickest way to pull off her departure and she figured it would be the one method my rescue missions would not be able to circumvent. When I got to her house on trip number seventeen, she was not there. I figured she had gone to work or something. I called my mother and told her, but she was not relieved. She said that Angie was particularly bad that day and that she knew Angie was going to try something. I told my mother I was sure it would be a gun since I showed up at her door within 15 min of her being out of contact. I decided to stay around the house to wait and see if she came back. After about 30 minutes she pulled up. I was in her front yard. When she saw me, she took off very fast. This behavior, in my mind, meant only one thing: she had a gun and she was planning on using it at home. I jumped in my car and tried to track her down. However, my diesel was not fast enough to keep up and I lost her after the first turn. I wanted to continue the pursuit, but did not know which direction to go to. Left or right at the stop sign in the neighborhood? Left, right, or straight at the light? Left, right, or straight at the next light? I had no idea. I just started making random turns. At this point, I thought about calling my mother and giving her the bad news: Angie is dead – well, as good as dead. She must have had a gun to react the way she did. But I did not make that call. I just drove around. Where? I don’t know. Whichever way the wind took me. I did not even pray for God to tell me which way to go. It seemed that hopeless. I was exhausted from praying about this and just did not want to put this on his table again at this time. He was going to do what he was going to do. The one rational thought I had was that I, were I to kill myself, would do so closer to Oklahoma City (our home town), not further away. So I made my way to the highway back home. I drove for a bit, thinking how crazy this was. How am I going to find her? However, driving down 121 on my way to I35, I passed a hotel and I was compelled to check there (though I had not been compelled to check anywhere else). I drove around back and there it was: Angie’s black Mercedes. I ran to the front desk in a surprised panic. I told them the situation and was eventually able to call her hotel room. She answered. She was surprised, to say that least. I got into her room and quickly searched for the gun. I could not find one so I asked Angie, “Where is it? The gun…where is it?” Looking even more surprised and deflated, she finally led me back to the bathroom and got it for me. I took it, unloaded it, got Angie in my car, and took her to our mother’s house.

There was no one more excited about this then my mother. The last year had been traumatic for her. Her beloved daughter wanted to die and she could not do anything about it. Her God would not come to the rescue and she had begun to doubt his love and care for her. But after this incident, the last year of doubt, disillusionment, and despair turned as it found a grounding in hope. Her faith began to be based on this incident. Her interpretation was that God was not going to let Angie die. A miracle like this had to mean something. And that something was that God was really on our side. That something was that God was really alive and well in the Patton home. In short, everything in her faith began to rely on to God’s love, as she filtered it through this experience. When all hope was gone, God pulled off the impossible. Angie would live! At least that was one interpretation.

What do we base our hope in God on? How do we interpret the happenings in our life? When has he come to the rescue and what has he obligated himself to in our lives?

I told about my healed back last week. Though there have been times when my back still has a bit of pain, by and large it has been so  much better since the guy prayed over it at the Credo House five months ago. This weekend I wrote in a comment on the blog that the pain had returned that day. One commenter (who meant nothing but good) said that it could be that I had yet to acknowledge the miracle and give true thanks to God, therefore my back pain was coming back. The idea is that if I accept it as a miracle then it would stay healed. But if I continued to waver in doubt (as I have, to some degree), then the pain would come back. I don’t know how he could know such a thing. God never promised to heal my back at all, much less do so permanently. Therefore, I have no reason to believe things that God has not promised. The moment I begin to do so is the moment I put words in the mouth of God simply to make myself feel better. Experiences can do that. Experiences can quickly turn into promises and head us for a train wreck in our faith. Who are we to put promises in God’s mouth?

I tried not to put a promise in God’s mouth with the miracle of finding Angie in the summer of 2003. It was a miracle, yes. It was from God; how could it not be? But I did not know what it meant. My mother, who needed to find hope so badly, found her own meaning in the experience. She found a new grounding for her faith. She did as the gentleman suggested I do with regard to my back. She did not waver in the message sent. She believed that God was sending a message from heaven: “I am not going to let Angie die.” Her hope was infectious. In fact, I rode along on this bus a time or two over the next month. However, no matter how much faith my mother gained because of this experience, it was not to be. Just over three months later, Angie died by a gun in her own hand in a hotel room about ten miles from the one where I had previously found her.

The faith my mother found in her experience a month earlier had just betrayed her; this devastated her faith in God. The miracle of stopping Angie before became her primary apologetic for God’s love and her faith, yet it turned on her due to the undue faith she placed in it. But God had never promised to keep Angie alive. It was just what we all wanted to believe.

Our experiences are wonderful. That I found Angie that first and seventeenth time was the hand of God. I don’t know what it meant, but I know it was his hand. That my back has been better for the last five months is the hand of God. I don’t know what it means, but I am grateful for it. If my back goes bad again tomorrow, I pray that my faith will not change, since I am trying not to put promises in the mouth of God. So please understand if I don’t rejoice in some things the way some think I should. I just don’t know how to interpret Him so much of the time. But I don’t need to know. If I did, he would be clear about it. He knows how to be clear.

In the end, we all need to learn how to decorate our faith with our subjective experiences, but we don’t lay our foundation with them. Our foundation for God’s love and presence is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. There is a permanence there that is not going to change. God is alive and well in our lives every day. We can be certain of this because of the resurrection. We just don’t often know how to interpret his daily interventions. And this is okay.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    21 replies to "Warnings About the Validity of Subjective Experience As An Apologetic for Your Faith"

    • JC Lamont

      I am sorry about your sister. The faith your mother found in that experience is, as you say, very common. It’s reassuring to feel like God spoke to us or moved in our life. We want to believe He is that intimately involved or that we can interpret events as His subtle maneuvers of care.

      While meeting with my agent last Saturday, she got a text message and broke into tears. The prior Sunday, a parishioner had brought a gun to church to sell to another parishioner. As he was showing how it worked, it accidently discharged. The bullet went through the wall and struck the pastor’s 14-year daughter in the head.

      The text my agent received was that she had passed away.

      We started talking about where God was — why he didn’t have the girl just a foot away, why he didn’t keep the gun from going off? Why wouldn’t he have protected the family of a man faithfully serving him?

      There are no easy answers. And for every “good” experience that “proves” God exists, there is a “bad” experiences that “proves” He doesn’t.

      For me, it comes down to history. Historical evidence supports the Bible from the rise of different religions to what cultures borrowed from who. For me, history proves Judaism. I was left to decide if Jesus was the Jewish messiah or not. The clincher was Micah 5:2 and Zec 13:7 — references by God the Father that someone He considered his equal was in heaven with Him during the OT. Couple that with Isaiah 53, and I don’t see how it could be…

    • JC Lamont

      anyone other than Christ.

    • Dan

      My condolences to your family. I too think that one should not argue from experience alone, however I do think God promises healing to the believer through the Atonement. Whether I experience it or not is inconsequential, the question is does the word teach it?

      Scripture is clear that it is God’s will for all men to be saved, yet we don’t see all men saved and my experience tells me that all men won’t be saved, yet I still witness in accordance to God’s will. I take the same view on healing.

    • Steve Martin

      My heart breaks for the pain and grief that you and your family have gone through.

      In this life there are only temporal victories.

      All of those who were healed by Jesus…eventually died.

      But we pray that they were cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, never to taste death again.

    • Brian


      I have been working through a collapse of faith over the last decade that arose from putting my faith in experiences and feelings. This problem was facilitated by incorporating many Charismatic beliefs or trends.

      It has taken some work and going into some scary places, but I think I’m starting to see the dawn. And I want to acknowledge that reading this blog has played an active role in helping turn things for me.

      This process I have gone through has had me take up the same question of “why do I believe.”

      When I ask myself this, in the context of my struggles to believe, I think about experiences that I held on to during dark nights that I KNEW were God. There was no doubt in me about it.

      But there have been times where I did have doubts and I had to actively speak to myself what I believed to be true in life and remind myself of different things. Some of these things were scripture, some were experiences and still some where just what I thought were logical and reasonable.

      The culmination of this has been that my faith is less sophisticated as I once thought it to be. It certainly is more simple. And I would like to think it is more sober minded. How stable I guess remains to be seen.

      I believe God is God regardless of what happens to me in life. My experiences do not in/validate this.

      But this does seems paradoxical or contradictory. My experiences do not validate my belief in God, but my beliefs ARE upheld, in part, to my experiences.

    • Phil Schomber

      Thanks for being willing to share such an intensely painful experience. You drive home an important point few others could do as powerully.

      God’s plan necessarily encompasses so many different pieces that it often defies our understanding. Part of trusting Him means trusting Him even when we don’t know what He’s doing. We can be thankful for those times when we’re able to discern God’s hand in our lives. But, as you explain, we can get ourselves into trouble when we base our faith on our interpretation of the event because our interpretation may be wrong. But, we shouldn’t be surprised there are things we don’t understand. God’s plan is much bigger than we can comprehend. Focusing on what we can be certain of – God’s goodness, Christ’s death and resurrection, etc. – puts on on more solid ground.

      Thanks again.

    • As I have written one of the most important areas of the Christian Faith is the interior life! But this is sought not in the subjective mind or life at all, but certainly within the great place of the will and intellect, itself. Perhaps one of the most grand studies I have made myself in this area was with or in the theology of that great German theologian Rudolf Bultmann. He was a student of Herman Gunkel, and later worked and sought what became, or was made more popular, called ‘form criticism’. And Bultmann was a member of the Confessing Church, with Barth, etc. I say this to point to Bultmann’s great work of the so-called, Demthologzing, which sought to replace the traditional supernaturalism with the temporal and existential ideas.

      Certainly some if not much of this was simply too overt, and based upon the so-called scientific method, which in reality did not take the genre and history of the Bible in its place. But, and however, it did take and understand to degree, that real place of the existential and interior place of man or humanity. That place where in faith we encounter both God and ourselves. I say all this to point to the fact, that faith itself is always a mystery, and it always deals with man at his own place of his sin and depth. But as Calvin said, man must know himself, as he becomes to know God! And so we cannot escape that whole reality of both ourselves and the doctrine of God!

    • For the theolog’s here, see btw, the work of that fine and conservative-confessing Luthern theologian: Walter Kunneth, who wrote on the best of the positive and theological work of Bultmann. We should note that Bultmann believed strongly in the historical and very real Death of Jesus Christ, there he certainly maintained the greatest reality of man and humanity!

    • *Lutheran

    • *Demythologzing … forgive my poor type!

    • Here is Calvin taken from the Psalms, thanks again to ‘The Old Guys’!

      3 Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!
      4 Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds – Psalm 141:3-4]

      For the two things stand connected the being silent, and the being free from the charge of evil thoughts. It is very possible that although he observed silence, he had many ungodly thoughts, and these are worse than vain words. We have simply alluded in passing to this foolish notion, as what may convince the reader of the possibility of persons running away with a word torn from its connection, and overlooking the scope of the writer. In committing himself to the guidance of God, both as to thoughts and words, David acknowledges the need of the influence of the Spirit for the regulation of his tongue and of his mind, particularly when tempted to be exasperated by the insolence of opposition. If, on the one hand, the tongue be liable to slip and too fast of utterance, unless continually watched and guarded by God; on the other, there are disorderly affections of an inward kind which require to be restrained. What a busy workshop is the heart of man, and what a host of devices is there manufactured every moment! If God do not watch over our heart and tongue, there will confessedly be no bounds to words and thoughts of a sinful kind, — so rare a gift of the Spirit is moderation in language.

    • C Michael Patton

      This is a very interesting article by Craig Keener on miracles. Though I do often wonder why these things are always in other countries. Also, the guy who brings up the stuff about UFO’s and Loch Ness is right. Everyone has their stories and so often the message attached contradicts.


    • Charisse

      Dear Michael,

      Thank you for sharing your personal life to try and warn others of the snare of “experiences”. Your assement is wise. May God continue to grant you wisdom and discernment as you point the sheep to Christ crucified.

      Only by His grace, charisse

    • Craig Bennett

      Michael. I am deeply sorry for the pain in your life and family circumstances.

      I was not making a statement that your back was not healed or you were not keeping your healing because you didn’t claim God had healed you.

      My reflection was that you didn’t seem in your post to actually celebrate and praise God for healing you. In many ways your post seemed to diminish what he had or had not done for you. And it was in this regard I was asking the question.

      What do you make of the Scripture where Jesus told them man at the pool whom he healed, be careful not to sin again, or your condition will be worse than before?

    • Shrommer

      Today it’s gone through my thoughts several times how the three main ways that Muslims are coming to Christ – the demonstrated love of Christians, reading the Bible, and dreams/visions – may represent the three channels through which everyone comes to Christ: social/relational/emotional, intellectual/understanding/reasonable, and mystical/experiential/supernatural. Certainly no one of these should be the only dimension of the Christian life. In REASON ENOUGH, Clark Pinnock argues that five spheres together make the best apologetic, whereas none of the 5 is a reasonable basis for faith on its own.

    • Ruben

      I read about your sister and I am sure it pains you deeply still, i have been through some trying circumstances myself that nearly crushed my heart and all I have with me as i am coming out of the questioning and bitter phase is the idea that God has hurt me but God has brought me through it and is now kind again. My depression is over and I can see clearly again. I cannot explain why He let me go through the hard experiences, all I know is I made it out of them and my faith and my heart is intact and well. Maybe the healing was God nudging you as if to say that the hard times are fading and his goodness is returning. From your posts I sense a deep hurt and fear from what happened to Angie and I completely understand. Like me you choose to be faithful, do your duty in-spite of your feelings, but your heart is still hurt and it takes time to build trust again.

    • Russell

      It is sad when someone takes their own life, for them and for those that they leave behind.

      Is it possible that the ‘miracle’ of Michael finding his sister was for his sister rather than his mother? There are many times when we take ‘promises’ to other, especially from scripture and make them our own. Promises that God never intended for us. Maybe God saved Michael’s sister as a sign of love for her alone?

    • sam

      How have any of you experanced the resurrected Christ? When todays Christianity doesn’t know what that means! Jesus is the first to be raised from the dead, He’s the first born from the dead. Christianity of today has no idea what those phrases mean. So…. Then the question is proposed? How have you experanced the resurrection? Since Christians teach it it at the end of the world?

    • Doc Pagala

      Michael, I didn’t know Angie. I barely know you except for our brief meetings in Manteca, and your teachings via TTP, so I can’t claim to know what you have gone through, I can only empathize with you and your family in her loss. I know it’s been a while, and the sting of her passing has softened, but the struggle and tensions with God’s sovereignty weighs heavy still. Remember what you taught all of us in Humanity & Sin, and Soteriology class about these kinds life experiences and how we must trust God to work things out for His glory? A hard pill to swallow as we tend to make everything personal, subjective, and rationalize by our own standards. It simply does not work that way, as much as we like to think that we are all that. Brother, I cry with you and struggle with these things all held in tension. God did not spare His only Son from the work of the Cross, for the benefit of those who choose to be redeemed in Him. This is our blessed hope, solace, and peace in the midst of our life storms, trials, and tribulations. The best apologetic we have is the testament of our faith, despite all of this, and the empty tomb. He is RISEN! Believers have already defeated death in Him and are co-heirs. So don’t trip, it’s all good.

    • Mo

      I’m fairly new here, so I did not know this story.

      My heart goes out to your family.

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