The Felt Presence of God

According to a Newsweek poll, 92% of Americans believe in God. Six percent do not and two percent say they don’t know.

Philosophical atheism is not a problem in our culture. What is a problem is that most of the 92% who say they believe in God don’t exhibit behavior that backs up their belief. God is an idea or a theory they can say “yes” to but God is not an ever-present reality that makes a difference in the way they live their life. This is called practical atheism.

It’s just as common in churches as in culture. For many Christians who say they believe in God, God is not a real presence in their lives. God is an abstract theory. His presence can’t be “felt” in a consistent way.

The question for today: Is it reasonable to expect that God’s presence can be “felt’ by those who say they believe in him or does the life of faith expect us to believe in a Being whose felt presence is absent from day-to-day life most, if not all, of the time?


  1. It’s a fair question. I suppose there will be a wide range of answers depending on the religious background of the respondent.

    My question is, given some sensation, feeling or other experience that would by some religious believers indicate God’s presence, how do you rationally justify and defend the belief that such a sensation or impression is not merely the product of some psychological mechanism? Or, further, if we accept that it _is_ such a product, on what basis can we justify the claim that God prompted the mechanism into play?

    I have experienced sensations or feelings that I believed to be God’s presence especially in times of temptation or trial, but, perhaps due to an overly skeptical nature, am at times left cold by the experiences since I can construct non-theistic, non-supernatural explanations of these sensations.

    It seems, also, that lack of a direct experience with God may not be the deciding factor in life-altering belief, too. Life-altering belief seems to exist separate and apart from the individual’s charismatic or supernatural experiences of God’s presence, doesn’t it?

  2. Why is it that when I believe God to be ever present, I only feel his presence sometimes? I have been taught that God does not speak to us through intuition or emotions… I just wonder what that is if it’s not God touching me?

  3. I agree, many people believe in God but don’t think he matters that much. Others believe in God, they just don’t believe what he says.

    I wonder if some of that 2% who said “Don’t know” really meant, “I have no reason for asking that question”, or even “That question doesn’t interest me”.

  4. My answer to your 2-part question would be Yes and Yes. Maybe we are not strong enough to be in constant presence of God. Before we run, we walk. Before we walk, we crawl. Before we crawl, we simply squirm aimlessly. Before we write, we talk. Before we talk, we babble. Before we babble, we simply cry. We are organisms greatly dependent on growth through learned behavior and our individual experiences influence this process in varying ways. We cannot move or communicate well without practice.
    Why should we think communication with God is any different? Maybe many do feel his presence, but do not understand it as such. I can reflect on times in my life where I now believe that God was touching me, but I didn’t realize it at the time. Would faith even be necessary if we were all in constant presence with God? Maybe our lives are preparation for his constant presence. We are practicing, but without OUR efforts, we get no further in our abilities or our understanding. That also is faith… that if we practice, we can improve. The dryspells in our lives make the rain that much sweeter. In hindsight, I sometimes appreciate the times that I don’t feel God’s presence because that’s when I need him most and, with practice, I can learn how to better reach out and touch HIM.

  5. This is something I have been thinking about lately. What exactly does God’s presence feel like? I can see the evidence of His presence all around us; in the work of His hands; in the way He weaves our story into His. But, what does the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit feel like? How can we be aware of it?

  6. I think it is reasonable to say that God should be obvious and his presence should be known. If God truly existed, seems like he would be self-evident, obvious to us humans. But he is not self-evident or obvious. In fact, the only way any of us know about him is through a book which means we must know how to read and live in a part of the world where this book exists, otherwise we would not know about God. Based on that, how could he get mad at us and hold us accountable if we don’t know him? And yet he does (according to the Bible).

  7. It is a dance that we do with God, sometimes close and sometimes far. Every good story is a mixture of both.

    There are no easy answers to the presence of God. No sure fire feeling that proves it is so. Maybe part of the problem is we have always tried to give easy answers.

    The presence of God is understood in baptism and the Lord?s Supper yet we humans have turned that into a debate about number of times, thinking the right thoughts and holding our head the right way. A divine mystery, unexplainable, testifying to God?s presence and we made it a mess.

    There are mornings when I just enter our children?s rooms to look at them. I can get very close without disturbing their sleep. I am presents but they are unaware. At times at the swimming pool I have purposefully distanced myself so that one of our children would push themselves to swim further. I am present and yet distant for a purpose.

    Maybe we have been taught that determining His presence is about us, instead of believing it is true and knowing it is about Him. I pray God brings joy to the dance because I often find myself frustrated, stepping on toes.

  8. I am not trying to be “smart”, I am truly struggling with this. But, concerning what Darin said, we are not dancing with God and God is not a story. If his presence is understood by baptism and the Supper, then what about those throughout history who have known neither? They then don’t know him and will be eternally punished. Of course, you will probably say, God makes himself known in other ways. Is that why many worship Allah (we might want to think Allah is the same as the Christian God, but he is much different) or the Hindu deity(s) or Zeus or Ba’al? All of those people think/thought they knew God–they were just as sincere as we are. Are all of those manifestations of “God”?

  9. I forgot to say that God intended to reveal His presence through believers and Martin that one isn’t going that well either.

  10. Wade,
    Thanks for this important post. You’ve asked about “belief” and “feeling God’s presence.” I am certain that one thing (and possibly more) is missing from this equation, obedience. Jesus said that if we love him, we will obey him. It is my growing belief that I (and possibly others, but I can definitely speak for myself) am so far removed from simple obedience that we have “lost touch” with God. We believe in him… but that doesn’t permeate our lives because we do not practice that belief with much intentionality.

    I picked up a book out of curiosity “The Reasonableness of Christianity” by John Locke. It’s about as far from emergent thinking as you can get. He writes, “For if they believed him to be the Messiah, their King, but would not obey his laws, and would not have him to reign over them, they were but the greater rebels…” In other words, belief without submission equals rebellion. There’s a good equation and one that I think many of us suffer from. Thanks again for the post.


  11. The psalms are full of expression of desolation and consolation. When it appeared that the LORD was far away, the psalmist expressed pain, despair, and a longing for God’s presence. When the LORD was near, the soul expressed consolation, joy, peace. Indeed we can sense the presence of God, typically by cultivating the ground (heart) upon which the Spirit works, and purposefully seeking that grace (the psalmist was seeking God’s presence in Ps. 42). No doubt unrepented sin puts us at a distance from God and if we are discerning at all, then we’ll experience desolation. God’s presence, or lack thereof, is mysterious, but no less real. That’s why prose (such as a blog) simply can’t say much about that deep truth. Poets, artists, musicians have access to richer tools in elaborating or expressing this particular motif. Wade, many do not experience God except as an abstraction because they’ve been taught knowing God is a purely objective reality. But all knowledge is objective and subjective; if we aren’t having subjective experiences with God, then perhaps we’ve fashioned a god after our own Modernistic image.



  1. […] A very nice post from my sister, Becky Burroughs, on saying "I’m sorry." Wade Hodges did a interesting piece on "The Felt Presence of God." […]

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