Alexei Ospipov on the limits of experience and the knowledge of God

Is it really possible to deny God only because everyday experience does not give Him to us? But we know that “everyday experience” is in no way absolute, that it encompasses only some superficial sides of events and phenomena, that plain common sense is limited, and that there are many irrefutable facts which do not fit into what would seem to be unshakable, self-evident truth. Everyday experience gives us almost none of the things modern scientists talk about, but we believe their experience; we believe them without even knowing them or having the remotest possibility of testing the larger part of their assumptions and conclusion. On what grounds do we disbelieve the innumerably greater quantity of religious experiences, the testimony of people who are pure as crystal?

The experience of these experts in the “science of sciences” does not speak of unsubstantiated faith, nor of opinion, nor of an accepted hypothesis, nor even simple tradition, but of the fact of their knowledge of God.

The main experience of religion – a meeting with God – possesses (at least in its highest points) such a victorious power and fiery conviction, that it leaves any other obviousness far behind. It can be forgotten or lost, but not denied…. If people of faith began to tell about themselves, about what they have seen and learned with final certainty, then a whole mountain would form under which the mound of sceptical rationalism would be buried and hidden from sight.

Knowledge of God is an exact science, and not a chaos of mystical ecstasies and unhealthy exultations caused by inflamed nerves. Knowledge of God has its own systems, conditions, and criteria. How can we attain the knowledge of God? It begins with a selfless search for the truth, for the meaning of life and moral purity, and by forcing oneself towards goodness. Without such a beginning, the “experiment” of knowing God cannot be successful. These conditions are expressed in the Gospels briefly and clearly: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”.(Mt 5:8).

Alexei Ospipov

Experiencing God, Experiencing Joy

Overjoyed Experience, experiential, experientialism … are these words you associate with Christianity? Have you ever encountered people who insist, Christianity is about dogma, not experience? Is that your experience maybe?

Recently I came across a comment from a former Wiccan who said, "I didn't know that real Christianity was experiential, that true Christians have a deeply personal relationship with God." I thought, how unfortunate. I then thought, sadly, how unfortunate most introductory courses on Christianity focus on the essential teachings, without any teaching on experience! No wonder so many people get such jaundiced impressions.

It got me thinking about the range of emotions that people experience, in everyday life and in their encounters with God. What reflections have the apostles and prophets left for us? As it turns out, there's heaps if we care to look. I began … with joy. 

Deuteronomy 16:14 
Be joyful at your feast—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns.

1 Chronicles 29:17 
I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things have I given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you.

Ezra 6:22 
For seven days they celebrated with joy the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because the LORD had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria, so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.

Nehemiah 12:43 
And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.

Esther 8:16 
For the Jews it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honor.

Job 6:10
Then I would still have this consolation— my joy in unrelenting pain— that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.

Psalm 16:11 
You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence

Psalm 21:6 
Surely you have granted him eternal blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence.

Psalm 33:3 
Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.

Psalm 45:15 
They are led in with joy and gladness; they enter the palace of the king.

Psalm 51:12 
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Psalm 71:23 
My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you— I, whom you have redeemed.

Psalm 94:19 
When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.

Psalm 100:2 
Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

Psalm 126:3 
The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

Proverbs 12:20 
There is deceit in the hearts of those who plot evil, but joy for those who promote peace.

Matthew 28:8 
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Mark 4:16 
Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy.

Luke 24:52
Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.

John 15:11 
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

Acts 13:52 
And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Romans 12:12 
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

2 Corinthians 7:4 
In all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.

Galatians 5:22 
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness

Philippians 1:4 
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy

1 Thessalonians 5:16 
Be joyful always

James 1:2 
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds

1 Peter 1:8 
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy

Much to reflect on … and much more if we look deeper.