We've been talking about encounter, experience, propositions and revelation in the comments on Part 6. I wanted to post some of my thoughts on this topic and hope more will unveil themselves as I keep writing.
Some kind of "touch" (either a feeling of warmth spreading in the body, or specific words spoken in the mind, or deep conviction of sin and the desire for forgiveness, or inexplicable peace in trials, or a sign - as in, asking God to reveal Godself through a specific sign and then seeing that sign fulfilled) is often associated with evidence of God's existence and personal care through relationship. For some Christians, the sacraments are what mediate God's presence and create the encounter with God that offers the reassurance that God is with us.
However, there is a large group of Christians who report that they have not had a "God-experience" though they pray, read the Bible, seek forgiveness, are in community, take the sacraments and believe the doctrines they've been taught.
What is faith, then? What constitutes the basis for faith? These are the essential questions here. Christianity is a religion that proposes the idea of revelation - that God makes godself known through revelation. By that revelation, we enter a relationship with God. The supreme example of that revelation is in Jesus Christ. A less explicit form of revelation is found in creation. A more personal experience of revelation would be the inner conviction of sin (so some say).
Yet if we scale back each of these, we see that the conclusion that God speaks to us is one we draw after we have applied a Christian perspective to the naked experiences. For instance, it is because we have 2000 years of Christian witness and interpretation that we conclude that Jesus is the revelation of God. It is because of interpretation that we conclude that the Bible reveals God to us. We say that creation testifies to the glory of God after we consider the possibility that God exists. We attribute guilt about sin to the work of the Holy Spirit after someone suggest to us that the HS is the source of that conviction.
When we say that faith must be sourced in a person, in a relationship, not in propositions, it is a bit of sleight of hand. The idea that Jesus goes on existing and can be known today does not come to us without a Christian proposition that makes that suggestion. Apart from dreams and some reports of visions, most people have never seen Jesus, nor have they any reason to even know about Jesus apart from Christian history and witness. We are taking someone else's word when we say that we believe that Jesus is the Son of God. That idea does not come by itself. Someone teaches it, and we accept it, adopt it, believe it. We then learn to correlate the experience of warmth in the body or conviction of sin or words in the mind or peace without understanding as evidence of the proposition we've been taught.
This is what is called encounter with God in my circles.
But the experiences themselves don't have definitions until we give them.
Belief in God and the Christian worldview can occur without experiences, though. Many people are drawn to the faith based on the beauty of its ideals, the values it espouses, the forgiveness for sin which leads to a promise of heaven. Without a correlating experience of God, though, it is difficult to believe as easily. Something in us seeks tangible evidence that the invisible actually exists because we are comforming how we view all of life to suit the Christian frame of reference. When we diminish just how central experience/encounter is in this relating to God, we are not necessarily helping the one who hasn't had the experience. We may unwittingly be raising the issue of why the person isn't as worthy as others to receive specific evidence of God's presence in that person's life.
Why can she "feel" God's love and peace and I can't?
Why don't I feel close to God?
Why doesn't God speak to me?
Aren't these the building blocks of all relationships? How does one have a relationship without communication? Those who suggest that the Bible is the source of that communication help a lot at this point. For many who have no experiences of God, the Bible takes them a long way in giving them a tangible source of communication. Yet it's a double-edged sword because if the Bible is the primary source of relationship, the day that the Bible becomes suspect is the day the relationship to God is destabilized.
That's why experiences of God are so pivotal in reinforcing faith. Otherwise, what is the personal relationship built on, if not these experiences or encounters or revelations of God?
If we assert that relationship with God is by faith, not experience, then what is that faith? Is it assent to propositions? Is it a relationship to the Bible? Is it belief in an invisible deity, trusting in the idea of God's existence without any way of knowing it is real? Is it fundamental trust in reality absent specific beliefs and experiences? Is it participation in a community? Is it bringing human care to the oppressed? What is faith exactly?
And then what does relationship actually mean?
I'd welcome more of your thoughts on these questions. :)