When we were LDS, we believed God heard and answered our prayers. We felt the Spirit. Was God really at work? When LDS friends tell us about their spiritual experiences, how do we make sense of these experiences?
Every Religion Has Examples of Spiritual Experiences
Members of every faith can point to stories of answered prayers and divine intervention. Even atheists can tell about “blessings” they have received. Since everyone has comparable stories, those stories don’t really prove anything in favor of one group or another. But how do we account for experiences people of other faiths have?
Not Every Spiritual Experience Comes from God
It’s a mistake to assume that every experience in the spiritual realm comes from God. The Bible mentions spiritual forces that are evil and deceptive. For example, Satan has power to perform counterfeit miracles
2 Corinthians 11:13-14 These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
Satan can do things that make him look like something he isn’t – an angel of light. That’s why spiritual experiences, answered prayers, or even miracles don’t prove a relationship with Jesus. Jesus himself warned about this.
Matthew 7:22-23 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’
Even people who have performed works of spiritual power will not necessarily be acknowledged by Jesus.
Sometimes God Is Just Good to People
God can answer someone’s prayer and bless their life just because he is gracious and generous. He makes the sun shine and the rain fall on good and bad people alike.
Acts 14:16-17 In the past God permitted all the nations to go their own ways, but he never left them without evidence of himself and his goodness. For instance, he sends you rain and good crops and gives you food and joyful hearts.
God can also use an answered prayer to reveal himself to someone he is drawing to himself.
The Ultimate Test of Spiritual Experiences Is the Bible
God has spoken with clarity in his word, the Bible. This provides us with an objective test of truth against which we can evaluate subjective experiences. Anything that contradicts the Bible cannot represent truth – no matter how warm or powerful the feeling might be – because God cannot contradict himself.
Galatians 1:8 Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you.
This suggests that even an angel can conceivably lead people astray.
[Related: Rethinking Basic Assumptions after Mormonism]
Every spiritual experience we experience or hear about, whether past or present, must be tested by the Bible. That’s the only way we can know whether an experience comes from God – or not.