Menu Close

“Feeling” God

feeling the holy spirit

One of the proofs given by Evangelicals for the existence of the Christian God is that they “feel” Him in their lives. Countless Evangelicals have said, I KNOW my God is real because He lives in my heart! Among Charismatics and Pentecostals, this “feeling” God is taken to extremes, resulting in speaking in tongues, bodily contortions, and all sorts of physical phenomena. Even among Baptists — especially South of the Mason-Dixon Line, God’s presence can be evidenced by those “feeling” God running the aisles, standing on pews, waving towels/hankies, raising hands, and shouting AMEN!

I have been asked numerous times whether I ever “felt” God in my life. Such questioners want to know if what I had was a head salvation, one rooted in the intellect, and not the “heart.” Never mind the fact that humans do not have “hearts” in the sense that Evangelicals use the word. The Bible, in fact, says, as a man THINKS in his HEART so is he. Biblically speaking, the heart is the mind, the intellect, and not the blood-pumping organ. Who hasn’t heard a sermon about missing heaven by eighteen inches — the distance between the human brain and heart.  That said, when asked if I ever “felt” God, the answer is an emphatic, no-doubt-about-it YES!

Let me give several examples of when I “felt” God.

One of my favorite get-alone-with-God places was the auditorium of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Somerset Baptist was a rural church, and I would, on many occasions over the twelve years I pastored the church, sit in the quiet, empty auditorium and speak out loud to God. On more than a few occasions, I “felt” not only God’s presence, but also God speaking to me.

Another occasion of “feeling” God also took place at Somerset Baptist in November of 1993. Several months prior, Pat Horner and Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas, extended to me an invitation to become the co-pastor of Community Baptist. After praying over the matter, I decided God wanted me to stay in Somerset. In November, I was kneeling in my office praying when all of a sudden, I “felt” God’s overwhelming presence. God said to me, I want you to become co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. I began to weep uncontrollably, telling God that I would do whatever it was He wanted me to do. The rest of this story can be found in the series I am a Publican and a Heathen.

Music has played a part in my “feeling” God. Hearing songs such as I Can Only Imagine by MercyMeBecause of Who You Are, Use Me Here, Nails in Your Hands by Everybodyduck, and Who am I, Praise You in This Storm, and Voice of Truth by Casting Crowns, often elicited deep feelings of God’s presence. There were times that I was so overwhelmed by God’s presence that I was weeping uncontrollably and had to pull the car off on the berm until my tears subsided.

I also “felt” God when certain hymns were sung. In particular, singing It is Well With My Soul often resulted in me “feeling” God. It should not be surprising, then, that many Evangelicals “feel” God while engaged in singing praise and worship music. The lyrics and music are deliberately crafted to bring worshipers into the “presence” of God. I have personally witnessed and experienced all sorts of emotional experiences during praise and worship sessions. It was as if God personally showed up and was in the midst of the congregation.

Let me give one more example of “feeling” God. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, I preached 4,000+ sermons. There were numerous occasions while I was preaching that I “felt” God, and I could see that others “felt” God too. I have been in services where the presence of God was so thick that you could cut it with a knife. I have seen countless people “feel” God as He took my words and used them for His honor and glory. Or so I thought, anyway.

I know for certain that I have “felt” God and that “feeling” Him was a regular part of my life as a Christian, both before and during my time in the ministry. How, then, do I square this fact with what I now know to be true — that there is no God?  Early in the deconversion process, this question troubled me. I knew that I had “felt” God. I knew for certain that God had visibly and deeply moved me emotionally. Based on these experiences, how could I now say that these intimate connections with God were not what I claimed they were?

Were these experiences real? Of course, they were. I grew up in a religious culture where it was common for people to “feel” God and to have Him speak to them through prayer, Scripture, and the preaching of the Word. God was everywhere, and those who sought Him would find Him. I read numerous books authored by Christian mystics going all the way back to the Puritan era. I desired more than anything to be filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Any honest evaluation of my Evangelical upbringing will conclude that “feeling” God was very much a part of what it meant to be Christian. While salvation rested not on subjective feelings, but the objective words of God, “feeling” God was a reminder that you were God’s child and he was always with you.

Understanding “feeling” God became clearer to me when I examined other emotional experiences in my life. Watching my grandchildren play can, at times, elicit similar feelings, as can making love and having an intimate, quiet night on the town with Polly. Several years ago, Polly and I watched our youngest son graduate from Northwest State Community College and our youngest daughter graduate from Bowling Green State University. As I watched each of them walk the aisle and receive their diplomas, I was overwhelmed emotionally, my mind flooded with gratitude and joy over their accomplishments — accomplishments that would NOT have happened had I remained an Evangelical pastor.

I have similar feelings watching certain movies. The same can be said for sporting events. Years ago, I stopped by a high school track meet to take some photographs. One of the events had a runner who was definitely not as good as the rest of the competitors. I watched as she got farther and farther behind until she was half a track behind everyone else. Yet, while everyone else was cheering the winners, I found myself deeply moved emotionally over the last-place finisher’s determination and grit.

I now know that “feeling” God is as real as other emotional experiences I have had in my life. God need not be real for me to “feel” Him/Her/It. Practitioners of non-Christian religions can share similar experiences of “feeling” their God or being overwhelmed emotionally. Feeling such things are a part of our DNA. Sadly, Evangelicals think that their “feeling” God is objectively true, and all others are false; that there is a BIG difference between “feeling” God and the emotional experiences humans have through relationships and interactions with the natural world. Who among us can look at the star-filled skies and not feel a sense of awe and wonder. Must we believe in God to have such feelings? Of course not. All of us have the capacity to feel, no God needed.

Did you “feel” God as a Christian? How do you explain these experiences now that you no longer believe in God?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section.


Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.


  1. Avatar

    Is there any way of knowing for certain, no matter how convinced you are within yourself, that when you are feeling the presence of God it isn’t actually Satan? I’ll submit that there’s absolutely no way you can possibly know, and that every argument such a person might put forward as to why they ‘just know’ it’s God inside them, could as easily be Satan playing tricks. Perhaps God just sits back, his hands behind his head, and watches events unfold.

    • Avatar

      Yep, I think you’ve got it, sir. The first time the Gawd-debel visited me in my recollection it was a dark presence under my bed at night. I got the indwelling of the dark presence and was afraid to even look! Further events unfolded including baptism in a chilly, large IFB fish tank.
      I had the feeling alright and it came and went with me all over hell’s half-acre.
      Oh look, the dawn is breaking on the eastern hills here. It is on the hills and I am going to visit my bees this morning instead of going to work. I will have the indwelling today as I enter the bee zone and listen to their deep and wide buzz. I feeeeeel it, Bruce, and always have, praise Claude and faster and faster baud and so forth and on…

    • Avatar

      The Cartesian evil demon is a similar concept put forth by Descartes that has been explored and debated for centuries.

    • Avatar
      Becky Wiren

      That’s interesting. Christians would always say you had to study the Bible to be able to avoid being deceived. But since there are SOOOOO many Christianities fighting against each other, with most of them certain they are the ONE TRUE CHURCH, then it would seem like studying the Bible really doesn’t do anything to advance psychic, oops I mean spiritual powers, does it?

  2. Avatar

    Bruce, as a Christian I didn’t know about what the human brain is capable of. Without counter information, we “feel” and interpret because of what the church tells us it is. The brain, in a micro moment, is stimulated and we feel the emotion in other parts of the body. (Hence, the “feel” Him in our heart)
    After I left the church, I used to think the only evidence I had that God was real was the fact that I spoke in tongues…until I read the 5 yr research that Canada did about…glossolalia. I do miss the emotion of praise & worship but not the aggravation of church life.

  3. Avatar
    John Arthur

    Hi Bruce,

    I felt “God” in charismatic Baptist services and also in Quaker meetings. But in Quaker meetings there were 2 (out of about 40 people who attended) who were atheists. They felt “God”, too, but saw no need to attribute their feelings to anything outside themselves.


    John Arthur

  4. Pingback:Feeling god’s presence | Civil Commotion

  5. Avatar
    Becky Wiren

    I read sometimes in the last couple years that scientists have discovered something in our brains that makes us feel like someone is in the room with us. Seriously. When they stimulated that region of the brain people would feel like someone was near. Yes, some of them felt like it was God.

  6. Avatar

    This is… eerie? This subject has very much been on my mind so Bruce writing about it is a bit weird. Not claiming it’s anything Divine mind you! lol Just one of those weird coincidences we all have now and then.

    My current thought on the matter is related a bit to both John Arthur and Becky Wren’s posts. What if there is a type of wave or particle that we have not yet discovered that stimulates that area of the brain Becky mentions as well as inspiring a feeling of awe and wonder? And that this “field” can be affected by and affect us as humans? It would explain some aspects of religion and human experience that seem to be almost universal. It certainly isn’t any more crazy than the idea of some Guy-with-a-long-white-beard in the sky… is it?

    I have struggled to reconcile my acceptance of science as empirical truth with my spiritual experience since high school and it has always been a sort of uneasy truce. I know I could not manage it at all if I sincerely felt that my choice was Calvinism or complete rejection of the concept of the Divine. Faced with that choice, I would make the same one Bruce has and reject the Christian Bible and its God, lock, stock and barrel. And yet I am often overwhelmed by that feeling of awe and wonder and the peacefulness that seems to accompany it, often when least expected or sought after. And I have one experience in particular that seems to defy the laws of cooking physics and every other experience I have had with potatoes in over 46 years of cooking them.

    And so I am left looking for answers where the line between the physical and metaphysical seems to disappear and come up with fanciful notions like the one above. At those times, that sense of wonder and peacefulness can be hard to come by.

    • Avatar

      It is fun to think that perhaps the merging of the physical and metaphysical that you describe are the overlapping of other dimensions/realities. Or it could all just be illusory; brain in a vat type scenario.

      Anyway, there will always be horizons, such as the one you suggest, beyond which empirical inquiry cannot see. So I expect that appeals to the supernatural as an explanation will persist. With the accelerating expansion of space (widely accepted but still possibly false), our observable reality is continually diminished. If humans are still around in a few billion years we will eventually reach the point where no new information can be acquired. Whatever lies beyond that horizon will forever be the source of superstition. And the wondrous journey that is the scientific pursuit will inevitably come to its conclusion.

  7. Avatar

    I have never been a Christian, but this makes perfect sense to me. I have had the same kind of profound emotional sensations, it’s just that there’s nothing in my background or world-view that would lead me to interpret it as the presence of a supernatural entity.

    When you “felt” God, it was real. When you “felt” the same feelings in the other contexts you describe, it was real. And when millions of other people “felt” the presence of Allah or Zeus or Odin in centuries and millennia past, that was real too. It just doesn’t mean Odin is real.

  8. Avatar
    Justine Valinotti

    Perhaps “feeling” the presence of God is the reason why so many young people “accept Jesus into their lives” or “give their lives over to the Lord” in their late adolescent and early adult years–and why Christian fellowships like Inter-Varsity and Navigators are so active on college campuses.

    “Feeling the presence of God” is another one of those heightened emotions that comes so easily when hormones are brewing and percolating in th body. People change profoundly, physically as well as emotionally, during those years–which are also the time when bipolar disorders and other mental and emotional illnesses manifest themselves. It’s also the time when young people are trying to find their own answers to life’s questions. If someone is anxious or depressed but hasn’t yet had the experience to know that sch things can pass or change–or developed the skills to cope with them–it’s easy to think that a revelation or insight is proof of “the presence of God.”

    Perhaps I am projecting: I had such an experience and, yes, became involved with my university’s chapter of Inter-Varsity–to the point of editing (and writing most of) its newsletter, in addition to “allowing myself to be a conduit of God” when I convened prayer meetings and facilitated Bible studies.

  9. Avatar

    I felt God rarely, the tongues thing though bugged me though and it was one of the few things I lied about. It always sounded just like random incoherent ramblings and never a foreign language like it was supposed to.

  10. Avatar
    Daniel Wilcox

    Bruce, Thanks a lot for this reflective article.

    Back when I was a Christian for 55 years, (being the doubter that I have been since an early age), I spent many an hour questioning, analyzing, onion-peeling my way through various spiritual experiences I had.

    And since my conclusion that Christianity (in any form) isn’t true, I have repeatedly mulled over the various experiences.

    So in response to your questions:
    Did you “feel” God as a Christian? How do you explain these experiences now that you no longer believe in God? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

    #1 No, I don’t think I ever felt God all the years I was a Christian. Other Christians, especially famous leaders, etc. emphasized they ‘knew’ Christianity was true in their heart.

    I for years sought such a ‘knowing’ feeling, but never experienced it like the famous Christians, and Christians I personally knew spoke of “feeling” God.

    I remember especially, distinctly, at various inspirational evangelism outreaches, when hearing of the wonder of a personal relationship with God, of me spontaneously reacting with a deep desire to go forward! Because though I had been a Christian for at least 10 years, I had never felt anything like the leaders were claiming. But, of course, most of the time I didn’t because I realized that it didn’t make any sense. If after all my devoted prayer, constant Bible study, witnessing, passing out tracts, etc. hadn’t given me this deep personal relationship then going forward another time wouldn’t.

    One time I went forward to receive the gift of tongues, but when the leader emphasized I ought to open my mouth and start speaking in order for the Holy Spirit to act, I realized that this was no more than a con, and a very irrational one at that. Why would the Spirit of God need me to start jabbering on my own effort in order to receive a spiritual gift?!

    #2 Having said all of that, it doesn’t mean that I never had ‘spiritual experiences;’ the experiences were just nothing like the ones that the Christian leaders promised.

    Here’s an example of a one dramatic spiritual experience I once had while working the graveyard shift at 7-11. There was no inspirational speaker, I hadn’t been doing Bible study, etc. In fact I had just loaded the 7-11 cooler with Coors cans:-)!

    Then I got floored over (but it wasn’t specifically a Christian experience. In fact most Christians, I suppose, would label it as demonic or heretical.

    What brought about this amazing experience, and why, and how, I still puzzle.

    Outside the Limit

    Working through the Thursday graveyard shift
    At 7-11, I stock cold shelves of ‘cours’
    Then write a college essay on dreiser’s
    Claim, ‘life is thin surface, all negation;’

    But alert in that night, I muse in the stillness
    While beyond store glass, the parking lot lies
    Vacant, lit by neon signs and street lights–
    When so unexpected my mind transports.

    I rise outside of self, see far beyondness,
    Perceive myself sitting between store rows,
    Observe my little ego, skin, and skull
    My bodied self–finite with staid cans and jars.

    Suddenly drowned in awe, awash in fire here
    Luminous presence, aware beyond words, vivid bliss
    Blessed all-encompassing exalted surpassing
    Great transcendent limitless awareness.

    –Daniel Wilcox
    First pub. In different form in
    Flutter Poetry Journal,
    then The Mindful Word,

    • Avatar

      Interesting work, Mr. Wilcox…. what better end for the ecstatic experience, the walk to the edge of glory, than Poetry. Nicely said. I have bumped into these experiences my whole life long and feel they are fully human and nothing to do with Boo-Boo, Woo-Woo or Moo-Moo. They are bipeds being alive.

  11. Avatar

    To me feeling God was mostly this sense of consolement when I was sad or afraid. It would be sort of a supportive voice and feeling to make me calm. It was nice and soothing and for a long time the one thing that I held onto as proof that God existed. I also sometimes felt led by God. Usually this was through songs or the Bible, but sometimes it was more like a voice/thought in my head that I assumed came from God.

    Sometimes it was more of an angry feeling where I thought God was angry at me. This fortunately didn’t happen all that often, but it was upsetting. I would feel guilty over something and it felt that God was not all that forgiving just yet and so I had to wait for his anger to pass. Not a very nice feeling.

    I never did get to speak in tongues. Our church was against it but I knew some people from more charismatic churches that did have that gift and to me that was like a real sign that God blessed you. I longed for it quite badly for a while but it never happened, so I stopped wanting it all that much. Later I thought it was creepy and strange (and might also come from demons too and so that made it dangerous too – how to find out if it was God and not his enemy that send the words and signs…? )

  12. Avatar
    Mary Cox

    I like the comment about adolescence and hormones and mental issues. By age 19, I was seriously suicidal and then I had an “awakening.” Looking back I have come to believe that I labeled experiences according to what I needed to believe to keep me alive. I needed a God who loved and cared about me because my parents didn’t and I was so lost. But through the years (I’m 62) I’ve reinterpreted those early experiences. My explanation now is that it all boils down to chemical reactions that can be manipulated by various means for various purposes. In my early twenties, I was “slain in the spirit” several times, but as I got older it never happened again. I think I was young and troubled and susceptible to influence. As I studied and got grounded and healthier I didn’t need all of that anymore, finally leaving the church over 12 years ago. It was a long, arduous, but necessary, journey. Funny thing is, the truth really did set me free, just not in the way I expected.

    • Avatar

      Hi Mary! Your story sounds very much like mine! Other than the fact that I was never “slain in the spirit” we share much of the same. I agree, from what I’ve read since my leaving the church 12+ yrs ago (I’m also 62), that our brain releases chemicals to give that “feel good” feeling. Hence, the feeling from praise & worship or another thing I used to call, “The fog of the Holy Spirit”. Interpretation becomes the way that others (in the church) tell us to. Without counter information, it seems we correlate (and are duped into believing) that “God” is that feeling.
      I, too, feel that the truth really did set me free. I never expected that it would be outside of the bubble of Christianity.

  13. Pingback:“Feeling” God –

  14. Avatar

    I was brought up in environments where the Church of England was a given; Scripture (Old & New Testaments) was taught in school like any other subject; but I was never required or pressed into becoming a Christian, and so didn’t.

    My respect for this religion is solely based on its acknowledgment of a transcendental reality that we glimpse, as you and other commenters have expressed; to which I offer thanksgiving and feel humble. Perhaps if I lived in the States it would be harder to respect religion. The history and geography of our two countries (US & England) are so different; Christianity has different associations in each.

    As for your question about God, far too much to put here in comment, but it’s a perennial topic in my blog, see below. My attitude would be summed up as agnostic, with the sense of an unknowable something that permeates us and the rest of the universe.

  15. Avatar
    Paul McLaughlin

    I remember as a 17-yr-old straining in vain to feel god or hear god and failing miserably and then, because I wasn’t wrapped up in a controlling church environment, deciding to see what it felt like to admit to myself that I had no reason to believe in god or Christ, and finding it felt liberating to no longer have to live with the emotional stress of trying to hold diametrically opposite beliefs (geology and Genesis, biology and virgin birth, Bible as book and Bible as holy writ).

    That was 54 years ago and though I have often since then experienced ecstasy and joy and overwhelming gratitude for being alive, I have never once felt that not being able to attribute my feelings to a diety diminished their intensity or value. If anything these experiences led me to marvel at my good fortune to have been born as a member of a species that evolution has given the ability to feel this way.

    But not the only species : watch my dog’s eyes when I scratch her tummy.

  16. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    I started out in life believing that there are spirits in everything, the creator was above and in everything, and non- threatening. Tenger was Blue Sky, the head of all spirit life under him. Reincarnation was compatible with Buddhist teachings, so we believed in both,practiced both and thought that Christianity was for White people, and the Bible God was their creator. 1976 was during the Jesus movement of the 70’s, and I heard the Gospel as an individual for the first time. Jesus was the way out of that endless cycle of birth- death- birth, and I went for him. I was open minded then, really vulnerable to b.s. and bad people with ulterior motives. All through this part of my life, wonder and gratitude were part of my makeup as a person. Emotions like those will move a person to get close to God, I’d say. The behavior I began to see from other Christians though, slowly chipped away at that joy. I was puzzled and disappointed that Jesus could speak to anyone, to convict them of wrongdoing ( if he chose to)yet often didn’t, when it came to babies and children, or poor adults being mistreated in/ by the churches. Things didn’t quite add up. Even worse, we made decisions based on what we were taught and threatened with, when it came to handling others. We had no boundaries because to have those was sinful and interfered with God’s plans. The only parts of church activities I enjoyed were acts of worship, which was never long enough, and coffee time after services. I’d look back now and think that I felt God at times, even warned of dangers, like don’t walk by a street, or by a group of people loitering, etc. Had I never made it to church to begin with, I’d have been far better off. That and not listening to preachers on radio too. That none of those preachers can agree with the basics among each other, like the youngest debate between Baptists and Pentacostal sects, always bothered me. Each taught the other was hell- bound. Eventually, after many hard times and events, I was done with all of the organized part of Christianity, and though not dumping God altogether,only because there’s no ironclad way to prove( to myself)that the Bible itself is totally false, I withdrew from the social aspect regarding the above, with zero regrets. I only wish I’d known enough to walk away from all that bad advice when young, so my good years weren’t wasted. As for worship, I miss the ignorant bliss I had with that one action. I feel weird trying to like before, because it’s tainted by those negative experiences. God/ Jesus has this aspect to him that I just don’t like. I often felt the presence of God, I thought. While doing Bible study and devotions to start the day. He could have done better, that’s what I always feel about those days. Disappointment crowded out everything else eventually. Regardless of whether he’s real, or not. All considered, I truly hope he can be disproved as the creator,sooner rather than later !

  17. Avatar

    Completely agree the heart is the intellect which represents the spirit. Feelings are personality and even animals have personalities and feelings (just look at Fido the family pet lol).

    I have ‘felt’ Gods presence a few times. One time I was alone and lonely in life and I ‘felt’ his love and I cried. A lot of the times though, in my experience, this ‘feeling’ was undoubtedly a hindrance. I have ‘felt’ a job opportunity was not for me (when it could have been) I have ‘felt’ an injustice should happen to me (when it shouldn’t). I imagined this was God’s spirit inside me guiding me. The truth is though it was a product of what I wanted to imagine and left me less decisive in some crucial situations because I was trying to hear that ‘soft soft voice’.

    I also think it causes destruction. Each Christian is taught by the bible they have the Holy Spirit inside them, that the Holy Spirit ‘guides them to all truth.’ So in my experience, each Christian is convinced they are right and convinced that almost any form of disregard of another person’s boundaries is acceptable because they ‘feel’ it, and equate this to their direct communication with the 3rd part of the trinity.

  18. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    I have struggled with depression all my life, was on antidepressants for almost thirty years, and have reached a point where my mood is manageable without drugs but with insight, meditation, and other techniques for shutting down the Depression Dragon in my brain who tells me I am worthless.

    Thus, I can absolutely say that brains lie to our conscious selves, who are only part of who we are. They can lie to us about our value, they can convince us that horrible, improbable events will definitely occur, they can cause us to hear and see things that aren’t there, and so forth. We like to think that these experiences are pathological, and when they’re extreme, that’s true. But there isn’t some magic switch, such that people whose brains function normally never do these things. We’d like to believe that there is. Most of us react defensively when someone suggests that our memory of an event or experience might not be supported by data. Unfortunately, as my housemate likes to say, we’re meat sacks. Our brains are not computers, and it’s actually awesome that they work as well as they do.

    Regarding the idea of feeling the presence of God, our ability to infer agency in things that absolutely don’t have it was an amazing gift of evolution. It allowed a clumsy, slow ape to survive in a world of predators, and to raise children successfully in that world. We can celebrate that it allowed us to become the species we are while still questioning our personal certainty that “something” is there, especially something we really might want to experience, like the presence of God.

    So, when I hear the doorbell that didn’t ring, or catch the thing out of the corner of my eye that isn’t there, or feel my decades-deceased cat Odetta on the bed at night, well, my brain is working almost right, and I’ll take what I can get. But damn, it would be wonderful to hear Odetta’s demanding meow again. (Though she’d undoubtedly bully the heck out of my living cats.)

Want to Respond to Bruce? Fire Away!

Bruce Gerencser