The following is an exchange between a mystic and a skeptic about whether and how you can know God. It should be clear which of the two voices is my own:
A: I know God.
B: What do you mean by “know God”?
A: I mean I had an actual encounter with God.
B: How do you know it was “God”?
A: You just know. It is like something – make that Someone – you already know, but you forgot you knew that Person, until that Person showed up. Your memory showed up at the same time.
B: I have never had an encounter with what you call God. Can you prove it was God, and that you really know God?
A: What do you mean by “prove”? Mine was a strictly private experience. I don’t know how to prove it to anyone else. And what would a “proof” look like, anyway, and who would it be for? Not for me, but for you. The only thing I can offer is this: you need to encounter God for yourself.
B: But how can you be so sure it was God? And how can you have knowledge nobody else has, or at least no one else is personally privy to except you?
A: I can neither explain nor justify what happened. But I am as certain that I encountered God as I am that you and I are conversing. Plus, others have reported the same kind of encounter.
B: OK, you say you cannot justify or prove that you encountered God. Can you at least tell me what you mean by “know”? I don’t understand what you mean by “knowing” God.
A: I will try. How would you know if a wind struck you? You cannot see the wind; you can only feel it against your skin, and observe how that wind affects things around you, like trees. My knowing God is sort of like a wind blowing through my inner being, my soul, my whatever it is that is not seeable yet not denied by most persons – except some Buddhists, who deny there is such a reality as a “soul.” Until the very instant this wind blew through me, I doubted that God existed. But now I cannot doubt it; plus, I am a different person since that wind blew through me.
B: Different how?
A: As Martin Buber put it: there is “something more” to my being than there was before the encounter, something I can neither deny nor explain. I realize this is comical; my having this kind of knowledge, but it is true nevertheless. There is knowledge where there was ignorance.
B: How can I see this difference in you that you assert? How can I know you are different due to what you say happened to you?
A: First of all, I am willing to go out on a limb and claim what I never would or could have claimed before: I know God. And it is God that I know, and I truly know God. Secondly, you will hopefully note, should you do the necessary observational work, I behave somewhat differently toward others and life itself. I am generally gentler and kinder, more patient and accepting. Should these tendencies prove permanent, what would that say or indicate or prove to you?
B: I cannot be sure; it is just as possible that your naïve, even delusional belief that you have encountered and know God accounts for your change in behavior. It is definitely not a proof.
A: Is it possible or permissible to believe what you cannot prove?
B: Believe like what for example?
A: Believe that the universe consists only what can be experienced by the five senses. Believe that the “empirical world” is the only world there is. This is a pure belief, not provable and dependent totally upon itself; it assumes what it cannot prove: that the only world is the world of the senses. There is no proof of proof after all; logic cannot justify itself without appealing to itself. Finally, as Pascal said, the heart has reasons which reason knows not of. Knowing God is a heart thing.