Here, John Michael Talbot recounts the experience of a friend of his:
I remember how a monastic brother in our community once told me about his own experience of God’s love. He was out walking the mountain roads and wooded trails that surrounded our monastic hermitage. Suddenly, he was overcome with a sense that God loved him so much that even if he were the only person on earth, Jesus still would have sacrificed his life to atone for his sins. The brother was overwhelmed, and began to wep tears of gratitude and joy. But mixed with his joy was sadness, for he had turned away from the God who loved him so much.
This this dear brother’s tears became a mingling of sorrow and joy together. For him, the atonement was no longer a theological abstraction. It was intimate and personal. He knew the vicarious and atoning death of Jesus on the cross was God’s ultimate expression of love for HIM! This was more than a legal contract. this was pure self-sacrifice. This was love.
Theology is often where we start in our quest to understand things, but we can’t stop there. May we understand the atonement as deeply as this brother did.
-John Michael Talbot, The Music of Creation, p.90
I think there are quite a few people who love the Lord, genuinely strive to obey him, and even know their theology pretty well. But, they have never had an experience like this. “Oh, I’m just not an emotional person.” they say. “God made all people different and my experience of his presence just looks different.”
And of course, that is true, but my guess is that they don’t quite buy their own words. If they are humble (and they very well may be), then they will doubt the fullness of their own knowledge of God. Perhaps what this brother experienced, the same thing I’ve read about other saints experiencing, maybe it’s something that they are missing. If they desire a deeper relationship with God (a difficult thing to put your finger on), they will wonder if a connection with him might look something like this.
The fact that some rather flaky individuals with no grasp of even the most fundamental theology claim to have to have these types of experiences all the time is a major turn-off to these folks. Nonetheless, they will likely still wonder that if they REALLY understood they atonement, they might cry about it too. At least a little bit.
(This person is partially autobiographical of course. Obviously not the part about them being humble.)