What do we mean when we say, “I feel the Spirit”?
It’s a phrase that has been heard in nearly every church-related activity, from within the walls of the temples to around-the- campfire at youth conference. There has been a great deal of confusion on this subject. Why is it so hard for members of the Church to confidently identify when they feel the Spirit? Why is it that so many members have various descriptions for what it means to feel the Spirit? Why is it that some (assuming equal levels of righteousness) feel the Spirit at different times?
What do we mean when we say, “I feel the Spirit”?
Who Is The Spirit and How Does One Feel Him?
The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead. He is a personage of spirit, without a body of flesh and bones (see D&C 130:22). He is often referred to as the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Lord, or the Comforter.
He “witnesses of the Father and the Son” (2 Nephi 31:18) and reveals and teaches “the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5). One can receive a sure testimony of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ only by the power of the Holy Ghost. His communication to your spirit carries far more certainty than any communication you can receive through your natural senses.
How does somebody feel the Holy Ghost? Consider some scriptural words describing this “feeling the Spirit” business. A burning, being pierced, tasting, seeing and hearing, receiving, and having something manifest. When the scriptures use the word feel, they seldom use it on its own: feel the swelling motions, feel God’s words, feel to sing the song of redeeming love.
Other definitions of the word ‘feel’ may help us deepen our understanding of what the Lord would have us understand concerning interactions with His spirit: “To be aware of, to examine by search or touch, to be capable of sensation, to give a sensation of a particular physical quality when touched, to consider oneself to be in a particular state.”
“To be aware of” is perhaps the most pertinent definition. Reading the scriptures seems to indicate that the situation of having the Holy Ghost interact with us is more nuanced than mere emotional or even physical sensation. This is different than most English speakers usage of the word “feel.” Most commonly we refer to feeling emotional states; angry, sad, etc, but the scriptures don’t seem to indicate that type of feeling with the stories they relate. It might be proper to understand “feeling the Spirit” to mean “I am aware of the Holy Ghost.”
What Else Could We Mean?
Researchers have studied the brains of Monks and Nuns. Despite differences in beliefs and practices the brains of each group react in the exact same way when the given individual is having a “spiritual experience.” When we use the more common sense of the word feel, we are probably identifying the feelings that nuns and monks and all religious people have. Are these feelings bad? Nope. Joy, love, and peace all come from God.
However, receiving the Holy Ghost as a witness of the truth is something altogether different from these feelings.
How is it altogether different? Its the difference in knowing a person and not knowing a person.
Imagine a crowd of women. Imagine that you were tasked with describing your mother to someone else so that they could identify her amidst the crowd. It would be difficult for a second-hand searcher to identify your mother, but for you, the son or daughter, it would be no problem whatsoever to identify your mother.
If we assume feeling the Spirit is to be aware of or know the Holy Ghost then it is difficult if not impossible to describe Him (or his power, influence, etc.) to someone else so that they could identify Him in the midst of a crowd of other feelings or stimuli. In a sense, it is futile to describe the difference between what the world recognizes as God and what a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints knows to be the Holy Ghost.
How Does Feeling The Spirit Qualify As Evidence?
“You can’t rely on personal feelings or experiences as a basis for evidence” most critical or anti-non-members tell us. “It’s too subjective and ultimately non-biblical. Satan can come in the form of an angel of light and deceive your heart.” As with so many other anti-sentiments, there is a standard package of scriptures that may be used to ostensibly justify these claims.
Is there any value in these criticisms? Maybe. Maybe we should look at these criticisms and ask ourselves if we should not be more precise in our language when we say we feel the Holy Ghost.
Perhaps it would be better for us to say, “I felt the Holy Ghost testify to me that what Brother so-and-so said was true” or “I feel God communicating to me through the Holy Ghost.” We might be getting lazy with the way we say “I feel the Holy Ghost.” What we mean is that the Holy Ghost’s presence, power, or mind and will are at once discernible.
Is it too irreverent to say that because we have met with the Holy Ghost that we can tell the difference between Him and someone else, even if that someone else pretends to be the Holy Ghost?
I agree with the detractors; feelings are not the basis for testimony. Spiritual experiences are, however. How do I know that the Book of Mormon is true? In scriptural terms, I would say that God has manifested the truthfulness to me by the power of the Holy Ghost. More typically I would say, God has communicated with me, and one of the things that He has said is that the Book of Mormon is His word.
Don’t short change yourself. Our spiritual experiences in the Church are more than that scene from The Grinch.
We do more than feel.
Your witness as to the truthfulness of the restored gospel must and does stem from your recognizing and coming to know a member of the Godhead.
That’s pretty amazing.