The last of our five bad reasons for believing in God has to do with personal experience – namely, believing in God because it gives us a sense of personal fulfillment. This isn’t to say that the Christian life shouldn’t be a fulfilling one. It’s quite the opposite! The Christian life is one that is centered in transcendent realities and values, and one which emphasizes the importance, worth, and nobility of human beings. But basing our beliefs on feelings can pose significant problems.
If we were to ask some of our religious neighbors whether their religions gave them fulfillment, I suspect nearly all of them would say yes. And I would think that the more devoted they were, the more positive their responses would be. It is part of human nature to find fulfillment in being in a group of like-minded and passionate individuals who share our values and beliefs. It is also natural to be uplifted and energized by others when we participate in an environment of mutual support and encouragement. Feeling like we are a part of something bigger gives us hope, optimism, and excitement. No religion has a corner on that market.
Is a feeling of fulfillment really a good argument for belief in God? Not really. Personal feelings are whimsical and fleeting. Our wants and desires can, at times, be contradictory and mutually exclusive (I want to eat as much ice cream as I can hold, but I also want to fit into a pair of jeans with a size 36 waist without it cutting off the circulation to my legs. That’s just not going to happen). Further, the same feelings of fulfillment when we are part of a local church may be none too different from the feelings felt by a Muslim going to the local mosque or a Hindu visiting the nearby temple.
Believers in all kinds of religions may feel like their faith gives them fulfillment. But not all of them (or even most of them) can be true since religions often make contradictory claims. For instance, Jesus cannot simultaneously be divine Son of God in the New Testament and the human prophet we find in Islam. The creation of the human race as outlined in the Bible cannot be reconciled with the science fiction space opera we find in Scientology. A few religions are atheistic, although most are not.
As Christians, we look to find fulfillment in truth, not in personal feelings. Fulfillment is important for us, but we can find that in many things. Even atheists will say they find fulfillment in life despite not believing that they will exist beyond the point of death. As with all things in the Christian worldview, truth governs everything. That truth, we believe, is found in the person of Jesus Christ (John 14:6). A feeling of fulfillment is a necessary by-product of a genuine faith, but we can’t use it as an argument of the existence of God.