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After reading the answers to the question The edge of faith and the limit of Theism, "the spiritual blindness", I am intrigued by the observation that not all Christians report 'spiritual experiences' with God, or at least not with much regularity. For example, the author of this answer attests to only rarely having had experiences of this kind:

I became a Christian in August 1979. Since then, I have rarely 'experienced' anything 'spiritual' in the sense you seem to mean. For example, only this afternoon, visiting a Christian friend, we concluded with a time of open prayer in her house. At the end she said, "Oh, I really felt the presence of the Lord in the room as we prayed. It gave me the shivers" (in a nice way). I said, "Well, I didn't sense anything, but - then - I rarely do! I can walk into a room of people where (they say) you could cut the air with a knife, but I'm oblivious to all of that." She added that God gives people different gifts, and that somewhat explains the difference between us. She is sensitive to things I am not.

Similarly, this other answer states:

Not every individual, neurotypical or not, feels metaphysical elements to any appreciable degree while living out their faith in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit of God, which indwells those who have received Christ Jesus and believe on his name, operates thus:

The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. - John 3:8

Some are enabled by the Spirit to live out a very practical, 'non-mystical' life of faith wherein the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) is manifest apart from any notable "spiritual experience". Often it is others who are more aware of a special quality within such a one than that one herself.

In contrast, Tanya Luhrmann conducted an ethnographic study of American Evangelical Christians that she details in her book When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God:

A bold approach to understanding the American evangelical experience from an anthropological and psychological perspective by one of the country's most prominent anthropologists. Through a series of intimate, illuminating interviews with various members of the Vineyard, an evangelical church with hundreds of congregations across the country, Tanya Luhrmann leaps into the heart of evangelical faith. Combined with scientific research that studies the effect that intensely practiced prayer can have on the mind, When God Talks Back examines how normal, sensible people—from college students to accountants to housewives, all functioning perfectly well within our society—can attest to having the signs and wonders of the supernatural become as quotidian and as ordinary as laundry. Astute, sensitive, and extraordinarily measured in its approach to the interface between science and religion, Luhrmann's book is sure to generate as much conversation as it will praise.

Is there a theory within Christianity that explains this striking diversity in 'spiritual experiences' (or lack thereof) among Christians?


Note: I have been told in the comments that this question can lead to highly polarized answers. Considering this, I would like to receive answers written in an objective, neutral tone presenting an overview of the main theories in dispute, in an attempt to cover the main views in this contentious topic (which I've been told has a high overlap with the cessationism/continuationism debate).

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    This really needs to specify whose perspective the theory is from. This situation is very similar to the cessationism/continuationism debate. Those with experiences could easily theorise those without aren't "spiritual enough", while those without experience could theorise those with these experiences aren't actually experiencing God but the devil. I've seen both sides before.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 21:14
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    We are taught the doctrine of the gospel. Then we experience it (to a greater or lesser degree,depending on our capacities). 'Theory' has nothing to do with any of it.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 21:33
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    I don't think it is specific to Christianity. People are different. A year ago, someone posted about their experience at Elton John's final concert in Canada. I replied: “Meanwhile, I saw the "first ever Elton John concert in Canada", 05 Oct 1972, at Maple Leaf Gardens. (I later overheard a conversation by some of the people I had gone with, where they were speculating about what drugs I'd taken. Actually I had simply sat in my seat and enjoyed the show without yelling and jumping up and down like everyone else. Can I help it if my normal affect is somewhere between catatonic and comatose?)”. Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 0:15
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    Instead of searching for theories about the divine, why not ask if the Bible explains why Christians have different spiritual experiences? Then we could all work from the same divine source.
    – Lesley
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 11:46
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    @mark I answered to (sort of) illustrate why the question needs some scoping, as moderator, I wouldn't want to have to have the community have to compare a perfectly legitimate answer from a Catholic perspective vs a perfectly legitimate answer from an Evangelical perspective. The purpose of this site is not to weigh the merits of various faith traditions. Each answer should ideally be able to be considered 100% right.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 17:34

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An answer can be gleaned from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12:

7 To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; 10 to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes... 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work mighty deeds? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.

Paul's teaching implies an answer based on the hypothesis that the Spirit grants various spiritual gifts "as he wishes." Those believers who receive the gift of faith do not require spiritual experiences to motivate them. Those with gifts such as prophecy or tongues will have frequent spiritual experiences that edify the church, while those with the gifts of teaching or administration serve the Body of Christ in other ways. It is not given to us to understand why one person may receive powerful visions while another serves quietly as an usher or bookkeeper. Paul urges his hearers to strive for the greatest gifts, yet he emphasizes that the choice of gifts is ultimately up to the Spirit. Perhaps, in God's eyes, the gift of administration is just as much of a blessing as the mystical experiences.

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Many Christians would refer to a period of spiritual dryness, when the life of faith is devoid of spiritual experiences as a "Dark Night of the Soul" or a "Period of Spiritual Dryness"

St. John of the Cross illustrated it in his poem the Dark Night of the Soul and even St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta describe a long period of feeling this way.

Where is my faith? Even deep down [...] there is nothing but emptiness and darkness. [...] If there be God – please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul.

https://web.archive.org/web/20111015234535/http://edgewoodpc.org/sermons/sermon061911.html


Personally, the consolations that I received in my youth prodding me away from a life of sin, I would love to still have, but I have to believe that not having it is for my benefit as

we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28


Why some would have more spiritual consolations is anybody's guess. But implacable Saints are few and far between, they may be walking talking miracles. I've never made it past the first could chapters of the Interior Castle of St. Theresa of Avila (the book, I haven't made it to the first castle interiorly) but the theory there (and by theory, I mean applied Catholic theology) is that there are observable levels of closeness that one can get to Jesus and the closest levels, by all observation, are very much not going to apostatizes and these living saints can very clearly be seen as instruments of God's grace.

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