Paranormal experiences are not uncommon and are often perceived as communication with God. Notice how one scientist described his moment of peak transcendence while practicing Tibetan Buddhist meditation.
"There was a feeling of energy centered within me… going out to infinite space and returning…. There was a relaxing of the...mind, and an intense feeling of love. I felt a profound letting go of the boundaries around me, and a connection with some kind of energy and state of being that had a quality of clarity, transparency and joy" ("God and the Brain How We're Wired for Spirituality," Newsweek, May 7, 2001).
Sister Celeste, a Franciscan monk, gave this account of how she felt during a 45 minute prayer. "I felt communion, peace, openness to experience.... [There was] an awareness and responsiveness to God's presence around me, and a feeling of centering, quieting and nothingness [as well as] moments of fullness of the presence of God...permeating my being" (ibid.).
Both of these accounts were perceived as spiritual experiences because the individuals affected entered a euphoric state transcending the boundaries of normal human experience.
Both accounts have another thing in common. They were part of a scientific study in a new science called neurotheology, which examines religious experiences in the context of neurobiology.
This new science was first given widespread exposure in a May 7, 2001 Newsweek article, God and the Brain How We're Wired for Spirituality. "While the term neurotheology is new, the basic ideas have been around for thousands of years" explained Dr. Michael Winkelman, Department of Anthropology, Arizona State University. "Many cultures have developed technologies for altering consciousness and inducing spiritual experiences." Winkelman cites the example of shamanism—an ancient healing practice—within the context of neurotheology.
Despite the fact that the concept has been around a long time, the scientific study now known as neurotheology is so new that it hasn't even found its way into most dictionaries yet. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia offers this information on the subject: "Neurotheology, also known as biotheology or spiritual neuroscience, is the study of correlations of neural phenomena with subjective experiences of spirituality and hypotheses to explain these phenomena. Proponents of neurotheology claim that there is a neurological and evolutionary basis for subjective experiences traditionally categorized as spiritual."
Today, new research technology allows scientists to document and observe the effects of spiritual experiences on different areas of the brain. Researchers explain the need for certain parts of the brain to become deactivated in order to achieve this transcendental state. Intense concentration on an isolated object or thought, or repetitive events such as chanting can accomplish this effect. Rituals tend to focus the mind and block out sensory perceptions, resulting in a disconnection of the orientation area of the brain that conveys a sense of time and space.
The result is similar to a hypnotic state in which a person loses his or her awareness of self and physical reality, having temporarily lost control of his or her senses. The term scientists use to describe this is dissociation. According to one researcher, the affected areas of the brain show up on brain scans as darkness similar to the rolling electric power blackouts that affected California several years ago.
Scientific testing has indeed documented the validity of paranormal experiences. But science cannot determine the sources of these phenomena.
How do these accounts measure up to scriptural standards? Regarding spiritual gifts the Bible explains that "the spirits of prophets are under the prophets' control" (1 Corinthians 14:32, New American version).
Many people mistakenly assume that any supernatural experience is of God. This is simply not true. Some experiences may be self induced. Others may come from external influences, but even these are not all from God.
The Scriptures offer numerous accounts of visions and dreams that God imparted to His prophets. But the Bible also describes many instances of individuals afflicted by demons, resulting in loss of control of their mind and faculties.
Therefore, all supernatural experiences are not of God. Good and evil exist in the spirit realm. The Bible warns, "Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God" (1 John 4:1). Our mind is our most precious possession. We should be wary of surrendering control to anyone or anything.
Due to the increase of paranormal experiences and the fact that they are now being scientifically validated, it is more important than ever to know what the Bible says about such matters. For more details about how to recognize spiritual experiences that are not from God I suggest that you request or download our free publication, Is There Really a Devil?