Underlying The Experience of God by David Bentley Hart is the conviction that the structure of personal experience witnesses to the reality of God. God is not a stranger to us. If he seems to be so, this is only because we have squelched the immediate knowledge of his presence. “God is not only the ultimate reality that the intellect and the will seek,” explains Hart, “but is also the primordial reality with which all of us are always engaged in every moment of existence and consciousness, apart from which we have no experience of anything whatsoever” (p. 10).
Hart describes his epistemological perspective as vaguely Platonic, not perhaps in the sense that the knowledge of God is innate but rather because it enjoys an immediacy experienced by all. We know more than we can tell:
I start from the conviction that many of the most important things we know are things we know before we can speak them; indeed, we know them—though with very little in the way of concepts to make them intelligible to us—even as children, and see them with the greatest immediacy when we look at them with the eyes of innocence. But, as they are hard to say, and as they are often so immediate to us that we cannot stand back from them objectively, we tend to put them out of mind as we grow older, and make ourselves oblivious to them, and try to silence the voice of knowledge that speaks within our own experiences of the world. Wisdom is the recovery of innocence at the far end of experience; it is the ability to translate some of that vision into words, however inadequate. There is a point, that is to say, where reason and revelation are one and the same. (pp. 9-10).
I am reminded of Gerald Janzen’s words: “We experience more than we know; and we know more than we can think; and we think more than we can say; and language therefore lags behind the intuitions of immediate experience.”
That humanity enjoys a tacit, though perhaps repressed, knowledge of the divine informs Hart’s exploration of the meaning of “God”—hence his refusal to divorce the God of faith and the God of philosophy.
If God does in fact communicate himself to us at the fundamental level of lives, how then do we explain the atheism of the modern age? Might it just be as simple as people failing to notice the obvious? Perhaps. There might be many reasons why this might occur. A given culture might lack the imaginative resources to understand what it is experiencing, while another culture might possess both the language and skills necessary to name and interpret its experience. Whatever the reasons, Hart is convinced that atheism is “a fundamentally irrational view of reality, which can be sustained only by a tragic absence of curiosity or a fervently resolute will to believe the absurd” (p. 16).