How did people know about God before the Bible came into being?

Fortunately for human beings, God is able to make God’s self known to people even without use of the Bible. We probably all know stories of people today who have religious experiences without prior knowledge of the Bible. You may think here of a young child raised in a secular family who relates a profound experience of transcendence, or of a self-proclaimed atheist who has an astounding near-death experience of God. Similarly, researchers have described encounters with cultures and peoples who have never been introduced to the Bible, but who still have well-formed beliefs about a divine power because they have experienced a power or force beyond humanity’s.

Such examples suggest that humans who lived before Bible times were experiencing God in their lives as well, although they would not have used the same language that we do to articulate their beliefs. Just as we can experience the immense grandeur of God as we stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon or become breathless at the sight of a perfect sunset, so too, would have ancient peoples. We can presume that because we have peak experiences — whether of natural beauty or a hint of feeling unconditionally loved — other humans who lived thousands of years before us would have too. Other less extraordinary, but never-the-less beautiful, experiences also point(ed) to God. Like the Psalmists who saw God’s handiwork in the manner of a hen mothering her chicks, a river rushing in the desert, or a tree producing an abundance of sweet fruit, other ancient peoples could have attributed these experiences to God, despite the poverty of words to describe the Transcendent.

Ann Naffziger

Ann Naffziger is a scripture instructor and spiritual director in the San Francisco Bay area. She has has written articles on spirituality and theology for various national magazines and edited several books on the Hebrew Scriptures.