By Ben Love ~
You want to believe in God. You really do. Of course you do. Why not? After all, it’s comforting to think of some divine, perfectly loving entity who not only created you, but knows you personally—knows your name, in fact—and cares about the minutiae of your daily life. It would certainly be great to know that someone like this exists and is accessible in your greatest moment of need, someone you can fall back on, come to, rely on, trust, and look to for guidance. That’s how it should be, you reason to yourself, otherwise your existence wouldn’t really be fair. It’s not fair for you to be here all on your own, with no godly Father out there somewhere, watching out for you.
But you, as a mere human, are sadly limited in your ability to know things. You can’t just make up truths that feel good and sound nice. If you did that, you’d be insane. No, you know must limit yourself to what can be known. So you ask yourself, “Do I know there is a God?” And after some hard reflection, you resolve to be as honest with yourself as possible, and answer: “No, I do not.”
Okay, so you don’t know there is a God. Fair enough. Yet millions of people all over the world say that God speaks to them all the time. Millions people all over the world claim to know God personally, to be in a “relationship” with him. How can they be in a relationship with God, you wonder, when you yourself cannot definitively say that you know he even exists? Do they know something you don’t? And if so, how do they know it, and why don’tyou know it? Are they privy to information you do not possess? Are they worthier than you are? Are they more in tuned to the spiritual plane than you are? And if so, is it really your fault? You want to know God just like they do, but you seem to be missing something.
So, you pay attention to the rhetoric of these believers, of these fortunate ones who are in a “relationship” with God. You eavesdrop on their conversations. You sit in the back pews of their churches and listen to their leaders speak. You ask them questions, and contemplate their answers very carefully. You read their literature, their pamphlets, and you listen to their songs.
You are looking for something, but you are not finding it. What are you looking for?Evidence. You have hoped to find someone who actually does know God, someone who can show you how to get to him. But in the end, you conclude that none of these believers actually knows any more than you do, they are merely believing something, and they tell you that it is through this same belief that you too can know what they know.
You ask them why they believe these things, and they tell you that after they initiated their belief, the God they believe in then confirmed for them that their beliefs were indeed founded on truth. You don’t want to be rude, but this seems backward to you. It seems, well, circular. It seems as though these people have deluded themselves by their own belief, by their own willingness to believe in the very answer they wish was true.
You politely remind them that your question was not “how can I believe in God?” but “how can I know God exists?” They tell you that you can’t actually know, that you have to content yourself with belief. But this is puzzling to you because they just finished telling you that they have a relationship with God. It doesn’t seem to you that you can have a relationship with anything if you’re not even sure it is there to begin with. To you, a “relationship” is between two people who are mutually assured of each other’s existence. You point this out to your new Christian friends and they merely smile, shrug, and say something about the magic of faith and the mysterious ways of God. But you press the point and say, “No, but you just said you know God personally, but then you said no one can know for sure that he exists, you just have to believe. So which is it? If you don’t know God is there, how do you know him?”
They repeat the same answers as before, but with a little less friendliness this time. You go home more confused than when you first began. You wanted to discover how you could know God exists, but all you found was belief, not certainty.
So you spend some time pondering belief. You deduce that believing in something can sometimes be a good thing, but what exactly should you believe in? Should you just believe in whatever you want? After all, you want to believe in God. You really do. But just because you want it doesn’t mean that it is the truth. You conclude, and rightly so, that you must have a solid reason for believing in something. Anything else is foolishness, and dishonorable.
And so you ask yourself what reason there is to believe in God. Right away, you spot a problem with the question, because the moment you ask it, you are forced to realize that even if you conceded the existence of God, you still have no idea who that God is, what that God is like, what that God wants, or which among the many gods you’re supposed to assume is the correct one. Shelving that problem for now, you still consider what the reasons are for believing in God.
“The natural world,” you say aloud. After all, the fact that you exist is quite convincing evidence. But evidence of what, exactly? You then realize that your existence and the existence of the Universe are reason enough to question, but not necessarily reason enough to conclude anything definitive. You cannot take for granted that the natural must inevitably imply the existence of the supernatural. One doesn’t necessitate the other, no more than snow necessitates the existence of Abominable Snowmen.
“The laws of physics,” you then say. And this seems good because the presence of a law should imply the existence of a lawgiver. But then you realize that the word “law” in this instance doesn’t have the same connotation as the legal definition of the word “law.” In this instance, the word “law” is simply a tool to denote what usually takes place, that A plus Busually results in C. But again, you cannot definitively say that the presence of gravity on the Earth or the unchanging speed of light necessarily translates into a personal deity who knows your name. It could, it might, and may even be probable, but you don’t have enough reason to confidently accept it as truth. Moreover, you’re not interested in speculation, suspicions, gut feelings, intuitions, or clever hunches. You want the truth. And if you can’t know it for a certainty, you want to at least be pretty close before your order your entire life around a belief.
“How about the answers to prayer,” one of your Christian friends suggests. “If God wasn’t real, how do you account for all those answered prayers out there?”
“What answered prayers?” you ask. “Where are the statistics for me to peruse?”
“Look around,” the Christian says. “See the prayers being answered. See God at work.”
So, dutifully, you look around. You watch the world. You study the trends that characterize humanity. You examine the history of the species, and you look for definitive moments where something supernatural happened, where God intervened and changed the course of things in a way that only he could do. You strain to track the prayers of the faithful and the tangible answers to those prayers. And you find…nothing. As far as you can tell, some believers pray for healing and receive it. Other believers pray for healing and do not receive it. For some Christians, all their dreams come true. For others, life ends in tragedy and ruin. You note that Christians have been praying for centuries, and yet the majority of humans are still impoverished, still starving, still dying of all sorts of untreatable diseases, still killing each other over scraps of land, still cheating one another out of daily bread, still engaged in all sorts of terrible acts of violence, greed, lust, corruption, and deceit. Women are still being raped. Children are still being kidnapped. Families are still torn apart by abuse and drugs and webs of lies. In fact, looking around the world shows you only the presence of evil, not the presence of a perfect love.
So, you conclude that there are no answers to prayer. Or, if there are, they are limited to the location of lost items, the finding of parking spots, and the favorable outcomes of football games—hardly compelling evidence.
(sigh) You want to believe in God. You really do. But when you wake up each morning and look outside, all you see is the same old world doing the same old things, over and over and over again. You’re not trying to see what you want to see. If you were doing that, you probably would find a reason to believe in God somewhere in the random patterns of life. But you have limited yourself to the evidence, because you know there is no other way, that nothing else is as honorable. You could take no other approach and still respect yourself.
Alas, you have no evidence to assume there is a God, and even if you did, you have no evidence to decide it is this God over that God. So you ask yourself if there is reason enough to believe in spite of this lack of evidence. But...you have to answer yourself honestly, to your own disappointment, that, no, there is not.
Thus, your journey continues, and therein lays the adventure…