“Dad, what if all this religion stuff is a hoax? What if God doesn’t really exist?”
As a 12 year old, I did not know I was asking a fundamental question crying out for an answer throughout church history. Theologians seek to ‘prove’ God’s existence through Biblical proofs and sound doctrine while philosophers try to prove or disprove His existence logically, however, I can’t help wondering, “how many Christians prove God’s existence daily in their lives?”
As a boy, I couldn’t work out in my head how it was possible an eternal Being just exists. I needed something to help me get my head around it. Some years later, my deeper question was unearthed—if God exists, what proof do I have that He is tangible and that He can be experienced on a personal level? I did not need a logical, well-laid Biblical framework on which to hang my thoughts and beliefs. I needed to see God in action; I needed to see God in the actions of those who claim to be His people.
God’s people left me confused about what it meant to be in relationship with Him. Somehow, relationship with God was translated into a code of behavior and sin management because, after all, God frowns on sin. And because living out the gospel looked more like a set of do’s and don’ts (things to shun and things to do) my image of God was of an angry, punitive being who demanded a moral perfection I knew I had no hope of ever achieving. My fear of God has less to do with reverence and more to do with terror I would screw things up and be dismissed, eternally.
I still struggle when visiting churches where the people are overtly friendly but never ask more than my name and where I’m from. The lack of connection I feel continually prompts me to wonder, “Will God enter my world if He truly does exist and if so, can He be trusted?” (I think this is the question the author of Hebrews is addressing in Heb. 11:6)
The matter of God’s existence has been laid to rest for some time now in my walk of faith. Trust, however, is another issue. For example, I know there is a President in Washington, D.C. and that he is supposedly working on my behalf, but I’m not sure I would trust him ultimately with my life. I don’t know what he would do with it. The evidence about his character is contradictory and some of the things he is doing in Washington cause me to question whether he really is working on my behalf.
Scripture tells me that God reveals himself through nature and His people (as well as scripture). This is understandable because at times He is evident in those realms. But how can I resolve the tension between God’s stated character (as spoken of in scripture) and His apparent character (flood, famine, death, gossip, imperfect parents, wounds from a friend, etc.)? This tension creates an enormous uncertainty in me because I cannot predict or control what will come next. I begin to draw back from the rawness of life and feel that I must keep tender parts of me secure from the danger of God’s unpredictability.
Now, I’m faced with a dilemma. In order to be safe, with certainty, I must create distance between the world and me. I must attempt to create my own certainty in life. Even though the loneliness of this is at times intolerable I cannot afford to get too close to anyone. Either I choose to move toward what I fear (further harm) or continue in a soulish solitude that lacks life.
If God is trustworthy, it is because He is good. If He is good, then, the contradictions do not have to make sense. But, if God is not good, then, I need a back-up plan. Or, as Lewis puts it, “this is the problem of pain in its simplest form.” (Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p.26) So, in essence, my back up plan is evidence I don’t quite trust He is who He says He is. I don’t quite trust He is good—at least not good enough.
What does God offer as proof of His goodness? How do I know, amid all the apparent incongruencies of life, that God is trustworthy? Though my heart quakes to hear it, I believe God’s character is summarized in the cross. Though I do not fully comprehend it, the cross is the beacon on the road of faith. It is because of the cross I have the freedom to struggle with life’s uncertainty. At the foot of the cross, my questions are intensified but they are also answered—though not necessarily as I hope.
So, I pray, Lord, help me in my unbelief…
“He declares that he believes and yet acknowledges himself to have unbelief. These two statements may appear to contradict each other but there is none of us that does not experience both of them in himself”. (Calvin, commenting on Mk. 9:24)
NOTE: I plan to pick this theme back up to discuss the necessity of community as validity of the gospel message. I.e. it is not enough to say we believe; our belief is worked out in community.