It was a hot and muggy day in Springfield. Sweat was running down my back and I was kind of out of sorts and grumpy because I wasn’t used to muggy. I was nearing the checkout counter at the liquor store with my friend having a conversation about a recent church retreat I had attended, when he suddenly asked, “Why do you believe in God when he can’t be proven?” I was taken aback. My friend was a stark realist, someone who would believe the “truth” no matter how painful it was. He was someone who said that if he did believe in God, it would be the God in the news last week who “sent down” a tornado to wipe out a mega-church in the center of town and left everyone’s homes intact. He was a major cynic, burnt out on a Baptist upbringing, and I could feel the sting in his words. The anger wasn’t directed at me necessarily, but at what he thought I represented—the dumb, unthinking religious mass.
What could I say? What could anyone say? I told him people believed in God because they choose to, most probably from a personal experience of God. He responded to me by saying people choose to believe in God because they were afraid of death.
I felt awful. I knew in part there was probably some truth to that statement. I struggled to find more to tell him.
What could I tell him? That I first felt the presence of God as a fat 8 year old kid terrified of being ridiculed in gym class? That I prayed that if there was a God, that he would help me be able to climb the rope that extended from floor to ceiling, even though I didn’t think I could do it and was afraid of heights? And that when I was ridiculed, I felt the presence of God? What would that mean to him?
You can’t prove the existence of God to anyone. Reading the news, I sometimes feel people come up with their own headlines. God could fall out of the sky and people would come up with a story to rationally explain it wasn’t God, or denounce it altogether. People believe what they want to believe, whatever fits into the safe sphere of their personal existence.
I wanted to tell my friend something meaningful. We were at the store after all, because he had excruciating head pain. No doctor after several months of testing could find a cause for it, and alcohol was the only thing that could dull the pain. Not even the strong prescribed pain pills could provide relief. He needed hope. Being around him the last few days, I could tell he was desperate. But he would not allow himself God, because he was a “truth” that could not be proven. I felt so grieved to know he would choose pain over hope. He was courageously holding on to this idea of truth that needs to be proven before it can believed.
I had to ask myself, what kind of “truth” was my friend talking about and how do we determine what this truth is? Does it need to be proven scientifically or just personally? I think for most people, truth is just personal. Science is not god for most. I see people rejecting scientific findings every day when it doesn’t make personal sense to them. My very independent-minded friend, who had a heated opinion on almost everything, would probably be the first to admit to doing this.
So, truth, in this definition, is your own world- a bubble of what can be proven to your rational (or irrational) mind. It’s a very small world, limited by your own understanding and personal bias. How can all of existence be defined only in terms of human understanding? The choice is to live in a world encapsulated in a bubble in which only things comprehensible to a limited mind are allowed to exist. This shrinks your world to a radius of arms-length. This is an easy, somewhat boring and unsatisfying world. It’s a human cell, which selectively allows things in, and everything within the cell is known and can be explained by yours truly.
The other choice would be to believe things can exist beyond your understanding- including a limitless God, and live in a world of limitless possibility and wonder. Some people would say this is not an intelligent way of looking at the world. I would argue it makes more sense. At least hope is allowed to live in this world.
The thing is, that even if you choose to live in a bubble, truth beyond your understanding still exits. God is still present- even if you don’t allow him into your personal life. I may not be able to prove this to anyone, but truth is truth, and some of it exits beyond our rational understanding and even our personal preference for a small and knowable world.
So, in the end, all I could come up with to tell my friend, who is now gratefully recovering, was- “I know what I believe doesn’t make sense to some people, but I can’t make sense of my world without God.” And I meant it.