Please excuse this interruption to our hiatus for a brief essay. This week at the school where I teach, we are asked to explain to our students what our relationship with God is like– it’s a topic that has been on my mind for a very long time and one that I’ve struggled to put into words. I tried to approach the topic from this starting point: Why do I believe?
That question is remarkably simple, but remarkably hard to answer. After much thought, writing and prayerful rewriting, here is my answer.
From the time I was 17 until my early 20s, I was I was practically an atheist. Not in specific terms—I don’t think that I ever actually said that God didn’t exist, but I was so disinterested in Him that I thought and lived as if He didn’t exist. I was spiritually dead and didn’t have any confidence that God was real—if He did exist, then I was pretty sure that he didn’t care about me.
I remember a class project one day where we had to interview 3 people about the meaning of life. The answers I got were the generic kind, like “the point of life is to be happy and to encourage happiness in others.” I thought this was so profound and wise before I learned it was actually shallow—and in another sense, lonely.
But if God isn’t real, then that’s all that life is about: the base pleasures that we think bring happiness—and allow us to focus inwardly on ourselves and outwardly to others only as it ultimately applies to ourselves. Without God to worship, the highest thing we can worship is man—and I lived a life not much higher than myself.
Then one day I came to the sobering realization that if God doesn’t exist, then there is no meaning to life! Without God, then the world is just some random occurrence of matter and energy; life is nothing more than electric impulses and protein strands. And if life is just a cosmic accident, then there is no point to life and no point trying to be happy and no point to encouraging happiness in others. There is no point to eating lunch and buckling your seatbelt and no point in getting married and making new lives—which are ultimately pointless, too.
In the end, this is what pushed me to believe in God—because I couldn’t imagine the idea of life without Him. Existence without God meant life without a meaning to life, and I didn’t want that to be my answer.
I know that this is not a convincing argument, and that it means that the reason I believe is that I’m afraid of the opposite. Even at the time I knew that it wasn’t a very good reason.
But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come back to this conclusion several times—that believing in God meant that other parts of life don’t make sense without Him either. Even things that weren’t directly related to my spiritual journey would pop up as proof of this conclusion.
I would learn that the reason that the Western world could develop science was that they had an understanding that God is orderly and predictable—he didn’t fit the model of the ancient pagans that the gods were wild and unpredictable tyrants that blew up volcanoes if enough goats weren’t sacrificed. The God of the Bible wasn’t a childish villain, He was someone to be studied and adored, not pacified and avoided.
I would learn that the reason that evil exists isn’t because God willed evil to exist, but that people could freely choose to do without God—that people do bad things not because God wants them to do bad, but because they choose to stray from Him.
A number of people wiser than me have tried to prove, logically, that God exists. St. Thomas Aquinas famously had 5 logical, mathematical proofs for God’s reality, like the “First Mover” proof and the “Necessary Being” argument. St. Anselm famously, and brilliantly, argued his Ontological proof, that God was the greatest possible being, and that alone proved his existence. The French mathematician and scientist Blasé Pascal would coin Pascal’s Wager as a bet that would demand that anyone believe in God or lose the bet.
In the end, none of them are as convincing to me as the weak, fragile answer I came up with years ago: I believe because I can’t not believe. Life without the Lord wasn’t some liberating, rule-less freedom and free-for-all—it was a logical trap that ended in worthlessness and proof that life didn’t matter at all.
There is a different answer to the meaning of life—it’s a question of why God made me! If God is real, then He is a creator god, and if He creates, then He creates for a purpose. And He has created me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this life—so that I can be with Him in the next life. There is a purpose to it all and I believe it more than I believe anything in the whole wide world, if only because I don’t believe that I’d like to be part of a world without Him.
I don’t say any of this to prove to you that God is real. People much smarter than me have tried that and those arguments are fall flat. In the end, I’m only left with the understanding that I believe because God has given me the grace to believe and that I have cooperated with that grace. And that isn’t something that I can give to you, though I wish that I could. All I can say is that I am a believer in Hope; that I must believe that Truth is real and that I can hope to know that truth. Because if Truth is not real, then I can hope for nothing.
Thanks for reading. This answer is not provable or even complete. But nonetheless, it is my answer.