Good Questions: Is There a God?

Reflections from Dr. Howell

Before we get to why bad things happen, if God is in control, or what happens when we die, we begin with a question many ask, many never ask, but all should.

Is there a God? Just capitalizing the word, that G, implies Yes, as if it’s the personal name of the heavenly power we know. But is anybody, anything, really up there, out there, somewhere? It’s an intellectual question. Some of the world’s smartest thinkers have logically proved God’s existence, while others have rationally proven there can’t be a god.

The issue isn’t all that urgent in an academic ivory tower. But in the hospital waiting room? Alone in bed on a sleepless night? In the rubble of a war-ravaged city? In the face of a child, abandoned, sick, hungry? What question could matter more?

In Jan Karon’s charming At Home in Mitford, Father Tim slips into the sanctuary one night, overhearing from behind a man he’d not expected to find there.

“If you’re up there, prove it! Show me! If you’re God, you can prove it!” In the visitor’s voice was a combination of anger, despair, and odd hope.

“I’ll never ask you this again,” the man said coldly, and then, with a fury that chilled his listener, he shouted again, “Are… you… up… there?”

With what appeared to be utter exhaustion, he put his head in his hands… Father Tim slid into the pew across the aisle and knelt on the worn cushion. “You may be asking the wrong question,” he said, quietly.

Startled, the man raised his head.

“I believe the question you may want to ask is not, ‘Are you up there?’ but, ‘Are you down here?’”

If my brain reasons that Yes there’s a God, or No, will my gut stay in alignment? The novelist Julian Barnes wrote that he does not believe in God, “but I miss him.” And then lifelong believers surrender when the God they’ve invested their hopes and dreams in disappoints, or doesn’t materialize when needed most.

The atheists, doubters and agnostics frankly have all the advantages when it comes to arguing. God hides, and is agonizingly quiet. The world’s a mess. I’m a mess, and so are you. I’d like to say changed lives are evidence for God, but some believers go bad, and plenty of amazing people don’t believe. Seems like a good, loving, powerful God would have arranged things very differently. Seems like a merciful, caring, just God would intervene way more often, maybe like Mighty Mouse, flying in singing “Here I come to save the day!”

Anybody who is able to cling to the belief that Yes, there is a God would be wise to listen to the critique of those who don’t. Their hard questions (and ours) will expose flimsy, bogus notions of what God is like – if there is one. God’s in control? Gosh, that just can’t be, or we’d never hear of child abuse or plagues. God answers prayer? God’s not a machine or a genie – if there is a God. If you feel disillusioned about God, then your illusions are being shattered. Which is good, since we want the real thing.

On Thursday we’ll ask if there are good reasons to believe in God – and then what believing in God looks like, or doesn’t.