Theologians, philosophers, and scientists have been making claims about God as long as humans have existed. In this article, I don’t want to rehash classical arguments for the existence of God or even have a debate. What is presented here is more like a conversation with my interlocutor mulling over the idea of God’s existence. Perhaps this conversation asks questions you have never considered before. Maybe this conversation asks questions that you have thought of before and you feel reassured with someone else asking the same questions. Either way, I am hopeful that my struggle with the question will help inform your own perspective.
For this article, I will only be considering the Christian version of God.
There is a lot at stake with the question of God’s existence. In general, around 90% of the world’s population believe in some sort of God. Around 2.3 billion believe in the Christian God. With that said, as a world, we are much more atheistic than we have ever been. This increase in atheism is not a reflection of a lack of revelation from a diety as it is a reflection of the deity’s followers. For Christianity, it seems as if the followers of God do more to harm his revelation than they do reflecting the message of love that Jesus demonstrated.
I don’t know that I have ever doubted God’s existence completely, but the level to which I have doubted has been significant at various times in my life. Certainly, since I have been a progressive Christian and the theological certainty that I once experienced was lifted, doubt ebbs and flows much more aggressively. But that might speak more to my cycles of depression than it does to God’s lack of revelation to me.
Has God Always Existed?
There is something to the fact that all people ask the question at some point in their life; “does God exist”? This has been happening for all of human history. Why do we have this psychological need to ask the question? Or, maybe it’s not as psychological as it is intuition. There is a classic psychological argument against the existence of God that goes something like this: “humans have a psychological need to believe in God.” The philosopher inside of me screams: that is not an argument against God, it could be just as useful of an argument for his existence! What does it matter if I have this compulsion to believe in him? That could be something that we have been created with. Does it not seem more rational to think that we have been created with purpose than to say we are accidents, and there is no inherent meaning to our lives?
I do believe that any God who is real would need to have revealed himself since the dawn of man and not just suddenly appear upon the annals of history. This is seemingly true for the Christian God, YAHWEH. On the other hand, I am terribly suspicious that God only seems to have revealed himself in ancient times to the Hebrews. Why not reveal himself to other people groups? Why are there no records of this God who is called YAHWEH from other ancient peoples? On the surface of it, it sounds like an invention of a tribal group of people who are trying to rationalize their experiences with a deity who is seemingly in charge of those experiences. However, this means that YAHWEH was invented just like every other deity. Invented to provide rational reasons for why the world is the way it is.
With that said, in the Hebrew’s favor, is that their construct of YAHWEH was much different than the typical God(s) of that time period. The uniqueness of YAHWEH is certainly a point in their favor. furthermore, the Hebrews were also known for attributing various events to YAHWEH just like the surrounding religions did. For example, was there a drought? It must be that YAHWEH is punishing us for something. Therefore, we should do what we can to please our God. To be fair, Jesus clarified that using God in this way was improper and was ultimately the reason for why he had to come to earth – to reveal the real YAHWEH.
Who is this Jesus Fella?
So far, the Hebrews by themselves have not done a good job convincing me that God is real. For me, it all comes down to Jesus. Without Jesus, there is no reason to believe in YAHWEH. The Christian version of God is so absurd that it is either laughably irrational or miraculously true. On the one hand, we have God impregnating a human virgin woman (good luck Joseph – after you have God you never go back). This God was murdered and rose from the dead on the third day. Then he miraculously disappeared to sit at the right hand of the father. That story is absurd. Unless it’s true.
At the same time, there is a poetic beauty in the story that is completely original. All of the incongruities with YAHWEH come together and make sense in Jesus. It is through Jesus that we learn it was the Jews who misunderstood YAHWEH. Jesus acts as the cultural/theological corrective for Jewish religious culture. He is also the conduit for connecting the outside world to YAHWEH. Making a fractured vision for YAHWEH whole. It is not a coincidence that Christianity has exploded over the last 2000 years in comparison to the slow unextended growth of the Hebrews/Jews.
Ironically, when doubt becomes significant, I rely on the weakest argument for the existence of God to provide me with the assurance I need. The argument is known as Pascal’s Wager. Most of the time this argument is presented weakly in order to set up a strawman. However, I think there is a strong argument to be made here. I will articulate it here (even if you are familiar with the argument, please read my version of it, as it may be different than you have heard before.)
God either exists or he doesn’t. At stake: the possibility of eternity. The bet: your life (roughly 75 years). Obviously, If God exists your reward is eternity. However, for me, the power of the argument is in the possibility of his non-existence. If God doesn’t exist, then what have you sacrificed? Very little. However, if he does exist what has the individual sacrificed who didn’t bet on him? Everything! It is the ultimate wager with an almost obvious choice. After all, if you are the one who chose his non-existence and you win, then all you have really won is the right to say “I told you so”, which becomes a moot right because…well…your dead; and ultimately no one knows you were right because you don’t exist anymore. So, even in winning you have lost.
Two problems often accompany this argument. The first is that I don’t think it intends to be an argument for the existence of God. I think it intends to help Christians understand that the wager of their faith is not in vain.
I think the second and more significant problem is that many question the idea that living the “Christian life” is better than not living it. That certainly seems true in today’s age. Being a Christian is often associated with hate, hypocrisy, and exclusion. But when we are talking about finality this characterization of Christianity is based upon an inaccurate practice of the religion. To me, it doesn’t matter how other’s practice the faith as long as I know that I am practicing it with integrity. Moreover, the standard for evaluating the Christian religion should not be by looking to its worst inhabitants, but its best – Jesus Christ. Jesus did not hate but loved – even his enemies. He was not a hypocrite but embodied his beliefs in word and deed. And he did not separate himself from those who needed him, but was inclusive to all people – even those the Jews hated.
When provided with the totality of the life of Jesus I am brought to the brink of a precipice. As Kierkegaard asks, should I stand there in an eternal state of indecision, or do I take the leap of faith? I chose to leap because there is too much at stake not to. Ultimately, my wager is not on being right as much as it is on the fact that Jesus was right. That’s why I trust, follow, and try my best to imitate him. Because I believe that he represents the intended purpose for the way fractured humans are supposed to live their lives. He is the standard by which it is all measured.
I believe all of this increases the probability that to some extent God exists. When I become doubtful of his existence (usually for some personal reason) I fall back on these ideas which provide me with personal assurance that I am at least heading in the right direction by believing that a divine being exists and that this being takes a personal interest in my life. That this being cares for me. I can only do my best to reciprocate that love by doing his Will by exposing his love to others.