Is it possible that our belief in God can help us in a time of crisis? When we call for God through petition or prayer, is it possible that God responds—leading us to the best possible outcome, for ourselves, our families, and possibly those around us? It may depend on our faith. Either you have or you don’t.
The late author David Foster Wallace once gave a fabled commencement speech, This is Water, in which he told an illuminating story about faith. It was the tale of two men chatting over a beer, and their different takes on the role God plays in their lives.
There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. While they’re old friends, they have very different ideas on God—one is a priest and the other is an atheist. They begin arguing about the existence of God.
The atheist says, “Look, it’s not like I haven’t given God a chance. I even tried the prayer thing. It didn’t work.”
The priest asks with some incredulity, “Did you really pray? When did this happen?”
“Just last month,” replies the atheist. “I got caught away from the camp in a terrible blizzard. I was totally lost, and I couldn’t see a thing. It was 50 below, and so I prayed. I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m going to die if you don’t help me’.”
The priest looks at the atheist with a puzzled expression and exclaims, “Well then you must believe in God now. After all, here you are, alive!”
The atheist rolls his eyes and says, “No way, that’s not how it happened. A couple of Eskimos came wandering by and they showed me the way back to camp.”
The same story. Two different perspectives on God.
The priest sees the atheist finding his way back to camp as a case of Divine intervention; God has stepped in through his proxies, the Eskimos to save him from certain death. The atheist views the encounter with the Eskimos as pure happenstance; it was sheer luck that he was rescued. Is one point-of-view right and the other misguided? Or is it possible that both men could be correct?
Whether you find yourself aligned with the priest or the atheist, consider this idea: God’s existence may depend on our beliefs. For those who believe, God is real, an omnipresent source of comfort, guidance and assistance. But for those who do not believe, God does not exist. It is our faith that is needed to bring God into existence.
Is the third-man phenomena proof of a higher power?
In some life-threatening situations, certain people detect a presence around them that they perceive as a guardian angel or God. There are numerous stories of people who are led to safety by what some call a “third man” who provides encouragement and guidance. This includes Ron DiFrancesco, who was high above the strike zone in one of the Twin Towers on 9/11. He was led to safety by an unseen voice that showed him the way past the smoke and flames, the last man to escape the burning towers.
There’s also the story of climber Reinhold Messner. After a rough night struck on the side of an ice-covered mountain with an injured companion, he found they were not alone. In his words, “Suddenly, there was a third climber next to me. He was descending with us, keeping a little to my right and a few steps away, just out of my field of vision.” He felt a renewed sense of calm. “The mere presence somehow helped me regain my composure.” He and he his companion made their way to safety.
One researcher believes there is an “angel switch” in our brain, an otherworldly mechanism that kicks in when we reach our limits of endurance. Peter Hilary, a noted adventurer who has witnessed the third man himself, believes “there is a benevolent being assigned to each of us on a permanent basis, who sometimes works in the background like a discreet servant.” In times of real emergency, the being makes itself known in the physical realm.
It’s enough to make you wonder: Is the “angel switch” available to any of us who believe in a higher power? Is faith needed to flip the switch or is it available to non-believers as well? Can our own faith be activated and strengthened through spiritual practices like prayer?