We have been watching a TV show where the two main characters have diametrically opposed views about God. One is a devout Catholic; the other believes God does not exist, that Christianity is a mythology. The primary focus of the show is not the differences in their faith, but it does come up fairly often. Sometimes they have some fun with it, like in an episode where the atheist said the story of Jesus’ birth in the manger was a little too convenient, and then she went into labor while they were on the road and, you guessed it, gave birth in a stable.
In another, more serious episode, one of their colleagues was shot and killed. In her grief, the atheist said, “If there was a god, he would have let Vincent (the victim) stay here with us.”
I know I am risking offending my atheist and agnostic friends, but in some ways this quote gets to the heart of people’s unbelief. However we imagine God, there ends up being some kind of contradiction, which becomes an obstacle to believing in God. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is reconciling the idea that God is loving, with all the pain and misery that God appears to allow to happen.
When we hit this particular obstacle (something terrible has happened and our loving God has allowed it), we have a lot of choices. We can try to discover what might have been merciful in what has happened. We can try to determine why God might have allowed it to happen, even though it was bad (which is tough to figure if you believe God is also all-powerful). We can go around it, or work through it and trust that God is as pained as we are. Some people simply go no further: this terrible thing is proof that God doesn’t exist.
Did your parents ever say no to you, when you were a kid, and not give you what you wanted? Because they didn’t love you the way you wanted, did they no longer exist? Did your parents ever allow you to get hurt when you were a kid – let you try out for the baseball team, even though it was obvious to everyone but you that you were terrible? When you were stung by the rejection that your parents allowed you to experience, did they cease to exist? Or did your parents express their love for you in a way that you didn’t understand at the time?
I’m certainly not equating the loss of a loved one, or a building collapse with being cut from the cheerleading squad, but one painful truth does not negate the possibility of other truths. You might find it hard to find proof that God is real, but you can never firmly prove that God doesn’t exist.
The burden of proof falls on us: those who already believe. We can provide proof of God’s love by loving all we can. When people cannot see a loving God in the circumstances of their lives, we must show them a loving people of God through our actions.
Before my aunt died, touched by all the kindness shown by people from my mom’s church, she said, “I don’t know if I believe in God, but I believe in the people who believe in God.” Wouldn’t you want words like this to be said about you?
Then love, love, love. Do not shy away from people in their tragedies, but do what you can for them. Don’t try to explain God, but be Jesus for them, by touching them with your compassion. People cannot always see God in the actions of the world, but may they always see Christ in yours.