Someone once asked me why I believe in God. There was a slight tone of disbelief and maybe a hint of derision swirling around with the query as it sailed through the air to my ears. Still, it was a honest curiosity from a guy who, while he didn’t believe in God, certainly believed enough in me to trust that I would answer without giving one of the usual predictable responses one usually receives:
“Because the Bible said so”
“Because none of this reality could exist without God”
I hesitated, trying to find the right imagery and logical links.
“Well I know you can’t prove His existence to anyone”. I figured we should start out that way – it seemed important to begin where we both agree. My daughter has taught me about the necessity of context and frankly, a by-product of my ADHD is that I often get excited when relating something, assuming that the hearer has already processed everything that I’ve done.
Anyway, he nodded.
“He has proven His existence to me. You have to understand that what constitutes evidence to me is not easily transferable to anyone else. I don’t even try to explain my faith to anyone else – and I certainly don’t feel the need to try and convince anyone.” The irony of that statement waved its hands in my face, grinning with raised eyebrows, frantically trying to get my attention. I ignored it. Some call this obstinate ignorance.
“How so?” he asked.
I love honest questions. Honest questions make the world go around. Curiosity begets answers, and answers raise more questions, which feeds curiosity which in turn provokes even more questions. This is how illumination happens. This is how people struggle toward discussion, delight and understanding. This is how wars end, how people eventually agree, how enemies learn to coexist. This is how marriages are saved.
I told him.
“My sister was very little when she went into a coma. It was spontaneous and we have no idea how it happened. I remember my dad carrying her out to the car, limp in his arms. She was about three years old.”
He listened, and watched as the canvas in my mind slowly brought that memory into focus.
“As the days went by, my parents talked openly about her. They mentioned that the doctors said there was a few minutes when she had stopped breathing and so therefore she might not come out of it, and that even if she did, there was a high probability that she would have severe brain damage. She wouldn’t be the same, they said. I saw my parents’ eyes dim at this news. Their worry thickened the air.”
I continued. “I was fourteen and had recently begun attending a small church’s youth group. My own mind reeling with worry and helplessness, I hopped on my bike and pedaled on down to a night time service. It was the only thing I knew at the time to do. “
My mind completed the picture. I recalled the warmth of that little church, with its wooden pews and big windows. There was something comfortable about the place – enhanced by the handful of hanging light fixtures that sent a warm glow over the twenty or thirty people who were there. I arrived, a little late as usual and made my way to one of the pews in the middle of the left side, and sat.
“When the spot in the service arrived where requests for prayer were invited, I stood up. I explained her hopeless situation to them. Their looks of sympathy almost undid me. I asked ‘could you please pray for her?’ and the pastor smiled and said ‘let’s pray together’. And we did.”
“I didn’t feel much different, you understand. There were no bolts of lightening, no sudden intuition even that God heard us. But….I did feel a warmth, like I’d done a good thing.”
I stopped, caught up in the memory. “So what happened?” asked my friend.
“Well, it was about a day later when my parents told us that she woke up from the coma. The hospital had called them, and so we all scrambled to get ready to head down to the hospital. They wanted her to stay for observation for a few days. I went up to see her every day. We talked and I laughed and I gave her piggy-back rides on my shoulder. It was good.”
“So….?” he asked.
“So it turned out that she had no brain damage. She was fine. And today she’s holding down an intense job. She’s one of the brightest people I know.”
He nodded. “I respect that. You believe in God because of that.”
I nodded. “Yeah, but not just that. That’s just the clearest memory I have – the one that stands out the most. There have been so many instances in my life where it seemed glaringly evident – to me – that He exists and takes an interest in us. In me. One or more too many coincidences, over and over.”
“So what about those who suffer horrifically through life before dying a lonely death? He doesn’t care for them?”
Another honest question. “Although I believe in Him and love HIm, I can’t be His apologist. I have no idea why such people go through such harshness. Any attempts to offer up any kind of an explanation would be disingenuous. It would be presumptuous to pretend that I know why He does and doesn’t do the things He does. I can’t even say that He has His reasons, because once again that would be presuming knowledge that I don’t have.”
He liked that. He didn’t stop being an atheist that day, and I had no expectation that he would.
But maybe, together, we shed a little light. I like to think so.