There is a question that has been on my mind for many years. Why does belief in the existence of God require faith? Wouldn’t it be easy enough for an all powerful being to provide incontrovertible proof of His existence? Why allow any room for doubt?
A few years ago it finally dawned on me: You cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. This has nothing to do with whether or not the proof exists. It has everything to do with our ability to accept whatever proof exists. Let me explain by example.
John 12:28-29 (from the Common English Bible or CEB)
Father, glorify Your name! Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”.
The crowd standing there heard it and said, “It’s thunder.” Others said, “An angel spoke to him.”
So in this verse, God the Son calls out to God the Father in front of a crowd of people and God the Father responds. Some of the people who heard God the Father’s response said it was thunder. Other people said it was the voice of an angel.
Everyone there heard the same sound (another way to say it is that they all had access to the same information). But different people interpreted it in different ways. I’m not sure how you could mistake full sentences for thunder but given which one is more common, thunder does seem more likely. And therein lies the problem. Without faith, we can only attempt to understand what we experience based on our ability to make sense of what we experience. Faith recognizes that there is the potential to experience things that are uncommon when we are dealing with God, who is by definition “uncommon”.
Without faith, we will not be able to accept the existence of God no matter what we see or hear or experience or read. There is nothing in our reality that provides a frame of reference for dealing with someone who exists outside of our reality. God can speak through a bush that is on fire but does not burn up. He can part a sea so a million people can walk on the sea bed beneath it. He can come to earth Himself and perform miracles in front of thousands of people. He can even speak to us right now. Without faith, we will rationalize or reason all of these things away.
But with faith, we can accept that an encounter with Someone who exists on a different level than us would not be like an encounter with anyone else.
It may help to think of faith as another mechanism we have to interpret the information gathered by our senses. We use our sense of taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing to understand our world. Each of these senses are represented by organs (mouth, skin, nose, eyes, and ears) that are basically ways for our brain to collect information about us and the world around us. Our minds attempt to interpret that information based on our understanding of how the world works. And we attempt to fill any gaps in that understanding with reason (what seems logical based on what we know). Faith also attempts to interpret the information provided by our senses. But faith acknowledges that there are things beyond our understanding of how the world works and therefore attempts to filled the gaps with things that are outside of what we know.
The following verses show how our senses provide information for our faith to process.
“Go report to John what you have seen and heard.” Luke 7:22 (CEB)
“So faith comes from listening, but it’s listening by means of Christ’s message.” Romans 10:17 (CEB)
There is one group of people who have no problem with accepting the uncommon: children. They don’t have enough experiences to feel like they have an explanation for everything they experience so they are open to accept things that they can’t explain away. That’s why Jesus uses them as an example of the mindset you would need to have in order to believe God exists.
“I assure you that if you don’t turn your lives around and become like this little child, you will definitely not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3 (CEB)
The Bible sums it up in Hebrews 11:6 (CEB).
“It is impossible to please God without faith because the one who draws near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards people who try to find Him.”
This to me raises another question: What do we do with the information we have gathered about God? Do we try to make the uncommon common so that it fits with what we know? Or do we accept the uncommon as uncommon and let it change us instead?