On the existence of God

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By Russel Pollit SJ
A prominent newspaper recently ran a column headlined: I was taught God exists. That is a lie – Here’s why. The writer asked if an all-powerful and all-loving God did exist, why are there natural disasters like the recent floods in KwaZulu Natal? This is a fair question, one which people of faith must be willing to interrogate. The Catholic position has always been one of faith and reason. Some people suggested he had no right to question belief. We must question what we believe and not be afraid – even Thomas, a disciple of Jesus, grappled with faith.  

After the piece was published there was a response from believers. Sadly, many reactions were emotional and defensive. This is understandable when someone is perceived to attack something or someone we hold dear. But this is also not helpful if we are to make a credible stance for God’s existence. The writer points to natural disasters and then gives several reasons why, from his own Catholic upbringing, he rejects God and takes an agnostic position. 

Some of the responses offered ‘proof’ for God. For example: the intricacies of creation and how there must, therefore, be a creator. 
What was interesting in the debate was that nobody dared suggest or ask the question what the human contribution was. For several decades scientists have warned that climate degradation, because of human activity, will bring about a change in weather patterns which will often be experienced as extremes. Heat waves, floods, capricious weather, are all a result of environmental degradation. Much of this damage is caused by consumerism and will, as always, weigh heavily on the poorest of the poor. How much responsibility must humanity take for natural disasters because we will not heed the clarion call of climatologists and scientists? 
We can also, which many did not, interrogate our own experience. We cannot convince others about God’s existence, but we can offer our own personal experience and that of millennia of human beings. Some of the greatest minds we have ever known stood firm in faith and argued belief is reasonable. 

But there is another dimension to our thinking about the existence of God: the image (or picture) we have of God. We say God is all-powerful and all-knowing. We have often been presented with an image of a God who, at the snap of a finger can do whatever God wants. The way we choose to be Church also says something about the ‘powerful God’ we want to emulate. 

However, the Gospels reveal a vulnerable God, one who is taken into human hands and suffers. We meet, in Jesus, a God who spends a lot of time with the weak and the powerless. We want a powerful God, who is unaffected by the traumas of life because such a God makes us feel secure, perhaps even strong, and maybe even makes belief more reasonable. But what happens if we swap out the powerful image for the vulnerable image? We then meet a God who is not the cause of (or allows) tragedy but a God who is found in tragedy. A God who knows tragedy and can live with and accompany us in tragic spaces. 

Before we jump to defend God’s existence it might be helpful to first interrogate the kind of God we believe in. We might well find that the god we believe in and defend is not God. We might find the awkward questions about God help us get to know God. 

Read more at www.jesuitinstitute.org.za

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