Having attended a Catholic High School, God was never off limits during lunch time debates. Some girls would vehemently declare that there were too many contradictions in the Bible, and so therefore this discredited God (this despite never being able to give any concrete or intelligible examples). Others wanted more proof that God was there, some sort of visual proof or miracle in their lives. Others still thought that God should intervene in all the bad things that happened in the world, and that his silence on matters of evil meant that even if God existed, it was not a God they wanted to know. For others yet, it was about organised religion, and not wanting to be involved in an organisation that was outdated, particularly on issues they were passionate about.
Then there was me, and a couple of other friends who were so sure about our faith. Looking back, my friends probably represented the general views of our society.
Despite our debates, each of my friends struggled with their faith – was God real or not? I would have conversations with them one on one and discover that they had been praying during a difficult time in their lives, had felt at peace, and felt loved in that moment. However it didn’t take long for their “rational” brain to take over, and dismiss any feelings of God in their lives to simple biology or some other “logical” reason. This would continue as a pattern in conversations I have had with many friends over the years. “Yes I prayed, yes it felt good, yes it might be God…” turns into “God can’t exist, I haven’t seen any proof, organised religion is bad and the Bible is inconsistent.”
A young man stayed with my family for a year, and in that time we would have similar discussions. He one time outright asked me for proof that God exists. I spent the next week at work typing a 12 page document on the proof, to me, as to why God exists. It would certainly be a very different document now, but I still consider it one of my better pieces of writing, and I still stand by a lot of what I wrote. And yet still, this young man was unmoved. It really highlighted to me that God can never simply be forced on someone as an intellectual concept. How can someone believe in God if they don’t stop thinking of God as a concept, and start relating to God as a reality?
One of the criticisms of religion is that it brainwashes children into believing in an “imaginary man in the sky” and “fairy tales”. What someone who has never experienced God can never know is that childhood is the best time to experience God as children are less concerned with the arguments that adults conjure up to deny the existence of an existential being. They are open to experiencing God, and this openness gives them great opportunity to feel God in their heart. When my eldest daughter was 3 years old, I remember distinctly she woke up one morning and declared “Mummy, I FELT God! He’s ALIVE and He’s REAL!” Up until then, I had not spoken to her about God in that way. It came purely from her. She has since become a great little pray-er, and sometimes prays when she feels scared, or anxious, and even says her own prayer before dinner at times. She now drives her own faith in God and the way that she relates to God. I’m not saying she won’t struggle with her faith as she grows, after all, there is so much out there to tell her that she is foolish for believing, that God cannot exist, and that believers are delusional. I just hope her solid foundation of faith as a child can help her overcome these.
God is not a concept. He is more than just an idea that someone long ago conjured up. God is ALIVE and God is REAL. I tell my children that if God is everywhere then He is also in your heart, and that is where we will find Him. God is not “out there”, or distant from us, watching with a bucket of popcorn in the sky. He is active in our lives, urging us to do what is right, pushing us to holiness and greatness. None of the arguments and barriers that adults use to debate God’s existence can ever take away the powerful and profound experience of God moving in your life. That is what I believe. That is what I live by. That is what I want my children to know.