I Wish I Could Believe
God, Show Me That You Exist
Does God exist?
Can there be a simpler yet more important question in all the universe? Can there be one that has been the source of more mental anguish and emotional confusion in the history of mankind?
It’s ironic that a question that so many people struggle with is also one that can be answered most easily by God when we put it in the form of a prayer. For when we lift our minds and hearts in humility and say to God: “Please show me that you exist…Give me some sign that you are really up there somewhere” he is only too happy to respond—sometimes with a speed that can astound us.
And yet people often spend decades of their life going round in circles trying to debate God’s existence. They analyze the problem, research it, turn it over and over in their minds, go back and forth a thousand times, and at the end of the whole process, they’re still not sure.
Why do people get caught in the “faith maze” so often? Probably because so many corollary questions flow from that basic question: Are we alone in the universe? Is death the end of the story? Is there a meaning to suffering? Is there a heaven or hell? Is there an ultimate plan for my life? The problem is that none of these issues can be discussed intelligently if the answer to the first question—“Does God exist?”—is no. If there is no God, then any talk about Providence and eternity is absurd. The funeral really is the end of the story, and life has no meaning beyond the day to day. As one of my theology professors used to say, it’s the “Looney Tunes” philosophy of life, because like the old Warner Brothers cartoons, the only way to accurately describe death is with the phrase “That’s all, folks!”
On the other hand, if there is a God, then a world of possibilities opens up to us. With God, not only does every human being live forever, but all the actions we take and decisions we make have a significance that extends far beyond the present moment. In fact, everything that happens to us in our life—down to the tiniest, most insignificant detail—is mysteriously tied to God’s “plan.” (1)
There isn’t much room for compromise here. Either we’re alone in the world or we’re not. Either we came about by chance or we were created for a reason. Either death is the end or it’s the beginning. Either our situation is ultimately hopeless or it’s ultimately blissful. There really can’t be two more different or diametrically opposed worldviews.
So how can we come to grips with this most profound question? One way is through simple logic. In the long history of philosophy, many arguments have been put forward concerning the existence of God. Some of the greatest geniuses the world has ever known—Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, Spinoza, Pascal, Descartes, and Kant, to name a few—have made the case that there is a God, and that he is a real, living being.
Some of these rational “proofs” are very famous. There is the so–called cosmological argument, for instance, which asks the question “Where did everything come from?” There is the teleological argument, which points to the order and design of the universe and asserts that there must be a “designer.” There is the ontological argument, which is based on the concepts of perfection and existence. There are arguments from “efficient causality,” from “contingency,” from “desire,” from “degrees of perfection,” from “miracles,” from “morality and conscience,” and from “reliable testimonies.” The list goes on and on.
There isn’t time to discuss these proofs here, but all of them are based on logic, observation of the physical world and our internal consciousness, and inductive or deductive reasoning. None is based on Scripture. None attempts to prove God’s existence by asserting that “the Bible says this or that.”
These logical proofs can be extremely helpful, especially to someone who tends to think that it’s not “intelligent” to believe in God or that religion somehow goes against science. But the problem is that sometimes people get so wrapped up in logic that they get tied up in it as well. They can forget that the solution they are looking for is right in front of their eyes and doesn’t require any arguments at all.
In the case of faith, it’s easy to overlook the most fundamental point of all, namely, that God is not an argument; he is not a syllogism; he is not even a concept. God is a living being. He has the ability to know things, to desire things, to create things, and to love things. He is fully aware and involved. He is alive.
Why is that so important? Because living beings don’t have to be “proved.” They can be shown. If I want to prove to everyone that my uncle Frank exists, I don’t have to mathematically demonstrate that fact. I don’t have to produce his birth certificate, passport, driver’s license, or Social Security card. I can if I wish, but I don’t have to. There’s a much simpler solution. If I want, I can just pick up the phone, give him a call, and say, “Hi, Uncle Frank, how are you doing today?” And if anyone had the audacity to doubt that my uncle was really a living, breathing person, and not just some figment of my imagination, all I’d have to do is introduce them to him.
It’s a similar situation when we discuss God. Yes, we can come up with all kinds of fancy arguments to prove his existence, but we don’t have to. It’s not a strict requirement. Because God is a living being, we can simply give him a “call.” Since he is really, truly alive, he is going to answer us and have a conversation with us—maybe not in the exact same way as Uncle Frank would if we called him on the phone, but close.
Does that seem too easy? I promise it’s not. It’s just that most people who have questions about God’s existence have never even tried to make contact with him. They’ve never made a sincere effort to suspend their doubts for one second and say: “God, I don’t know if you’re up there. In fact, I’m having a big problem believing in you. But if you do exist, will you please do something to show me, so that I know for sure?”
Do you know what will happen if you say this kind of prayer? God is going to answer you. He is going to say YES. He is going to show you that he exists. Why? Because God is not some cosmic joker. He is not interested in playing hide–and–seek with us. His goal is not to confound and confuse us for our entire lives. Yes, he wants us to have faith in something we can’t see or touch, but he doesn’t expect us to do the impossible. He doesn’t expect us to believe in something or someone we can’t even communicate with.
You see, communication is really the key to understanding the whole mystery of faith. In fact, the history of the world is really the history of God trying to communicate with mankind. (2) By creating the universe and the planets in the first place, God was essentially “breaking the silence.” By creating animals and human beings, he was making conversation possible. (3) By formulating covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, he was taking the step of actually speaking to us. (4) By sending great prophets like Elijah and Isaiah to his chosen people, he was deepening his bond with us and “revealing” himself to us even more clearly. (5) God’s most direct act of communication was to become a man in the person of Jesus Christ. By actually walking among us in bodily form and speaking to us plainly in our own language, God was doing everything he could to “talk to us.” And by sending his Holy Spirit, first to the Apostles on Pentecost Sunday and then to the rest of the world, God continues to communicate with us to this very day. (6)
The fact is that we have a God who loves to communicate. And the reason is that communication is the starting point for any relationship. Everyone has heard it said that God wants to be able to have a relationship with us. There is no truer point in all theology. Indeed, the thrust of God’s communication with mankind over the course of history has always been relational and not conceptual. That’s why he actually prefers it when we come to have faith in him through prayer, instead of through logical arguments alone. God doesn’t just want to satisfy a curiosity we have, he wants to enter into a friendship with us. (7) When we take the initiative by asking him a question, instead of treating him as a question, we have actually entered into a dialogue already—whether we know it or not. And dialogue—back–and–forth conversation—is the heart and foundation of any relationship.
Now, we couldn’t very well have a relationship with God if the communication was all one way. We couldn’t hope to make a bit of progress in the spiritual life if God refused to talk back to us when we ask him the simplest question: “Are you there?” That’s why God is always going to answer this question when we pray to him.
How, exactly, will he do that?
Before I attempt to answer that, let me first tell you what he is not going to do. If you ask God to show you that he exists, he is not going to hit you over the head with a hammer. He is not going to suddenly appear before your eyes in bodily form. He’s not going to perform some tremendous miracle for you. Of course, he can if he wants. He has that option. And he has done that at various times in history with various people, but it’s very rare. Chances are he’s not going to do it in your case.
And believe me, you don’t want him to! I know that it’s very tempting to ask God to show you he exists by performing some miracle for you. But that’s the last thing you want him to do. Why? Perhaps you remember the saying “To whom much is given, much will be expected”? (8) That rule applies here. Let me explain.
Having to believe in a God you can’t see is one of the “tests” God gives us in this life. And while it’s not always the easiest test in the world, it is certainly a test we can all pass. I remember playing a game with my friends when I was a boy in which we had to close our eyes and fall backward into the hands of another boy standing behind us. It was basically a game of trust. You had to believe that your friend was going to catch you. If he didn’t—if he wanted to play a nasty, cruel joke on you—he could actually let you fall and hit the ground. The idea, of course, was that your friend would never do something like that to you. But you still had to trust him, because he could let you fall if he wanted. You were putting yourself in his hands. It wasn’t a big risk you were taking, but it was still a scary feeling to be falling backward with your eyes closed and your arms folded in front of you.
This is similar to the kind of faith test God gives us in life. By being invisible, he is essentially asking us to close our eyes as we fall back. He is asking us to trust him. Now, we can pass the test by believing in him; we can fail it by becoming hardened atheists; or, in rare circumstances, we can have the test taken away from us completely. How so?
If God wishes to, he can always perform a great miracle for us or show us some kind of vision. If he were to do that, we would no longer need to believe in something we couldn’t see. We’d have demonstrative, “scientific” evidence instead. And that’s exactly what some people ask God to do. They want a miracle. They want to hear the voice of God announcing his presence in a silent room. They want to see an angel appear before their eyes. They want a chair or a desk to move by itself across the floor. They don't want to close their eyes as they fall back into God's hands. They don’t want to trust God.
But this is where we really have to be careful. Because if God takes away the test of faith from you, he's going to put another test in its place. And you can be sure that this other test won’t be easy.
You see, the overwhelming majority of mankind has to go through life having faith in an invisible God. (9) If you, by some incredible act of God’s mercy, are excused from that obligation, you can be certain that you will be expected to perform some pretty incredible feat later on, including even the possibility of giving your life.
Remember what happened to Moses? He was given the privilege of seeing the finger of God write the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. But then he had to lead a life of hardship and sacrifice in the desert for fifty years and was denied access to the Promised Land. Similarly, Jesus’ apostles were given the honor of seeing the Lord perform many wondrous miracles before and after his Resurrection—but all of them had to die horrible martyrs’ deaths at the hands of the Romans. (All except John, who was not killed but instead tortured by being dipped into a vat of boiling oil.) Saint Paul was struck blind on the road to Damascus and actually heard God’s voice speak to him—but after that he had to suffer greatly, was scourged countless times, shipwrecked twice, and finally beheaded in Rome. (10)
The pages of the Bible and the history of God’s church on earth are filled with examples just like these. Like it or not, these are the kinds of tests God offers as substitutions for the faith test. Is that something you really want to chance?
I’m not implying that miracles are “bad” or that asking God to perform a miracle for you is wrong. Miracles happen every day. When you are confronted with a problem you can’t solve, it’s only natural to ask God to intervene on your behalf in a supernatural manner. There’s nothing wrong with that. What I’m talking about here are those miracles that are so clear, powerful, and indisputable that they essentially render “faith” in God unnecessary and superfluous. If you ask for that kind of miracle and actually receive one, watch out!
On the other hand, if you simply ask God to show you that he exists, without all the lightning and thunder, you can expect to be answered just as clearly but without the requisite heroic sacrifice. How so?
Very simply, God will give you a sign of his presence—a real, genuine, bona fide sign. The exact nature of this sign will be up to him, of course. We always have to remember that God is sovereign and can do anything he likes. But you can be sure it will be something out of the ordinary. Something that—to you, at least—will border on the supernatural. It might be something “big” or something small; dramatic or quiet; profound or simple. It might come to you through the conversation of a friend or while you are at a church service. It might even come to you while you’re at a baseball game! God speaks to different people in different ways and at different times.
From the Hardcover edition.