Why I Still Believe In God When Others Have Given Up
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
I would like to share with you the reasons why I believe in God. I understand such a conversation may be an automatic turnoff to those of you who do not believe in a higher power, but I assure you there’s a nugget of truth and timeless wisdom in this commentary for everyone. After all, when you get right down to it, we all have to believe in something, whether consciously or not.
It all started one day as I was about to return home on MARTA, the public transit system for metro Atlanta where I live. Now maybe I was so tired or so hungry I couldn’t think clearly, or maybe it was just a mental lapse on my part, but I accidentally got on the northbound train when I intended to go south. It wasn’t until five minutes later that I realized my mistake and disembarked at the very next stop. But once I got my bearings I thought for a moment that I saw God.
OK, it wasn’t literally God. It was one of His creations, a young man in his twenties, asking for money for something to eat. I told him I carried no cash, but I could get him some food if that’s what he truly needed. He spoke to me in soft tones that were barely audible. He was apparently ashamed for having to beg. I told him not to worry, I would be back in 5 minutes. I went into a nearby Burger King that was in easy walking distance from where I was and got him a ‘whopper’, some fries and a drink, but by the time I came back out with the food he was gone. Only God knows where. So I did the only thing I could at that point. I took the food home, warmed it up and ate it. So much for good deeds for today. Like Mighty Casey at the bat that day in Mudville, I had struck out.
Now to some, running into this homeless person is a coincidence at best, or a clear and present danger at worst. But I chose to see something else. I chose to see God. Not in person, mind you, but within the hearts and minds of others. I don’t see God only in the good things in life, I see Him in the bad things too. Like homeless people, not to imply that homeless people are bad, or like the affluent, or anywhere in between. I see God in triumph and defeat, in wealth or in poverty, in war or in peace, and in life or in death. “The earth is the Lord’s”, king David once wrote, “and everything in it”. It also says in the book of Genesis that mankind was created in God’s “image and likeness”. So we belong not to ourselves but to God.
One of the biggest problems with organized religion today is the claim of having definitive answers about an infinite being. But true faith does not require us to have all of the answers. Only God knows all that. Faith, as it relates to spirituality, isn’t knowing something others don’t know – we call that a secret – but rather belief in something that can’t be empirically proven or disproved. In other words, to truly be a person of faith one must accept the fact that God exists. If there was visible evidence of God’s existence, we wouldn’t need faith. And on the flip side, atheists cannot prove without a shadow of a doubt there is no God. If that were the case, then where did the universe come from?
So, while I can’t prove God intended for me to run into that homeless man on the street that day, the skeptic cannot prove that some form of intelligence – God, if you will – did not. This is what I meant when I said we all believe in something. When you get right down to it, everyone is walking in faith, it’s just not faith in the same thing. Unless you are one of the multitudes of people whose faith has been shattered by the loss of your jobs, your homes and cars, your savings, and even whole families that are breaking up due to financial hardship. Still others are walking with the wrong kind of faith, such as their faith in material goods and financial wealth as they surround themselves with as many friends as money can buy. The most dangerous are those who carry themselves about in the mistaken belief that power, whether political, economic or by brute force, is the ultimate achievement in and of itself. Such power over others for any reason is an illusion because it is never permanent. Sooner or later, realizing the same, those under power’s thumb will inevitably become very tired of being ruled over with an iron fist and violently throw off the chains of oppression. It has happened over and over again throughout history, with the American Revolution being only one example of many.
Lots of people have voiced a concern, expressed a doubt or raised a question about this issue all over the world, only to be told by their family, church, or friends: “We don’t discuss those things here”, or, “I believe the discussion itself is divine.” This doesn’t include certain religious denominations who teach that their way is the only way because their message is the only truthful message. This is completely contrary to Scripture, which says that only those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ can be saved from judgment. Religion is secondary, almost like an afterthought, when it comes to faith in Jesus. Besides, if God doesn’t exist then why are so many people so uncomfortable talking about Him?
So where is God in all this? He was in the eyes of the homeless man I tried to help. He is in the eyes of your neighbor, your friends, your family, your co-workers, and those you worship with at church – or not, if that’s what you prefer. God pleads for the homeless, begs for the hungry, cries out for the sick and the mentally ill, and He is interceding for the unemployed, for single parents working multiple part-time jobs, and for those in life who have simply lost their way. God didn’t just make some people, He made all of us “in his image and likeness”. So God is asking all of us, “What are you going to do for all of my sons and daughters who are hurting or in want, who need my Peace and my Healing? Look closely at the homeless, the unemployed, the ex-convict, the forgotten and rejected sons and daughters of mine and you’ll see a reflection of Me”. If anyone is doubtful about the point I am making, that’s okay. To admit doubt removes the arrogance of certainty prevalent in so many evangelical Christians and atheists alike and replaces it with the humility – and even peace – that comes with not knowing all the answers. I do not find the mystery to represent the absence of God but rather his presence. If we could figure God out, he wouldn’t be that impressive.
If the promise of heaven or the threat of hell is the only reason you can find to seek His face, you are missing the point. We were all put here on this earth to live our lives one of two ways; we live our lives either serving others or serving ourselves. It’s all up to us. Maybe we should examine ourselves to see which of the two is the case. Maybe it was just a coincidence that I got turned around going to a place I regularly visit, running into someone I never met, and offering my hand to assist someone at a time when so many others turned theirs away. Maybe. But I chose to believe it was something else. I believe God sends us opportunities to serve others just to see what we will do or how we will react. That says a lot about somebody right there. For it is within the desire to serve that my faith in God is nourished. How about yours?