Bear's Proof for the Existence of God*

There isn't one. A proof, that is. Not, at least, a proof on the basis of any empirical evidence or experience. There can't be, that's the whole point. God is not a thing that we can sense, measure or feel. End of story.

Which is why all of the current arguments about the way in which science "proves" the non-existence of God are simply non-starters. Nobody--no thinking believer--ever said that science "proved" anything of the sort, other than that human beings are capable of studying nature. Yes, the Creation reflects or carries the image of its Creator, but who is to say that we human beings have fully discerned what that image is? We barely understand ourselves, never mind the other creatures with which we share our planet, not to mention the vast processes of the life of the planet itself, and yet some of us presume to suggest that we understand the One who made all of this (as well as how He/She/It did it)? And who is to say that ours is the only creation? Maybe the Author of Everything has written more than one book, perhaps even a whole universe of books (think Borges here), and all we can read at the moment is one paragraph in one chapter of our own.

So how do we know there is a God? Well, how do we know there isn't? Because innocents suffer? Because we don't get what we want when we pray? Because human beings are imperfect, even by their own standards? What do we want God to do? Step in like a domineering parent (or tyrant) and fix everything? "How could God let such a terrible thing happen?" "If there is a God, why is there so much misery and injustice in the world?" Could it be because we fail to live up to what God has told us we should in order for there not to be? Oh, but then God is judging us unfairly, because HSI didn't give us the strength to deal with such things as murder, rape, corruption, financial failings, war, disease and natural disasters. Well, if HSI didn't give us that strength, where do we expect to find it otherwise? In ourselves? But we (as human beings) are responsible for much of the misery and injustice in the world--and we expect to be able to fix it all on our own? Good luck.

Here's the best proof I've found for the existence of God: because it is right to give thanks for being alive, for food and drink and clothing and shelter, for family and friends, for all the opportunities I have had in my life to make something of being alive, for having the ability to think about questions like "who am I? where did I come from? how do I know that there is such a thing as goodness and justice?" Yes, I am more fortunate than many human beings alive today, but surely that should not mean that I should therefore be ungrateful! Surely that should give me all the more reason to thank God for the blessings of life--and spur me on to find ways to share those blessings with others. Okay, so it doesn't seem fair that some are millionaires while others starve, but is that God's fault or ours? And would we really prefer God to come in, again, like some domineering parent, and make us all share? What would be the virtue in that?

Think about what it would be like if God acted towards us as many people seem to want Him/Her/It to do. God should punish the wicked, prevent war and murder, fix our economic crisis so that nobody suffers, make sure that there is enough food for everyone, relieve all of our suffering. Sound nice? Absolutely! And God should have made all of us equally good-looking and smart and talented and healthy. And nobody should have anything more than anybody else, everybody should live in a mansion and have plenty to eat. Um. This sounds like Heaven to me--and the biggest complaint I hear about Heaven is that it would be, well, boring. Oh, so we actually want a world in which it is possible to exercise our free will then, do we? A world where it is possible to fail such that success actually means something? A world in which virtue triumphs over adversity and we have a chance to be heroes--or saints? Maybe God is smarter than we thought.

Here's the hurdle I've been dealing with for the better part of my life: if there is a God, why haven't I ever had a strong experience of Him/Her/It? You know, like the ones that people seem to have at revivalist meetings where everyone is filled with the power of the Spirit and born again? Sure, I've had moments when life seemed especially good, the sky that particular shade of blue that makes everything shimmer with meaning, a surge of happiness for no particular reason but just because it felt so good to be alive. But these experiences seem to me to be both too fleeting and conditional (the time of day, the fact that I had just finished a major piece of work and was feeling relieved, being on vacation and seeing something new) to constitute something so powerful as a proof for the existence of God. Surely, if God exists, I should be aware of it all the time, not just occasionally, right? Blissed out for the whole of my life.

This, after all, is what many modern thinkers and critics, like Schleiermacher and Freud would have us believe: God is an experience of bliss, absolute dependence, or the like, with the corollary that if we have not had that experience, QED, no God. Maybe we're just not listening; that, after all, is what meditation is about: stilling the chatter in our minds long enough to be able to hear God. Guess what? It works--but not for the reasons that we've been telling ourselves these past 200 years. God is not a feeling; God simply is--but this is not something we can prove by way of our experience, only something that we can strive to understand through the exercise of--yes, you guessed it--our reason. Talk about "duh." For what is reason other than our capacity to look for and see meaning in an otherwise meaningless series of impressions that we receive from our senses? Yes, we may be deceived and see patterns where there are none. But it is by virtue of our reason and capacity for understanding that (according to all medieval theologians) we are made in the image and likeness of God; it is our reasoning about our lives and our world that leads us to God.

Okay, so I'm trying to condense here only several thousand years of philosophical argument, but sometimes it helps to state the obvious. We've done ourselves as human beings a terrible disservice these past several hundred years chasing phantasms about "proof" when the only real proof was staring us in the face all the time: bad things happen because God wants us to be free, and God wants us to be free so as to be able to exercise our reason in giving thanks to God for His/Her/Its Creation. So, yes, we should be aware of God all the time, but not as a feeling (so much for Freud's "oceanic feeling"), but as a thought binding all of existence together in, yes, Love. Which means that Love is not a feeling either (at least not in the way in which we talk about "falling in love" with another human being), but rather the highest exercise of our reason.

How's that for a reflection on this, the feast day of the Triune God?

Image: God as Creator, Vienna, Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek Cod. 2554, fol. 1


  1. Nice!

    Faith seeks understanding, not the other way around :)

  2. Just stumbled on this post - love it. It's just what I needed to put my thoughts in order, so thank you.

  3. Wow, you summed up nicely.
    God is not a 'being' and God is not in competition with His creation that's what the Atheist don't get. The glory of God is what, a human being fully alive. God illuminates humans with His spirit.
    Veni Sancte Spiritus!

  4. As a more or less faithful agnostic ( As it ain't provable or disprovable, the rational response is agnosticism) I've no problem postulating/assuming a higher power, shucky darn, I've seen and experienced much that has no rational explanation.

    Worship though, in my opinion, is far more important to the worshipers, the people, than to God.

    I lean more toward contemplation than worship that I find no fault with those who feel differently.

  5. I think even Bernard Lonergan would be proud of your conclusion (even though he put a lot of effort into a heavy proof from analogy...).
    Experience leads to inquiry leads to insight leads to reason leads to responsibility leads to love!

  6. A thought provoking and beautiful essay, Dr Brown. Thank you for penning it.


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