November 20, 2017

Open Mic: The Most Basic Question

Question posed by Chaplain Mike

It is a rare conversation that cuts right to the heart of the matter. It happened to me the other day.

I was visiting a terminally ill patient who was actively dying. Her granddaughter had come to see her, and as I entered the room I observed her talking with the doctor, upset at the sight of her grandma dying, wiping away tears, asking anguished questions. The doctor departed and I introduced myself. In return, she briefly told me her story—Her father had committed suicide over a decade ago, when she was a teenager. Shortly after that, her grandmother had a stroke and was placed in a nursing home. That was the last time the young woman had seen her. Today that changed. After more than ten years, she had driven several hours to visit and finally face all the emotions, now rising up and choking her like fine dust from the place she had tamped them down for so long.

She asked me a little more about myself, and my ministry. Then, these words: “I don’t mean to offend you, but may I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” I said.

Looking me directly in the eyes, she asked the most basic question, “Why do you believe in God?”

In today’s Open Mic, I am asking you to put yourself in my shoes at that moment.

What will your answer be?

Here are the rules:

  • Realize this: you only have a short space of time. Three or four sentences at the most. One paragraph. No time to delineate the classic proofs for the existence of God.
  • Keep the situation in mind. ‘Nuff said.
  • You are welcome to add one additional paragraph explaining to the rest of us why you answered as you did.
  • If you are a person who does not believe in God, you have one paragraph to tell us how you might try to bring comfort to this young woman, and then a second to explain your reasoning.
  • You are welcome to reply to other posts, but my preference is that you give an answer first before responding to your fellow participants. (I only state it that way because I won’t be monitoring the discussion every single second. I’d appreciate adherence to my wishes, OK?) I also ask that you keep your replies to other posts brief, a paragraph or two. We’re working on being concise here. It’s a valuable asset in many conversations.

Got it? This should be fun. Every once in awhile, it’s good to go back and think about the basics.

Comments

  1. I believe in God because He did everything it took to get me to the point of brokenness, where I saw a Saviour who is worthy of my obedience. By His complete and utter grace He made me alive to Christ . The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 1:31 that “it is be His doing doing that I am in Christ Jesus”…

  2. ahumanoid says:

    I originally believed because I was raised in an environment in which the existence of God was a given. I currently believe (although not without a good dose of doubt) because I feel that the world would be an unbearable place if there is not a God who will make the last and least to be first in the future. The thought that those who have a life of absolute hell in this world will never experience a better reality but only cease to exist is loathsome in my opinion. . .

  3. Christopher Lake says:

    Honestly, I’m not sure what I would say, but if I had the presence of mind (God, help me!), I *might* say something similar to this:

    “I have not always believed in God. I understand some of your losses, because when I was nine years old, my mother committed suicide. If there is no God and no right or wrong in this world, then my mother might have made the sensible decision, because life can *hurt.* However, I *do* believe there is right and wrong, and I *do* believe that my mother made the wrong decision, because I believe that God exists, and He gives us life and all good things. Do you know Him in your life?”

  4. Jonathan M says:

    I believe in God because I can not really help myself. I grew up with an assumption that God existed, but was distant. Yet, when I struggled with myself, trying to figure out who I was and how I could do all that I wanted to do, I realized that I can do nothing alone; I need someone to sustain me in a way that none of my friends can. I need God to get through each and every day. When my faith was tested by the suicide of someone close to me, I fell into other attempts at solutions, but ONLY God could deliver me.

  5. Because in the final analysis, despite the veneer, I am a horrible person who wants to be forgiven. My facade is more or less intact and most people don’ t think I’m that bad because I’m good at either leaving no tracks or covering the ones left behind. But I need someone who can see me for everything that I am and still love me just the same, who has every right to punish me for being the way I am but chooses instead to redeem me and make me a better person than I could ever hope to be.

    I know what I would be without God and it isn’t pretty.

    I know what I’ve become with God and His Son Jesus and it is beautiful, and not for who I am, but for who God is.

    John 3:16

  6. In God I have found Life, True Life. Not merely existence.
    When I come to Him I find mercy, compassion, and the deepest Love I have have ever know.
    He found me in my brokenness when I called to Him. He took me just as I was and not how
    I thought I should be. His nearness is my joy. God is Love. And He even Loves me.

  7. Debbie says:

    I didn’t give my reason for my reply – oops! Not good at following instructions 🙂
    Presuming she asked for further clarification I would tell her that the Ten Commandments really get to me especially the one about ‘honoring parents’. I would tell her about how my mother committed slow suicide with alcohol abuse and had deserted me when I was little and gained me back when I was a little older, by the time I was 22 I had enough of her craziness and had left home and was going to travel my country. The last time I saw my mother alive she was drunk and I was silently wishing she was dead and then she did die 3 months later. I felt guilty and then my own life spiralled out of control as I used drugs and men to numb the pain. I hit bottom when I was alone and pregnant with my second child and I needed medical help – I cried out to a God I wasn’t sure was there but if He was and He did write those commandments then I needed to talk to Him but I was scared. I experienced a slight relief in my medical problem and made it to a hospital, while I was there I read The Gospel of John and read about Jesus and the cross and hope was born in me. Not perfection – hope – I went on to fail twice more yet found no matter how far I stray a love I cannot explain keeps drawing me back to the promise of the cross and resurrection. Sorry if I again went over the ‘short paragraph’ rule.

  8. Because no one else has words of eternal life. (Peter’s words to Jesus in John 6:68.) And because of God’s great love for us, that while we were sinners and God’s enemies, Jesus died for us. (Romans 5:8) And because nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. (Romans 8:39) And that means that as hard as it may be, we believe in God and trust him. Is there another answer for suffering, life, and death? I explored this some time ago on my blog.

  9. I came to believe in the Bible because it was the most accurate description of human nature I have ever read. I have come to know the God described there personally since, and experienced his faithfulness in the many difficulties of my life. I suffer, but I don’t do it alone. It is faith, but not blind faith.

    I live in a powerchair, so it is obvious to anyone who meets me that my life is tough. It means that a lot of the lead up to that statement never needs be spoken, and also that most people who ask that are wondering how I can still believe in God.

  10. When I was an unbeliever, something or someone kept showing up to make me wonder as I continued to dodge the question of life. As I kept looking and learning, only God (as He presents himself to each of us) made sense, as to who it was that kept chasing me. So I stopped and let him catch me.

  11. I don’t believe (and believing because it is ‘comforting’ is nothing less than an insult). When I was 13, I was in confirmation classes (Episcopal) and struggling over the notion of a trinity. I asked Father Duell over and over and on many occasions to make sense of the notion that they are different but the same and finally, in apparent exasperation, he said “it’s a matter of faith’.

    OK, fine. That means that faith=something for which there is no evidence or explanation.

    I’ve never looked back. And the notion that I am here in this universe and in control of my own life is astonishingly empowering. The idea of ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ is just vacuous. At some point, mankind will outgrow this silliness. Not now, though.

    • “believing because it is ‘comforting’ is nothing less than an insult”

      True. But the question here was ‘why believe in God when there is so much suffering’. It’s natural enough that an answer to that question – not an essay but a simple answer – would refer to God as some type of answer/comfort to that suffering. It’s one answer, for most people; not the whole answer.

    • Christopher Lake says:

      Michael,

      Not everything in Christianity *is* a matter of faith. For example, there is historical evidence, outside of the Bible, for the life, teachings, and claims of Jesus. There is historical evidence that the original apostles, who knew Jesus personally, were willing to die, and did die, for His claims about who He was. Skeptical researchers have looked at the historical basis for the claims of Christianity, in order to disprove them, and have eventually converted. The faith of Christianity is not a blind faith but is founded on historical facts. To reject Christianity because of the things that *are* matters of faith is….well… not very reasonable.

      • Not everything, true; but the core beliefs: that Jesus died for our sins, that he was resurrected, and then passed to heaven- this is the gate through which all believers must pass.

        As to historicity, certainly I accept the historical Jesus. More to the point of the original question was faith in God in a more general way, though: faith is a leap that I cannot make.

        On the issue of comfort: we take comfort in our lives and families. There is nothing more.

    • Michael: Would you say that those poor souls who Jesus touched and to whom he said, “Your faith has healed you,” were insulting because they reached out for help and comfort?

      • A well-put question. Answer: I don’t know! There are so many issues in that question that peeling may be beyond the scope as you have defined it.

        When I said that faith for the sake of comfort has an odd ring to it, certainly I don’t misunderstand the needs of the human heart, particularly in times of deep stress or grief or death. There is this: at exactly those times, those excruciating times, when the breast is the heaviest, what do we make of offering false hope? To make the respondent feel better?Nothing wrong with this, but it is a poor basis for faith.

    • It never occurred to you that your inability to facilitate a basic theological construct makes you… not the smartest guy in the room after all?

      Hm. If only the rest of the world could achieve the enlightenment you surpassed at a trot at age 13…

      • thread deleted why?

      • Patrick,

        I never expected to encounter sarcasm here, and so will leave it at that.

        • I kinda feel that way about the bickering on here.

          Per your comment: I’ve been a Christian almost as long as I can remember, and that answer would frustrate me, too. But faith isn’t blind, to be honest. Faith is built on a trust that what has been true in the past will continue to be true in the future. I have faith the chair I’m in will hold because it’s held me before. *shrug*

          As for the Trinity – Um….Honestly, the simple answer is God isn’t human, and therefore isn’t bound to the same constraints humans are. If he can be everywhere at once; it stands to reason he can be the Three-and-One as well. At any rate, there are Christians who don’t accept the doctrine because it’s not expressly stated in Scripture (it’s more implied than spelled out in black & white). It’s a doctrine that’s got many interpretations, and most of them probably wind up being variations of the same thing. I definitely wouldn’t approach a new believer or a non-believer and start off with that one.

          As for heaven and hell, curiously, how so?

          Anyway, I know that’s a bit off-topic.

  12. Chaplain Mike,

    What did you end up telling her?

  13. Miguel says:

    It seems tough to believe in a supremely good being when unbearable suffering is upon us. But if there is no God than we have no hope. If this life is all there is, why even bother? But there is some good news…

    And I wouldn’t add this part, but….
    After all, if a supremely good being was bound to conform to our standards of how reality should unfold, who does that set up as God? I for one understand that I would make a lousy ruler of the universe.

  14. My answer: Sometimes I believe in God, sometimes I don’t. I think if there were a God, and it really matters to him/her that I believe, he/she will take care of contacting me. Drumming up belief isn’t my job. What’s important is that we do the best we can to relate to other people the way a God worth worshipping would relate to them. Then even if isn’t a God worth worshipping, then we will still have done our best.

  15. Anna A says:

    I believe in God, becasue I believe in love, and have seen love worked out in both my life and the lives of others. I believe in God becasue of the beauty of the universe from the farthest star to the smallest crystal. I know that He loves you and your family more than you can imagine.

    (Then, I would stand silently, inviting a hug, if she wanted one)

  16. Louis Winthrop says:

    I’m not one of those people who “believes in God.” I’m not sure what the word “God” even means. To me the universe, life and death are mysteries which I do not expect ever to fathom. Sometimes, based on experiences in my life, I have had the impression that “meaningful coincidences” exist, and that these suggest a conscious, caring universe. However, I am aware that this is likely to be projection on my part.

  17. I believe because God showed me. When I needed to know I asked him and he showed me. I can’t expect you to have the same experience I’ve had, but I can pray that’you’ll ask him in your own way and he’ll give you what you need to know to believe. Jesus says, “Knock and the door will be opened to you.”

  18. I would say something similar to what Anna A. said–I believe in God, because I believe in love. It’s what brought her to that bed after a 10 year absence. Love is there in the heartbreak, in the brokenness, in the moments of joy. In the end, it is all there is.

    I hope she was able to find comfort in your words. My heart and prayers go out to her.

  19. Mike McDonald says:

    Chaos. Simply put, chaos. Think it’s bad now? Try *real* randomness. We’re experiencing pain now; imagine (if you can) how bad it could really be. No God, no hope. For anything. Get over yourself.

    • Love that spirit of kindness, Mike. Wow.

      • Mike McDonald says:

        What, then, is grace? It only works when an individual abandons all hope & experiences the embrace of something they cannot generate themselves. It’s that “in spite of” problem that makes grace difficult to accept because we’re all naturally Pelagians. We want to define how we approach God, we want to wrap God around our experience. In this case, the selfishness of woman about to experience loss is cursing God because this loss is not convenient for her. God has refused to intervene at her beck and call. That’s not God’s job to be our pool boy. Frankly, pastoral ministry today has been over run by 19th century Romanticism & Stewart Smalley seems almost the archetype of the kind of compassion ministry is supposed to embody. But, in the end, death is there because of us. It’s our fault. That said, Ursinus hit on a valid point in the Heidelberg Catechism (Q & A 42) that death puts an end to our sinning. It seems all too frequently we simply lose our nerve to speak truth, the truth we know in our hearts & confirmed by the Holy Spirit in Scripture. Our sinful self looks at the theodicy and we impose on God what we believe is compassionate (hath God said? The fruit did look pleasing to the eye) rather than staying obedient to the discipline of the Church as Scripture circumscribes truth. You think my response was snippy? You ought to know how John 6 opened and closed. Or Jesus saying to the woman how it wasn’t right to take childrens’ bread and toss it to dogs (Mk 7:27)? I can’t imagine many parish pastors having the gonads to say that to a seeker or inquirer. They would go out of their way to render whatever assistance immediately w/out question. Or does Jesus get a pass for snippiness because, well, he is the 2nd Person of the Trinity Incarnate? The redemption accomplished and applied by Christ was not specifically about *us* but for the *Kingdom*. Yeah, I’m quite Augustinian and especially of Augustine’s superb pupil, Calvin, and Kuyper & Geerhardus Vos.

        Maybe it was you who was a bit snippy before you thought my response to your question through.

        • Pelagianism. 19th-century Romanticism. Heidelberg Catechism. Theodicy. Kuyper & Geerhardus Vos.

          Is that what you’d say to her? And then tell her “Get over yourself”?

          Why don’t you just pass her a loaded pistol?

        • Mike, I never see Jesus treating hurting people as you suggest we should. That’s my standard.

        • What, then, is grace? It only works when an individual abandons all hope & experiences the embrace of something they cannot generate themselves.

          So, you think everyone on the planet must go through proverbial Hell to receive grace? I don’t remember that verse.

          In this case, the selfishness of woman about to experience loss is cursing God because this loss is not convenient for her. God has refused to intervene at her beck and call. That’s not God’s job to be our pool boy.

          Honestly, sometimes that’s true, and sometimes it’s just a question born out of fear, njot cursing God. Since I don’t know this woman, I don’t know which is the case.

          Frankly, pastoral ministry today has been over run by 19th century Romanticism & Stewart Smalley seems almost the archetype of the kind of compassion ministry is supposed to embody.

          Where’s that from? (Serious question.)

          But, in the end, death is there because of us. It’s our fault.

          So, we control nothing, but death is our fault?

          That said, Ursinus hit on a valid point in the Heidelberg Catechism (Q & A 42) that death puts an end to our sinning.

          So, death is a blessing?

          It seems all too frequently we simply lose our nerve to speak truth, the truth we know in our hearts & confirmed by the Holy Spirit in Scripture. Our sinful self looks at the theodicy and we impose on God what we believe is compassionate (hath God said?

          Hum. So, fear is a sin?

          I have a strange feeling you’re going after the justice of God, but you’ll get nowhere if you don’t realize Justice and Mercy must be together, or neither are present.

          The fruit did look pleasing to the eye) rather than staying obedient to the discipline of the Church as Scripture circumscribes truth.

          Um, mixing metaphors, I think. “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love…if I have the wisdom to unlock all mysteries…if I give my body to be burned, but have not love, I am a resounding gong, a blaring trumpet; I am nothing, and I gain nothing” (Kaci Paraphrase Ed).

          What I think Scripture said was that everything must be seasoned with grace, including truth.

          You think my response was snippy?

          Perhaps inappropriate. I’ll admit I have a few friends I could say “get over it” to, or they could say it to me. But we have the relationship to do that.

          You ought to know how John 6 opened and closed. Or Jesus saying to the woman how it wasn’t right to take childrens’ bread and toss it to dogs (Mk 7:27)? I can’t imagine many parish pastors having the gonads to say that to a seeker or inquirer. They would go out of their way to render whatever assistance immediately w/out question. Or does Jesus get a pass for snippiness because, well, he is the 2nd Person of the Trinity Incarnate?

          It’s my understanding that Jesus, being the all-knowing God, meets us where we are. The woman was completely undeterred. It’s not actually recorded that she was personally offended. But that’s another discussion.

          I will say this: Try trashing your church and run people off with your belt, and let me know how it goes. If it works out for you, please tell me, and I’ll relent on my theory that not everything Jesus did is to be done by us (such as flipping tables).

          The redemption accomplished and applied by Christ was not specifically about *us* but for the *Kingdom*.

          Huh. So, was the Crucifixion for us, or for the Kingdom?

          Yeah, I’m quite Augustinian and especially of Augustine’s superb pupil, Calvin, and Kuyper & Geerhardus Vos.

          Noticed.

          Maybe it was you who was a bit snippy before you thought my response to your question through.

          Text doesn’t translate well. I’m not sure how many ways there are to read “get over it.”

          /tangent.

    • It’s not exactly chaotic, this universe in which we live. As to hope: you have control over your self, a very empowering notion.

      Are you saying that without God there is no hope, and so since there must be hope, therefore there is a God?

  20. ScottG. says:

    Because of the Resurrection. If Jesus rose from the dead and, as absurd as it sounds no other explanation matches the facts as well, then that changes everything. Remember, even in first century Palestine, people were bright enough to know dead people don’t just get up and walk around; yet, people did see Him and believed and that belief turned the world upside down. Jesus’ resurrection validates every claim He made, including the promise of everlasting life in a world where there will be no tears and no death and God Himself will be with us. In this world of hurt and pain and death, the fact of Jesus’ resurrection gives me assurance that death will be defeated and fills me with hope.

  21. To be honest, I don’t really know why I believe. Faith in my life is a mysterious gift. If I think about it a lot, it sometimes seems preposterous, but mostly it makes perfectly inexplicable sense. I haven’t always been close to God but I have seen Him in other people.

  22. cyborgninja says:

    I guess my best answer would be: because I was raised to believe in God.

    I thought really, really hard about the answer…and I don’t know. I’ve been questioning a lot lately. I don’t know if my faith is shipwrecked, but lately I’ve been questioning everything. I’m going through a lot now, and while there have been little bits of light and hope, I think I’ve been thrown into a dark night of the soul — a permanent one.

  23. macsim says:

    I believe because God, through His gift of grace to me, enabled me to believe. I would not be able to wrap my cynical, human mind around the concept of “God” otherwise.

    • “I believe because God, through His gift of grace to me, enabled me to believe. ”

      Amen!

      “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus”…………….1 Corinthians 1:30

      Simple – He did it.

      As the men of old used to preach; “Salvation is from the LORD, nobody else!”

  24. I believe in God because I have hope that behind it all love, joy, beauty, truth exists. I refuse to let the bad erase the good that comes our way in this world.

  25. I believe in God because in these moments, it is all I have left.

  26. Shadraq says:

    Because without God, “good,” “evil,” “suffering,” are meaningless terms. Meaning, how do you call something “evil” without an object standard of “good” against which to measure it?

    Life itself would be nothing more than every man for himself, with no purpose.

    (I do find it amusing that those who profess no belief in any god, rail against evil & suffering.)

  27. Curious and curiouser, the little girl said,
    these upsides and downsides to which we all head:
    My insides are outside and the plus side the nil side
    And more oft than not my heart knows dread.

    Once and twice and thrice again,
    quoth the raven inside,
    the ravens all were hungry
    and on each other fed…

    Curious and curiouser,
    the crow-haired girl did call,
    when mothers eat their children
    blood and bones and all.

    The little girl so hungry
    with raven’s wings for hair
    Followed along so softly
    The cat stayed in the bag.

    I didn’t want to think aloud,
    the raven girl did speak,
    but all have claimed well-washed skin
    when the stains are on their hands.

    The little one spoke thusly,
    then climbed on counter top;
    nowhere close to blackbirds’ score
    baked within a pie.

    The raven wing stilled, there before the king;
    would the four and twenty blackbirds
    then begin to sing?
    Can the curious raven girl
    Be given another wing?

  28. In the end, I cannot know if there is a god, not until I die. I do know, however, that I am part of something larger, truly wonderful. We get a very brief moment in this universe, to experience it all, good and bad, to try to understand it and ourselves. In the end, horrible things happen to many of us, but that does not stop the wonder of the universe, the wonder of being able to see, hear, feel, taste and smell. Despite the way she is now, your grandmother had a chance to do all that, and she had a chance to see her wonderful granddaughter who cares so much for her.

    (The attempt is to blend a bit of Cosmos with a bit of Our Town in there. Not quite sure how successful I was.)

  29. I appreciate the tone of these comments. I have been fascinated by religion for most of my adult life: I would rather listen to Catholic radio than Air America (well, back when), most of the time. I listen to speakers on apologia, and try to parse the underlying world-view that makes such feelings even possible. I haven’t figured it out.

    It’s not for lack of trying. My own examination since 13 has been something more than casual, and includes conversations with some great correspondents and believers. One said that the holy spirit is stalking me and one day I would see the light. We shall see.

    Overall, though, there is this: I am classically trained in Greek and Latin (although my Master of Landscape Architecture gave me a vocation). I do have some acquaintance with the faith of those days, and when I look at modern christianity, I wonder: how is this different?

    Indeed. And how is it that so many religions claim to be the One True Faith? It’s an accident of birth that I wasn’t born in Egypt or wherever, and if I had been, I’d be a muslim.

    These two points, taken together, are mighty strong.

    On the issue of the breadth of creation: I also have a deep and current curiosity of cosmology and I try to follow it as best I can. When I confront the magnitude of the universe- something not well understood by those not really studying modern thinking- I am forced to ask my self: “where the hell AM I?’ What is this place? Is it something inside of something? are there other places? why am I in this particular place?

    Whew. Gets me tired. And you know what else? It makes me feel powerful.

  30. Because I tried very hard not to believe in him, and found that I couldn’t.

  31. it is quite difficult to recover from Alcohol Abuse because alcohol is also very addictive just like Cigarettes and drugs..’~