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10 April 2007

Is there a God?

and if so, which one?


...an extremely important and (I believe) inevitable conversation has arisen as a tangent to our philosophy discussions: Is there a God? How can we know that He exists? I would like to ask all readers to share their experiences of God, with a few caveats:
1. Be respectful
2. Be kind
3. Be coherent
4. Be positive

If you are a firm believer in a God, please explain how you came to know that He exists (yes, I know that the phrasing of the question reflects my Christian understanding of God. I'm also a Presuppositionalist!)

Do you have any "proofs" or "arguments" for the existence of God?

Have you had any experiences of His presence? Would you describe them?

I am a bit of a follower of Kierkegaard myself: I think that proofs/evidences are helpful, but that neither rationalism nor evidentialism will bring the human mind and heart all the way to belief. A leap of faith is necessary. And, as a believer of the Reformed persuasion, I think the ability to take that leap is a gift of grace.

What do you think?

Here's a three-part poem describing some of my "experiences" of God's presence -- which I don't think I would have known how to interpret had I not already formed my position from which to evaluate all sensory and emotional data. Yes, that's cyclical. That's the leap of faith, again.


Presence

1.

’81 yellow Buick station wagon,
monochrome April breeze—
scent of cigarette, scent of dusk—
oblivious family chatter.

But I, just baptized,
wear some thick shining Joy
wrapped around me
and pouring through my hollow spaces.

2.

Small garret switchboard office,
lonely afternoon in shades of beige:
kneeling on a dingy industrial carpet,
bowing my head on an overworked armchair,
I see a fluff of linty stuffing straggling out
through a torn triangle corner,
touch the sticky scratched wooden arms.

But I feel Someone in this empty room,
seem to rest my head on His knees,
sense His hand’s weight on my hair, I think:
certainly a sudden joy burns through and past.

Love in the breathing shape of Him:
love like flesh,
like comfort if it came to me.

3.

Brown paneled walls black in the twilight,
garish orange bedspreads in dormitory rows,
bleak winter view spread long and weary behind me.

“No, the Italian starts in the major
and the Scottish in the minor,” says my sister,
or maybe vice versa,
but neither of Mendelssohn’s
springtime sunlit symphonies
lifts the scent of death and loneliness
clouding me.

I stand here while the sun sets, and has set.

But somehow an unthought sureness
lies solidly underneath my old jabbering doubts,
unexamined and firm.
A walking with Him through grief
like any friend.
I could reach out and take His hand!
maybe I’ve been holding it this whole time.



"Crawford Notch" by Thomas Cole

9 comments:

Ashley said...

Just a few thoughts:
I firmly believe with all of my heart that Jesus Christ is the only God and that He exists.
There are some things I believe in life that require us to step out and take faith in something we cannot see, or completely explain. I am not suggesting a blind belief mind you, for this would be foolish, what I am suggesting is that we can only explain so much about God's existence.

In my personal life I have been convicted and convinced that God exists by historical and personal evidence. One thing Christianity has opposed to many other religions is the fact that with everything mentioned in the Bible, there is historical evidence backing it up to the T.
Not only that, we have evidence that brings stories and miracles from the Bible to life in the world today. There are tons and tons of stories of unexplainable miracles where the only explanation is God.

Ashley said...

continuing...
Christianity is the one religion that is based on true real love by example. Jesus Christ sent as God's one and only son died the most horrific death literally possible not for any crime he committed, but for the sins of the world. This is a huge idea, and one that's hard to grasp, because as humans we can't imagine doing that. I mean really dying that kind of death for something you've never done. He did that because he loved us. He did that so that He could save us from damnation to Hell, (a place that was opened because of man's own sin), He did that for us.

In my life I find it impossible not to believe in God because even though I can't physically see His face I can see Him. I see him in His creation, I see him in a friend that hugs me when I'm upset and all I can do is cry, I see Him everywhere, because He is everywhere. The best feeling I've ever known or will know was the feeling I had when I realized Jesus wasn't a story, that God wasn't just for people other than me.

Ashley said...

When I surrendered my life, my past, my future into the hands of the Almighty Jesus Christ, there in that sweet surrender and unstableness I found the most peace and joy imaginable. That's what love is. That's God.

Iambic Admonit said...

Thank you very much, Ashley! Lovely, and well told.

Rosie Perera said...

I have spent some time studying "proofs" of the existence of God in philosophy and theology classes. I find them mostly irrelevant. For the unconvinced, they don't help, and for the true believer, they are unnecessary. Perhaps they have their place for those times when Christians go through doubts, which many of us do at one point or another in our lives, if we are really honest with ourselves.

I sometimes go through periods where I doubt my sanity and wonder whether my belief in God is simply a thing I've created for myself and shored up with "evidence" from the world around me and the support of a believing community. I wonder whether the only reason I'm a Christian is because I grew up in a Christian family and church tradition that fostered belief in God. I wonder whether we are not all just deceiving ourselves and propagating a false myth in order to be able to cope with an otherwise meaningless life that wouldn't be worth living. But those are usually fleeting moments, and usually can be explained away by depression.

On the other hand, I think that if atheists and agnostics are honest with themselves, they too sometimes go through periods of self-doubt when they wonder whether their disbelief in God is mistaken (as poi has admitted). They might say to themselves, "How can so many people in the world believe in God if God doesn't exist? How come I'm unable to believe? Am I just being obstinate? It doesn't seem rational to me to believe in God, but I feel like I'm missing out on some of the benefits people who do believe claim to receive from believing. But there's no way I'm going to be dishonest with myself just to get a warm fuzzy feeling or gain membership into a caring community." Perhaps their lack of faith comes from some inner need to feel in control of their life. Or maybe it's from a series of bad experiences with Christians, both on a personal scale (as in having been browbeaten by an evangelical trying to proselytize) and a global scale (seeing the Religious Right's callous disregard for the environment and the poor in favor of individual salvation and sexual morality). Most likely it's a combination of things, including perhaps the above, and also a real, honest, intellectual struggle. I have great sympathy for and admiration for honest atheists and agnostics. I think most of them are closer to being able to believe in God than they know. I believe that faith in God is a gift bestowed by God to those who earnestly seek him. And earnestly seeking the Truth (even if the seeker thinks that is leading them to disbelieve in God) is really earnestly seeking God, because God is Truth.

When I'm in my doubting periods, it has been very helpful for me to read some of the reflections of the spiritual giants who have written about the dark night of the soul, the cloud of unknowing, the desert experiences that are a normal part of the life of faith. They all would say that these experiences of God's absence are in fact evidence that God does exist. They give various explanations for this: Why would we hunger after God if there were no God? It must be a sign that we were created with that inner ability and need to relate to our creator. God loves us and withdraws from us intentionally at times in order for us to seek him more fervently (like the lover playing hide and seek with the beloved in Song of Solomon (Song of Songs)). As we grow in maturity in our faith, we don't need the consolations of his presence as often as we did when we were new believers. And so on...

When I go through periods of doubt, I definitely experience God coming out of hiding and helping me back to belief again. He isn't going to let me spiral down into total rejection of him. Though I'm sometimes tempted to dabble in atheist writings (and have even bought some books on atheism, as I think it's intellectually dishonest of me -- and implies a fragile faith -- to refuse to consider their arguments), I've never gone very long before God rescues me from self-destruction. This is ultimately my reason for believing that God is real and cares about me. Try as I might to escape from him, he is the Hound of Heaven and pursues me. Psalm 139 says it best: "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast..."

Poi said...

Before I offer my thoughts, I would like to point out that the "poi" who responded to the April Poem of the Month post, and I are not the same person.

As many of you have already read, I'm a devout Atheist. I feel that the idea of God is an evolution on the thoughts of prehistoric man searching for answers, and nothing more.

rosie perara made an interesting statement: "I wonder whether we are not all just deceiving ourselves and propagating a false myth [Christianity; Religion] in order to be able to cope with an otherwise meaningless life that wouldn't be worth living." (Please read her post to see the context in which it was written.)

The atheistic view is not that we are coping with a meaningless life, nor have I ever tried to make it seem so. When I wake up early in the summer, and walk down to the lake, and look at the parks covered in dew, and the mist covering the lake, I feel overjoyed. Must I have a reason to feel this happiness? Must it be attributed to (the design/power/presence of) some god? (for the idea of your God is no different than the idea of any god, be it Allah, or Zeus)

I can only give one reason for this happiness. It is that the imagery is psychologically appealing, and there are a series of chemical reactions in our brains that release endorphins, and so on, but you will complain that that answer is cold and devoid of emotion/love/feeling. I think it should leave us in awe and wonderment of the intricacies of human physiology which we have yet to fully understand, but that is only my humble opinion.

BUT it doesn't change the fact that we still feel it, and we are still left with the same effect on our selves, and a powerful effect it is.

You may challenge me to take God (or Jesus) in my heart. I grew up in the southern states (North/South Carolina, Louisiana) and I have been to church. I have been to Sunday school. I have read the Bible (Old and New testament), and been to prayer groups at friend's houses. But that was at a time when I was still young enough to find the stories amusing, and when I didn't fully understand this society I had been born into. But as my friends started to preach themselves, I found myself growing distant. The idea of God no longer appealed to me. The idea of praying to a carpenter who was executed millenia ago, seemed inefficient.

I now challenge you to live without God, or your religion. Hold only the compassion you share for your fellow man and reason in your heart, and see where it takes you. Perhaps pick up a book on the subject, there are so many talented writers and thinkers who can express themselves far better than I can.

Finally, being a fan of literature, I did enjoy the poem, despite my feelings on the subject matter.

As always, further comments are welcome.

Rosie Perera said...

Dear poi (the poi who posted here on April 12),

What an odd coincidence that there are two different posters both using the alias poi, but it appears to be so. You two both have different Blogger profile ID numbers. Maybe one of you ought to change your alias (this current poi to AtheistPoi maybe?) to avoid confusion.

Anyway, thanks for your reply. I can honestly see some validity to your position, even though I don't agree with it myself. I do not nor have I ever challenged anyone like you to "take God (or Jesus) in [your] heart." I'd probably not even use that language about my faith in God anymore. It's kind of a little kiddie way of explaining things.

It bothers me when believers refuse to co-exist with atheists and to respect their differences. If you've been offended by Christians trying to convert you back to a childhood faith again, I apologize on their behalf, because in some sense we must all appear to be alike to you.

Since I didn't challenge you to try to live with God or religion, I'm not sure why you want to challenge me to live without the same. The only reason I can think of for someone to do that is if they truly think that Christianity does a person a great deal of harm (and you'd have to be a real altruist to care so much about protecting someone you don't know from such personal damage), or -- more likely -- that Christians collectively do the world more harm than good. I know that Christians have been guilty of much harm in the name of Christ (as have atheists in the name of opposing the faith), and that is one of the valid concerns that atheists have about the religion (and vice versa). But I don't think one can paint all Christians with that brush (as one can't paint all atheists with the anti-Christian brush), nor that the net result of centuries of Christianity has been negative. Think of all the great historical music, art, magnificent architecture, social justice organizations founded by Christians. Without Christianity there would be no Bach, no Notre Dame de Paris, no Habitat for Humanity, etc. We happen to be living in a time and a part of the world where Christianity has taken a weird twist (used for political ends, justifying the incredibly misbegotten war in Iraq and cruelty to certain segments of our society, etc.) But I don't think this is an indication of something fundamentally wrong with Christianity itself. (Think of it this way: if adherents to atheism commit crimes against humanity in the interest of obliterating faith, as the Communists did in Russia and China in the 20th century, does this make atheism itself a dangerous philosophy and all atheists deceived and/or evil people?) I have found large groups of Christians who are as appalled at those uses of the name of Christ as you probably are.

I'm not trying to convince you to agree that Christianity has any basis in truth, only that there are some of us believers who are worth respectfully agreeing to disagree with, conceding that our faith does seem to be helpful to us and doesn't cause us to do harm to you or the world. While I don't know you well enough to know for sure, I don't suspect that your atheism does any harm to me or the world, nor to you living in this world. (Whether it does harm to your potential eternal state I do not know and will not attempt to guess, as it is not for me to know. Besides, I might be wrong about what sort of an eternal state there might be anyway, or what the conditions are for ending up at peace in it, so I will leave it up to a God whom I believe is more gracious than any humans could ever be.)

I respect your having come to the conclusions you have. I think you might possibly have been exposed to a form of Christianity in the South which is not representative of what Jesus really taught. But all of us, believers and atheists alike, arrive at the philosophical, religious, political, and other views we hold based on our experiences in life and the people around us who have influenced us one way or another towards or away from some belief. So your position makes total sense given what you grew up with. I don't believe in the Cartesian idea that we can discover truth by simply eschewing everything we've ever learned and starting fresh from a blank slate with "I think, therefore I am" and our sensory perceptions.

I'm glad that you can feel overjoyed with a sense of awe and wonder at the amazing beauty of nature and the intricacies of human physiology. Clearly, you don't need to believe in God to enjoy the world around you.

I wonder, then, what you are seeking on this blog, other than possibly to try to talk some believers out of their faith? Is it maybe the same sort of thing I go looking for when I read atheist writings? Just a sense of assurance that we're really on the right path, and perhaps some lingering doubt? We're not that different after all, then, are we... ? ;-)

Best wishes, and peace to you, poi.

Anonymous said...

Hmm is there a God?

I used to wonder about that very same question...

It was only in the very worst of times, when I would cry out to God, hoping he did exist so that I didn’t have to deal with the current hardship.

But when it came to spending my dear precious time to praise or worship or well, do anything that would take up any amount of time or energy related to God... I skipped out and wanted nothing to do with such a person... or being.

But where do you go when you have no other options?

Who started everything? If I look back far enough... everything had to originate from something or someone...right??

There has to be some source, which was not created...that does the creating.

I grew up hearing about God...did the whole church thing. Yeah, I thought I was a "Christian". Just because I believed there was an ultimate creator...I believed that there is God.

But I have come to learn that, that is not what makes a Christian...for golly gee sake...even Satan believes in God.

There came a point when I knew mental realization wasn’t enough...calling on Him when I am desperate wasn’t enough...I needed more.

Was there really more though?? Or was I/ am I just hoping there's more...because I have nowhere else to turn to?

Could I have just imagined "feeling" God? Could things I consider to be miracles or answered prayers be complete coincidences? When I was alone…and I sat there in prayer “talking” to Him…was I really talking to anyone? Was anyone listening? Was he in reality, just a figure of my imagination…an imaginary friend?
How was I supposed to know anything for sure?

Is my worship true if I only did all this…believed in all of it…just because I had no one else…no where else…and it made me feel better?

I guess my doubt counts as much as my belief, huh?

I am only asking these questions because I was wondering if anyone else has ever felt like this…feels like this? If so, do you still feel this way? Was there something that changed your feelings? Either to wipe away any doubt… or to extinguish any faith of belief…or even hopes that you had?
I have…I have complete faith now, without any doubts.
Going through hard times…and in an abusive home…I was very depressed…and suicidal. I used to be a cutter. One night I went too deep… and I couldn’t stop the bleeding… As I walked into my living room around 2 in the morning…on the TV. There was a preacher praying. He opened his eyes and looked straight out…as if at me. The words he said I will never forget… “ You don’t have to bleed little girl, because Jesus bled for you. Hold tight to Him and you will be ok.”
I felt as if God was using Him to talk to me… I got better. I don’t cut or turn to harmful things to help anymore. I turn to God. He has always helped me through…
I know that was not a coincidence.

The Lord continually answers my prayers…I know that I am not imagining everything in my life. I know it isn’t an accident. I know that I am not just an accident… I have a purpose…and I can rely on the one who gave me that purpose.

I am no longer in an abusive home…and I am not alone…I have the Lord…great family and friends…

Recently I prayed for an angel …&& I believe I’ve found one…


This is my experience… and I felt very convicted to share it.
This was hard for me to share and I debated about whether I should or not.
But after a lot of prayer I felt like I should post this because someone needed to see it.
I would however like to remain anonymous, because certain people I know aren’t ready to hear this…at least not from me.

So, I would appreciate it if you would not try to track my ID # to figure out who I am…

I hope and pray all of you may find peace, and realize there is More…You don’t NEED a reason to be happy…but I feel it is much better to Have a reason… so then you are never in despair.

In the Love and Peace of Christ,
~Anonymous~

Iambic Admonit said...

Thank you Rosie, Poi, & Anonymous for your really heartfelt comments. What I love here are the honesty and the sincerity -- and the respect.

2 Jehovah's Witnesses came to my house today & we had a great chat. They were really nice! One was just full of love for his neighbor. I could tell (I think I could tell!) that he was not one who was fulfilling his duty with fear or reluctance. He just wanted to sit & talk to people about the end of the world, because he really wants them to see the truth as he sees it and to be among the saved when Armegeddon comes. I hope they come back. Today I just listened. I'd love to debate with them, because I love a good intellectual debate, but really I was just impressed with their care and compassion. I told them I admired what they did. I wish that I felt the truth in a way that showed me an immediate path to specific, universal action.

I agreed with everything they said today, except for their interpretation of history, because they only talked about God. They didn't talk much at all about Jesus. The last pair that was here got offended and left pretty quickly when they found out I believe that Jesus is not only the Son of God, but God Himself. Which leads me to the second part of this question: If there is a God, which One? Even if we can prove the existence of a Divine Being by reason or (as some of you here have testified eloquently) by personal experience, how do you know it's the God of the Bible & that Jesus is His Son & One with Him in the Trinity?

That is where the leap of faith comes in. Since the Bible contains internal evidence for its reliability, such as fulfilled prophecies, etc., and external evidence, such as archaeology, I assume -- no, better yet, presume -- no, best of all, presuppose -- that it is all true. Do you think that is acceptable? What other ways are there to find out that the Judeo-Christian God, Incarnate in Christ, is the One you have known, or Who has known you?