It may seem that the world is becoming more secular, and fewer people believe in God. But it isn’t actually true.
Globally, about 90% of people believe in a god or gods. Millions of people (best estimate: about 50m) search for “God” on Google every year. And they ask a lot of questions about God.
The questions people ask
More than half a century ago, CS Lewis jokingly said that God could be defined as a being who was continually having his existence proved and disproved. For some people, God’s existence needs to be proved before they’ll believe.
But these days it seems that most people are happy to believe there is a God. They are more interested in knowing what this God is like. And so they search on Google, and no doubt discuss with friends, all sorts of questions about God.
Some of the most asked questions on Google are:
- Who created God?
- Is God a God of love?
- Why believe in God?
- Will God forgive me?
- Why does God want us to worship him?
- Why does God allow pain and suffering?
- Why doesn’t God show himself more?
- How does God answer prayers?
- Does God change his mind?
- What does God look like?
Some questions seem to be based merely on curiosity, but others show a wish to be loved, forgiven or secure in a threatening world. We can understand why people would ask these questions.
Where should we look for answers?
The interesting thing (for me) is where people expect to find answers they can trust.
Searching for the word “God” on Google brings up a list of 4.9 billion websites. I didn’t go through them all, you’ll be relieved to know, but I checked out the first page (70% – 90% of searches choose a link on the first page on Google).
Most of the links on the first page were secular and neutral (Wikipedia, dictionaries, etc), two were to the conservative christian site Desiring God and two were to the slightly less conservative christian Bible Project site. Clicking on some of the searches Google offers under “People also ask” gave a mix of secular and christians links, plus one Hindu link.
So if I search for “God”, that’s what I get. But since Google seems to curate the result to what it thinks I’m interested in, doubtless other searchers will get a different mix.
So many different answers
The type of answer you get depends on who you ask.
- Many people today would identify as “spiritual but not religious”. They likely have a very general belief in God as a benign being who gives life and looks after us, but makes few demands on us. Mostly their answers to God questions would be very positive.
- Christians, Muslims, Jews and Baha’is believe many different things about religious practices and have some differences about ethical living. But I think they’d mostly give similar answers to the above questions. For example (to just pick a few questions):
- No-one created God, he’s always been there.
- God doesn’t have a body so we can’t describe his appearance.
- He answers prayers consistent with his own character and purposes.
- He is loving and merciful, but also just.
- The answers given by eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, etc) would be a little different, because many of these religions believe in some form of karma and reincarnation, and some are far less specific about God. But speaking as an outsider, I’m thinking they may not be all that different to the answers I’ve just given.
- And of course atheists would tell you not to waste your time asking questions about a non-existent being.
How to choose?
So which answers should searchers accept? I suspect many read different answers and accept the one that appeals to them most – a form of confirmation bias.
But for anyone wanting to choose the most reasonable answer, surely the starting point is the question: Why believe in God? The reasons we each have to believe in God, or not, will likely determine the type of God we believe in.
How can we know religious truth?
There are many different ways people think they know religious (or anti-religious) truths.
Humans have the capacity to believe what they want to be true, and to see all the evidence in that light. This may particularly be true if they belong to an identifiable group that provides support.
It seems that this explanation can apply to both believers and non-believers, and while it may explain some belief, it isn’t sufficient explanation. And obviously it isn’t a reason any of us would want to trust.
Over the years, many philosophical arguments for and against God’s existence have been proposed, argued over and refined. It is generally considered that the end result is a draw – i.e. no argument for or against God can be considered proven. Philosophically, the existence of God is still an open question. And the nature of God remains uncertain.
It is interesting, though, that both atheists and theists are generally strongly convinced by the arguments supporting their own view and unimpressed by the arguments of the other “side”. Perhaps wish fulfilment has a role after all??
Science has had a complex role in arguments about belief or disbelief in God.
- Science has made some religious beliefs (e.g. 6-day creation) less tenable. For some people, this makes it more difficult to believe, but others simply adjust their belief and continue.
- Some people feel science makes miracles like healing and the resurrection of Jesus less believable. But people back then knew dead men don’t normally rise just as well as we do now, so that hasn’t changed. The issue isn’t a scientific one, but a philosophical one – if there’s a God, miracles are possible; if not then they are impossible.
- Several philosophical arguments for the existence of God depend on science. The design argument based on cosmological discoveries about the “fine-tuning” of the universal laws is considered by many to be the strongest theistic argument. But also scientific facts about consciousness, free will and rationality are used to point to the impossibility of natural laws explaining our common human experience.
So while science is often used to argue against God’s existence, it is in fact also a strong supporter of belief for some people. And for these, science also points to the character of God – a powerful creator who nevertheless takes an interest in humans, and our consciousness, freewill, rationality, and sense of ethics, beauty and love are seen as reflections of God’s character.
It seems to me that most believers base their belief on their personal experience. This can take several forms:
- Perhaps they have grown up with belief and have found that their belief matches the reality of their life.
- For others, God intervened in their lives in a clear way to give them hope, direction or healing that totally changed their lives.
- A clear answer to an important prayer may be a strong foundation of belief for others.
- For some, God’s intervention was especially dramatic – a vision, a quite miraculous healing, or some other deep experience that was unmistakable.
- And then there are some people who were unbelievers unconnected to God, when God revealed himself to them in some clear and convincing way, and totally turned their lives around.
These experiences may not convince others, but they are difficult to gainsay, and provide a strong reason for the individuals to believe in God and to know his character.
We can know about people from observing them, but we only really know someone when they communicate to us. It is the same with God. All of the above can show us God, but we can only really know his character if he reveals himself to us. That can happen personally through people’s experience of God (as above), but it can be seen most if God reveals himself in some objective way.
For most religions, this occurs through a guru, prophet or teacher, often via a sacred scripture. Which raises the question – which one?
As a christian, I believe Jesus was that prophet and teacher. But also that he was more, the divine becoming human – the “son of God”. There are good reasons to believe this is true. And if it is indeed true, it gives us the strongest basis for believing in God and knowing his character.
Putting it all together
For me, and for many other believers, faith in God is based on several of these reasons – revelation, science, philosophy and experience. Each one may not be fully convincing on its own, but together they make a strong case. And they give some clear answers to many of the questions we may have about God.
Quick answers to much-asked questions
So I have identified some of the most asked questions about God, Jesus and religion, and I’m starting to work my way through short answers from a christian perspective.
Check them out at Q & A.