This website asks the question: Is there a God? Then offers evidence for God’s existence and involvement with the human race.
So what if you were convinced? What difference might that make? How might someone respond?
The character of God
If the various arguments convince you that God exists, what does that tell you about God? Do we actually have any idea of what he might require of us?
I think we do. Every theistic argument that we find persuasive tells us something about God:
- If we believe the universe and its design suggests God exists (via the Cosmological and Design arguments), then we can conclude that God is creative and presumably had some purpose in creating.
- If we believe that our ethical instincts point to God (via the Moral argument), then we can surely conclude that God is ethical and is interested in us being ethical too.
- The arguments based on human consciousness, free will and reasoning abilities likewise suggest that God is personal and has created us to be like him/her in that way.
- And arguments from religious experience suggest that God may wish to communicate with us.
Admittedly, this doesn’t tell us much about what response to make after we come to believe God exists, but it gives us a couple of clues …..
- It may be that an ethical, thoughtful, creator God has created us to live a life with similar qualities, and is watching us to see how we respond. Perhaps living ethically and thoughtfully will have its own reward?
- If we accept there is some reality in religious experiences, indicating God communicating or interacting in some way, we may want to check out the various religions to see if they are plausibly representing God.
In either case we may consider praying and asking God to show us more truth. Maybe, having given us free will, he/she is waiting for that invitation? It surely can’t do any harm.
These conclusions will only be tentative. But is there more?
What if Jesus is the way?
I believe christianity is unique among world religions, and offers greater truth than other belief systems (see Choosing my religion and Jesus – son of God?). If you have come to a similar conclusion, how does this change things?
It is obvious, I think, that if we accept that Jesus truly represented God on earth in a unique way (however we actually define that), then this resolves many of the questions left only tentatively resolved by the philosophical arguments.
If this is the case, the creator God is indeed ethical, rational, personal and wanting to communicate with us. In fact he/she has done so already in several ways. And we are given some ideas on how we might respond.
Does the church represent Jesus?
The church claims to be “team Jesus”, and claims to speak with authority about following Jesus. Certainly the christian church, in its entirety, can trace its ancestry back to those who first followed and believed in Jesus.
But there are so many different views about what God requires of us and what it means to follow Jesus, that we have to view some of these claims a little sceptically. And if we examine the matter in more detail, we can find glaring inconsistencies. The church often looks very different to Jesus.
“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Gandhi was, I presume, talking more about behaviour than belief. But I find a similar discontinuity between what Jesus taught and what many churches teach about following Jesus. It isn’t that they get it totally wrong. It is more subtle than that. But there seem (to me) to be things Jesus cared about that modern western churches don’t seem to care about (e.g. the dangers of wealth and inequality) and things that the modern church seems fixated on that Jesus didn’t seem to care about (e.g. patriarchy and gender, denominations).
So I think we need to go back to the source.
I have done a lot of reading about Jesus in his historical context (see for example, Jesus in history and Who was Jesus?). So I have tried to express in terms relevant to our time and culture the things Jesus said he wanted for us (see Following Jesus – first steps and Faith for the new millennium).
A bigger picture
Jesus taught he was inaugurating, or re-vitalising, the kingdom (or reign) of God on earth, a movement that aims at nothing less than the renewal (or putting right) of all things. God’s rule means people living in obedience to God’s values. And since God has given us free will, that means each of us, voluntarily, doing our best to live ethically and with God’s guidance.
This is in marked contrast to the message of many churches, that seem to limit the core requirements to religious ritual or personal piety.
Not just for me
Instead of the major focus being to get a ticket to heaven (often called “salvation”), Jesus calls us to much more. Sure, the opportunity to receive eternal life (life in the age to come) is wonderfully attractive, but he doesn’t stop there.
We are called to serve the poor, oppressed, imprisoned, unwell and marginalised. Called to be peacemakers. Called to love our enemies and forgive those who harm us.
It is a wonderful, high, but difficult calling, which gives our lives deep purpose and meaning.
So what should I do?
Some christians will give you a formula for responding to Jesus, and some find that helpful. But I feel that we each should respond as seems right to us. Our response should probably involve:
- acknowledging (to ourselves and God) that we are trusting Jesus in this,
- committing to being part of Jesus’ kingdom of God movement including joining with others on the same journey,
- setting our mind to try to live accordingly,
- asking forgiveness (now and in the future) for things we get wrong, and
- asking God to guide us on the journey from here on.
How do we know truth?
Jesus and his first followers also show us how we can know truth – the truth about how we should all live, and how each of us can serve in the way God leads us.
For many christians, the Bible is revered as an error-free rule book containing everything we need for believing and living life. But it doesn’t appear to be that sort of book, and Jesus and his apostles didn’t use it in quite the way modern christians do. For in many places it contains more than one, and divergent, telling of events, and advice on ethics and faith that seems to be inconsistent.
The New Testament shows Jesus and the apostles selectively using and interpreting their scriptures (our Old Testament) to bring out new meanings and applications.
The Bible says God’s Spirit will lead us into truth by transforming our thinking, and showing us how to interpret the Bible into our own situation. This process that doesn’t allow certainty but can give us confidence in what is true and how we should live.
Thus, while I believe the Bible is indeed inspired by God, applying the Bible requires balancing of different ethical and faith principles.
I have found all this to be an exciting, eventful and at times turbulent journey, but one that has led to a life-changing sense of purpose and satisfaction.
So, if there’s a God, what next?
We each make our own choices, and live our lives according to those choices, for better or worse.
I hope something here resonates with you, and helps you on the way.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
I have read that the Catholic writer Edward Fraser (you may have heard of him) thinks we can only apply our human characteristics to god in a analogous sense,. And that to apply those characteristics to god literally makes no sense.
If I may ask, what is your take on that?
Hope you’re well
Hi Aaron, again my apologies for a late reply. Somehow WordPress still advises me of some comments but not others, I haven’t figured out why yet.
I guess I agree with him. After all, God by definition must be so much beyond us that anything we can know about him, and anything he can reveal about himself, must be to some degree analogous.
But in a sense all of our knowledge is analagous. I am looking at the computer screen right now, but what does “looking at” mean? It means that light from the screen enters my eye and certain electrical impulses happen that tranmits a signal to my brain. I’m not actually seeing anything, in some sense, I am experiencing electrical impulses. But we still see well enough to get around.
And when we communicate, we may each use words with slightly different meanings – perhaps each is within the semantic range of that word, but still different to each other. But we still communicate well enough, though not perfectly.
Now I agree there is greater difficulty in understanding or communicating with God, so we have to be cautious and not claim too much. But I also think we shouldn’t undervalue what we “know” also.
What do you think?
No worries about the late reply, I view getting a reply by you as a privilege not a right. Hope wordpress doesn’t give you to much hassle though.
As to what I think about the analogue statement, it makes a great deal of sense to me. If there is God, then I doubt He/She is anything even remotely like the finite material biological organism me and you are.
I see you posted another article, this time about the universe. I’ll be sure to read it through tomorrow and comment on any thoughts I may have….. tonight I need to turn my brain off and sleep. Been one of those days 😂
Wishing you good health
Hi Aaron, thanks for your kind thoughts. I’ve worked out that WordPress has stopped advising me whan a previous commenter (which you are, obviously) writes a new comment, but till advises me when a new commenter writes. So far I haven’t been able to work out why. But I will try to check comments every day or two just to make sure.
“Gandhi was, I presume, talking more about behaviour than belief.”
Gandhi was being a darn hypocrite too. He _knew_ that there were native Indian christians who tried to follow Christ but were oppressed by privileged hindoos, but he made a choice to ignore that and blow smoke to make a cheap point. Just read Frykenberg on Pandita Ramabai.
And after the war Hindu Indian nationalists claimed areas like in north east India where there was no Hinduism nor Indian culture just because it was a part of the British Empire. All of those anticolonialist nationalists were just as bad imperialists as the British. Human nature.
Thanks for your comment. I don’t know as much about Gandhi as you do, but my feeling is we are all hypocrites to some degree. So all you say about him may well be true, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t correct in his comment that the christian church doesn’t look so much like followers of the historical Jesus.
What do you think about that? Would you agree or disagree?