Throughout this Lent, I’ve been trying to make myself attentive to the familiar question does God really exist? My mental backdrop of Lent has been Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness which was a time of self-denial, fasting, reflection and eventually, filling, centering and renewal.
I feel anytime I mention my doubt in a blog post or a sermon or a small group discussion that some misunderstand me. So for those that need to hear it (and honestly for those prone to over-react), no I am not really on the verge of abandoning my faith. The purpose of these posts are at least three-fold:
1. I like to explore, reflect, feel, think and process the tension of faith. I like to do the math.
2. I believe confronting my normal and healthy doubts leads to greater faith.
3. And perhaps God would use these words to strengthen your faith as well.
Be warned, it could get darker before we see light.
So with that said, here’s where I am. Like everyone, I am wondering what happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. Though I’ve resolved to stop clicking on any headline that says Breaking News of “New Possible Sites!!” and stopped watching every aviation expert and retired pilot debate late into the evening hours, I am saddened and provoked by this tragic event. All I really know is that a week into Lent, a plane full of real people who have families who really love them went missing. We not only learn once again that life is fleeting, fragile and often tragic but we also learn despite our best technology and minds, we have limits and we are always at risk.
If postmodernity is a reaction to modernity whereby it embraces the virtues of science, reason and technology and also aims to reclaim the pre-modern pursuits of mystery, prayer and faith, then airplanes seem to be an appropriate metaphor for postmodernity. It’s interesting to me that airplane cockpits are filled with the fruits of our greatest science and our cabins can be as prayerful, if not more, than some churches. With this logic, planes should be the safest place on earth. Yet despite aviation’s well-earned safety record, we don’t really see it that way.
We remember the crashes, the images, and all the stories. We fear and we want to know that we’ll be ok. But instead we are met with frustration that no one in this world can actually guarantee that. These feelings become even more acute when the possible and theoretical becomes near and personal.
Any time we find ourselves in need and no rescue comes, we feel the existential loneliness and wonder if God really exists. Because if He does, how can He sit silent at a time like this? We think this during personal crisis and we think this in times of global tragedy. We want God to fix our situation. We want God to bring an end to evil and tragedy. And when He doesn’t, we resent Him, maybe even reject Him. After all, what good is a God that doesn’t do anything?
What would happen if God gave us a hand here? I wonder how full our churches would be if God parted the heavens and satellite images showed two divine and gigantic hands lifting a broken plane out of the water and laying it and all its carnage down on a dry piece of land in Perth, Australia.
Countless people would instantly believe. Our churches would be full. Atheists would enter seminary. That sounds great on some level. “We now finally know.”
Over the years, whatever the context whether it be personal or global, I have often hoped for such a deliverance. Why not just flash something empirical that irrefutably answers, “Yes, there is a God out there who loves and listens!” We could spend a lot of time here but ultimately I come down with two conclusions.
One is that any empirical and irrefutable evidence of the divine would destroy faith, free-will and we would never know if we loved God or were afraid of these two gigantic divine arms that could crush us if we angered Him. (Would God crush us if we angered him? Have you heard the story of “Noah and the Flood”? Some are flipping out of the Biblical inaccuracies of the Noah movie, I’m still troubled by the divine flood that wiped out the entire population of the world. Maybe we can chase that rabbit another time.)
Slowly I’ve come to see that God’s silence isn’t galactic laziness, instead it’s divine restraint that allows the gift of faith, free-will and love. God will not manipulate as we hold the choice to believe or not believe.
Which brings us to my second conclusion – the incredible story of Jesus. It turns out in some sense that the clouds did part and divinity stepped onto earth for many to see. There is such brilliance in Christian theology. For in Jesus, we see God continuing to allow for free-will, a refusal to manipulate but yet invites us to experience His love and to believe and to follow. It is even more striking that Jesus is not free from tragedy and evil. And better yet, the story of the resurrection demonstrates that He is not bound by death, sin and evil. Despite my doubts, I deeply believe this. I might even say, partially due to wrestling with my doubts, I believe this even more.
I have been given the honor of preaching at one of our campus’ Good Friday services. It’s always been my least favorite church service we do all year. It’s often overly pre-occupied with personal sin and guilt and what we really want to know is will God do something about the evils of this world? When understood in its best light, Good Friday declares “Yes, and it’s this!”
Regarding Flight 370, there will be continued speculation, more developments, more theories, more revelations, more contradictions, more certainty, more confusion until we’ve been given an official explanation which will likely bring minor satisfaction and limited peace. Likely, there will be policy changes to ail our fears of similar events happening again. There will be more satellites, more training, real time flight recorders pinging real time data, more GPS, more, more, more. But unfortunately there will still be more mishaps. Ideally fewer, but the world is broken and we cannot tragedy-proof our lives.
I don’t believe in God because I am hoping He will save my plane and the flights of those I love (though I believe He could).
I believe in God because the world is not just broken, evil and doomed. There is such incredible beauty, justice, goodness, and love in it. The Christian narrative best explains their source and why the world is tragic. It’s the picture of the grieving mother in Malaysia being held back because of the love she has for her son. She’s crying out in pain and demanding all truth and justice from those who preside over her. I believe God understands these moments better than we give Him credit for and I also believe He is near.
I believe in God because if there is any goodness in this universe, evil will not have the final word. There’s more to life than living and dying. The Christian narrative tells us us that God is Giver of Life, and though you die in this broken world, you live with Him in the next complete one.
To some it’s a naive fairy-tale, an optimist’s utopia or the violins playing as the Titanic goes down.
To me, this Lent it’s the wisdom found in the wilderness – it’s the Jesus narrative that best explains this life. Indeed He is very involved in the search for Flight 370.