The Great Courses

Proof Before Purchase

May 27, 2009 at 9:42 AM
5 years ago

An exploration into why people require no "god" in their God.

I’ve noticed a pattern when it comes to people and their faith. I’m sure there’s probably some genuine research on the subject that goes far deeper than my humble observations, but perhaps a layperson’s point of view will do.

I’ve noticed that people tend to adopt a bunker mentality when you ask them simple questions to defend their faith. Discussions become argumentative. The walls of defense go up. People seem to blanch, as if you’ve pricked them with the tip of a needle. They seem injured that you’d even ask.

The law of gravity is taught to us from an early age. The story of Newton is heavily read. Experiments are conducted. The law is challenged, and every time, the law is proven. We challenge the law to make sure it works.

Pharmaceutical drugs are tested for decades to ensure that they’re beneficial and won’t harm the patient. Billions of dollars are spent in the pursuit of proof. And even the FDA approved drugs that are revealed to be damaging are immediately yanked from the shelves and lawsuits fly. We demand it.

We buy cars after researching the make and model. We prowl Consumer Reports. We examine the exterior and interior, down to the leather seats, brand of radio, glove compartment and cup holders. We check the gas mileage. We explore the power constraints of the engine. We educate ourselves about resale value. The product is tested on the assembly line and in the dealer parking lot. And it carries a warranty of protection if it fails.

But politely ask someone to test their own belief system, and watch their body language change.

Our religion is a warm blanket that we cloak ourselves in. It is designed to give us security and comfort. We embrace it because it is familiar. We accept it because it soothes us. We protect it because we feel vulnerable without it. But ask us what our cloak is made of, and we have little or no idea, outside of our subjective feelings.

My parents are degreed educators and theologians. My mother taught New Testament Greek and actually published a college textbook on the subject. My parents’ shelves are lined with tomes on biblical history and prophecy.

But did they embrace the “truth” of the bible because they believed in God, or did they believe in God because they wanted the bible to be true?

Their lives, while good and filled with love of family and friends, have not manifested anything miraculous. My father believes that God heals, yet he has lived the majority of his life with severe hearing damage. Despite several prayers of healing over his lifetime, God never showed up. The synthetic “hearing” his cochlear implants provides is the result of expensive advances in medical science. At the cost of tens of thousands of dollars, doctors carved indentions in his skull, installed a computer and wired it to his ear. Any miracle was man-made.

I’ve heard the prayers. “Lord…please guide the hands of the doctors.” And I’m struck by the ridiculousness of that statement.

Hospitals should be clinical studies of how God passes or fails the burden of proof.

HYPOTHETICAL CASE: A teenage boy is admitted after being involved in a gang shooting. If he has no significant internal injuries, the family thanks God that the bullet missed the vital organs. If he is critically injured, but still alive, the family thanks God that he wasn’t killed and prays for his survival. If the boy dies on the table, the loved ones might donate his organs and thank God the victim could give these organs to someone else in need, taking comfort that he is now in a “better place.”

No matter how this scenario plays out, no one seems to ask (aloud) the single most important question: “Why did God allow the bullet to hit the boy AT ALL?”

One wisp of Divine Breath could’ve altered the trajectory of the bullet, sending it away from the boy and into a tree or concrete wall.

Instead, his body is ripped by the projectile. His organs violently penetrated. His family traumatized.


Let’s find someone who has experienced this type of tragedy, someone who is a believer, and ask them how God could let something like this happen. Twenty bucks says the answer falls somewhere under the umbrella of “God works in mysterious ways.” Convenient.

Others say that the lack of divine intervention has more to do with our culture. We as a nation have ignored God, so the increase in crime, disease and death is actually our fault. We no longer pray in schools! No wonder God has lifted his Hand of Protection from us!

I actually heard this argument after the horror of 9/11. And it made me physically ill.

If God lives in individual hearts, and the God-Human relationship is singular and personal, why would His rule of intervention be communal? Why punish the individual for the attitude of the whole? Why not use those individual experiences to reveal Himself tangibly?

To the believer, these questions must never be spoken aloud. Never challenge God. Never allow your faith to show weakness. Never ask God to prove himself. Just square your shoulders amidst the chaos and repeat the phrase, “I still believe.” (Whew! That was close. Good thing I still have my warm cloak.)

Another example: My personal physician is a devout believer. I’ll call him Tim.

Several years ago, in the sweltering month of August, Tim and his wife got back from shopping. Tim believed that his wife had retrieved their newborn son from the car seat. His wife believed Tim had brought the child in and put him in the crib. Tired from their day, the parents took a 2-hour nap.

In the back seat of the car, in 103 degree heat and sweltering interior temperatures, their baby literally cooked. For 120 minutes. It’s unimaginable.

They made the horrific discovery and rushed their son to the hospital. After hours in intensive care, the infant died. And the parents were brought up on charges for child neglect, which they overcame after a 2-year legal battle.

God is omniscient and omnipotent. He saw this go down. And He did… absolutely… nothing.

Yet even today, Tim continues to ask to pray for me after my doctor visits. He pays homage and gives reverence to the very God who failed to intervene on behalf of his helpless child. If you asked him why, I wonder if Tim would simply say that “God works in mysterious ways.” Or…”God used this to strengthen my faith.”

Even after this pointless tragedy, Tim requires no proof. His God gives him comfort. His God is a loving God. His God must have had a reason for allowing his helpless baby to perish.

Instead of questioning his belief system, Tim has found a way to be comforted by the very deity that ignored him.

But even though we’re born as creatures with natural curiosity and a yearning to know the Meaning of Life…in the church, we’re discouraged from asking the hard questions. There’s no burden of proof. The concept of “faith” makes anything possible.

But under that guise, wouldn’t “faith” work for almost any religion? Buddhism? Mormonism? New Age? Hinduism? Taoism? Witchcraft?

You can embrace ANY belief system under the umbrella of faith.

And the more jacked-up and illogical the world becomes, the more we wrap ourselves in this faith. The more painful and confusing the headlines become, the more we comfort ourselves that we’re protected in our shroud.

The world is defined by illness, disease, crime, abuse, neglect, famine, starvation, corruption, natural disasters, war, conflict, confusion and death. We’re drowned by tsunamis, ripped apart by subway bombs and emaciated by the AIDS virus. Rooftops collapse from shopping malls. Vigilantes assassinate Amish school children. Loved ones are eaten alive with cancer. And infants cook to death in the back seats of cars.

Forgive my blasphemy, but my belief system craves proof before purchase. If we as believers are required to continually bear fruit, shouldn’t God lead by example?

Or perhaps God cannot intervene because He does not exist.

Perhaps God didn’t create man in His image, but rather man, desperate for meaning and comfort, created a god in his.


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