Can We Prove God?
Do we want to?
Story of Diver
We had a house in Portland in which we invited folks from the street to live with our family. We paid the bills and they worked for us, either taking care of the house or helping houseless folks around town. We would pay the bills and everyone took care of food, but I made sure there was generally enough for the household. But one morning I woke up and realized that my worst fears had come true— the house was out of food.
I also was out of money so I couldn’t just go to the store. And who knows when the next donation would be. So I prayed that God would bring some food. And I prayed— asked— a friend of mine who lived in the house if possibly he could help out.
My friend’s name was Diver and he lived off and on with us for many years. He is very active and liked to find what people needed. There was one time in the middle of winter he was homeless and riding his bike and saw a friend who was standing by a transformer, trying her best to stay warm. He noted that she had no shoes, not socks and no jacket. And it was snowing. He spoke to her for a minute and then said, “Stay here” and rode off into the snow. About a half hour later, he brought to her shoes, socks and a sweater— all gathered from nearby apartment dumpsters. His full street name was Holy Diver, because if you were in desperate need, Diver could find it for you.
So I asked Diver if he knew of some way to help us with food. He said, “I don’t know. I’ll ride around and see if I can find something.” So he started riding south, just ambling along and he felt that it wasn’t the right way. So he turned around, rode past the house again, and rode for a few more miles, glancing around. Then he came by a Fred Meyers and happened to look into a dumpster. There were some boxes that looked like they might contain food. He jumped in and found about a case of a variety of frozen food, still in the boxes, still frozen. He rode back home, triumphant. And our house had food again until the next donation came in.
There are a couple reactions that are common to this story. The most common reaction is about food found in a dumpster. It seems disgusting, sure. Until you realize that excellent, boxed, clean food is thrown away by every grocery store every day. I have found literally hundreds of well-wrapped, frozen meat in dumpsters. And it was excellent. You just need to make sure it is safe. Many people will say, “I couldn’t eat anything that was put into the garbage.” Well, you’re missing out. And there are millions of people around the world who would eat that. So it’s all good. To each their own.
The other objection people might have is the whole story. It smacks of the miraculous or the superstitious. Some might deny the story even happened, although I was an eyewitness to it. Some might even deny that my friend Diver even existed. And I would be mystified. Because I know Diver quite well. And Diane knows him. And so if anyone denies this story or denies the existence of Diver, we would be dumbfounded, mystified. We might want to prove to the cynic that he really does exist. But how?
Loving people who don’t believe in God
And this is the quandary of those of us who know in our heart of hearts that God exists, that miracles happen, that we have been led by God but people deny that any of it is true. It is so frustrating that what we have experienced is so easily dismissed by others.
In order to love these cynics, we must consider our stories from their point of view. Frankly, the stories and the existence of God makes no sense from those who have never experienced God. And so they deny that miracles could happen, and they deny that God had any part in creation or that God directs us in any way. And why not? They have no evidence to show that such an enormous, and to them, unnecessary concept must be.
So we have conflict.
Christians often make a mistake here. They want to prove what cannot be proven to a cynic using arguments to logic an unbeliever into belief.
The classic Christian argument for the existence of God the creator is this:
The Fivefold Proof
There is something that cannot exist unless something outside the current universe initiated it. That something could be motion, it could be causation, it could be biological life, it could be personality, it could be morality, it could be eyeballs. The idea is that these things couldn’t just initiate on their own. They don’t just find themselves existing. So, therefore, something that already has these things in that being must exist in order to initiate it. There must be a being that begins the causal interaction of all things. A being that begins motion. A being that has personality so created it. A being that has life and so can make it. A being that has an idea of morality and so infuses it. A being that can see and so creates the mechanism for others to see from parts that don’t have anything to do with sight, per se. These are all different parts of the same argument.
And these have been dismissed by unbelievers for many centuries. Because, in the end, all of these “proofs” of God are bets against the human imagination. Thomas Aquinas said, in essence, “I bet that humanity will never be able to determine a first cause for material things from the universe, so we must accept there is a God.” Eventually, after centuries of work, humanity did come up with an alternative explanation for the first cause— The Big Bang Theory. Because human imagination will keep playing with an idea until they find an explanation that they find reasonable. And the definition of reason for man is something without a God to explain things. And that’s okay. We understand the universe better just by watching and trying to put the pieces together.
The other problem with “proving” God is that before we can agree on anything, we first have to agree on our meaning. We have to agree on who God is before we can prove that God exists. And while there is an orthodox point of view of who God is, that definition is not the one that everyday people believe in. If God is spiritual, what does “spiritual” mean? What does it mean that God “directs” us? What is the level of God’s power over the human will? Is God an entity or does God have a personality?
I will say, that on that last question which is disagreed about, that I experience God as a person, a being with a personality. And if God is a person, then I think that our whole approach to “proving” God is wrong.
Proving v. Experiencing God
The problem is not with the human imagination. It is with the Christian attempting to prove that which cannot be proven through argument or science. Because the important thing about God is not that God created the physical reality. Nor that God gave us a book which we need to hold literally. Nor that God has a set of rules we need to obey. The important thing is that we have met God and God has directed us and taught us a way of life that is better for us than what we once lived. That God has improved us, just by being with us.
The essence of God isn’t a list of doctrines about God which we must believe, but the relationship we have with God through Jesus. The fact that God is a person and they interact with us as a person. And if God is a person, then we cannot “prove” God. We can only experience God.
So if someone doubts the existence of a person or the story of a person, what can we do? If someone doubts the existence of my friend Diver or the story I sold about him finding a bunch of food for us, what can I do?
I can take that person to another witness of Diver, like Diane, and tell them to ask her about Diver and his miraculous dumpster diving. Or have them call his aunt.
I can show that there are stories of other people who can do things like this.
Or, I can take the cynic to Battleground, Washington and introduce them to Diver, where they can ask him about this story themselves.
They can say a number of things at that point:
They can say that they believe that I am trying to manipulate them to believe this story and that he isn’t really Diver (after all, it isn’t his legal name) and he didn’t really do these things. Perhaps I hired an actor to tell the same stories.
They can say that all the witnesses were self-deceptive and that they didn’t really meet Diver, although they thought they did.
They can say that they don’t need to talk to anyone else or meet the person I’m talking about, they just con’t believe and they never will.
They could say that Diver exists but he couldn’t be who I say he is.
Or they can meet Diver, believe the stories (even with doubt) and learn something interesting about the universe that they didn’t know before (that you can get decent food from a dumpster— who woulda thought?).
But if they choose to absolutely deny the stories, it means that they have missed out on a part of my life that has greatly enriched it. That makes me sad, because I would love to have other people experience what I have experienced and so have a deeper life, even as I had.
But I can’t make another person do that. It’s not my job to make someone else do that. All I can do is tell the stories and offer the experience of meeting someone really important to me.
If I tell someone a story of my experience or introduce them to someone I know, their experience of my story or their experience of the person I know might be different than what has enriched me so much.
And that’s enough. Because the great thing about God is that God can introduce themselves to anyone they please. They don’t have to do it through me. I will tell my stories because they are my stories. And I don’t have to prove they happened. Because these stories are MY experience and no matter how anyone denies them, they are still what have made my life better. And I believe that God is wise and loving enough to be enriching for another person, even if that means they have a different experience or meaning than I.