I recently had coffee and discussed the case for the existence of God with an agnostic who was considering becoming Catholic. He has a Ph.D. in Physics, and my background prior to being a friar, was Electrical Engineering. Our common background of the scientific approach made for a good discussion. I personally, have never been convinced by the philosophical arguments for the existence of God. (If the reader is interested, I found a short article summarizing the arguments here.) So as scientists, we focused on the “evidence” for God’s existence. I recalled a movie co-produced by Clint Eastwood entitled “Hereafter.” I shared that I had enjoyed earlier Clint Eastwood produced movies because of the themes of faith and God. But after watching this movie, I was not finding such a deep theme, until I thought about the obvious. At one point in the movie, a doctor claims that the evidence for life after death is overwhelming. So, I started a google search on the internet, searching for “Proof for life after death.” It turns out there is a substantial number of claims by people who have communicated with the dead, or died and come back to life, or that describe other ‘next world’ experiences. Please know that as a Catholic Priest, I am personally aware of the danger of communicating with the dead and strongly urge a reader not to do this!! However, my point is, that if you are trying to investigate the case for God based on evidence, one thing you would want to consider is do we have enough human experience and testimony of a spirit world to suggest that such a thing exists. (I am assuming that if we were to prove the existence of life after death that this does imply, or at least strengthen the case for, the existence of God.) I was impressed by one work I had found on the internet by a retired judge from Australia. He wrote a book examining the evidence for life after death using a standard that a judge in a human court would; that is by examining the evidence and making a judgement ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’ He concluded that after examining the current body of human testimony to life after death, a court of law would have to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt, that life after death does exist!
Another experience that has helped me in my belief in God, and especially in my discipline of being faithful to prayer and sacrament, is the experience of the devil. As a priest for nearly 20 years, I have several times now seen and prayed over people who have been possessed by a demon. As an ex-engineer, I was skeptical of claims about demon activity early in my priesthood. However, over the course of ministry, I have experienced events and activities that prove beyond a doubt in my mind, that the devil does exist. For me, that means angels and God also exist.
Often, one of the most common objections to the existence of God that I hear is the following question: ‘If a God (who is loving) really does exist, how could He allow so many people to suffer disease, starvation, poverty, violence and death?’ This is indeed one of the central questions of humanity. I heard a quote recently that really helped me in this regard: “Death is not the worst thing that can happen to us; death without God is.” If God does exist, and if an afterlife also exists, then is human death the tragedy as we humans see it? For one going to heaven, it is birth into paradise. I realize this can sound somewhat uncaring, but I am trying to only use logic. (Another quote I have heard was by a young boy dying of cancer who said; “If when I die I am going to heaven, why are all the adults so sad?”) In our world there does exist much human suffering. Scripture and faith tell us that it is due to human sin. Abusing our free will, we choose to live in ways that are against God’s plan of love, thus causing suffering. Love is a choice and thus requires the option not to love, hence the possibility of sin does exist. So, what does a God of love do in response to our sin? He joins us in our suffering! In Christ, God becomes human and joins us in our suffering and responds to sin with love, even until suffering the consequence of sin: death. But, three days later, He rose from the dead, to lead us (and show us) the way to everlasting life. We are invited to share in that resurrection by joining our life to Him in confessing our sins and receiving the sacraments. This allows all who suffer, a way to salvation and paradise, through the exercise of their free will, by a decision to have faith in Jesus, the “Way and the Truth and the Life”.
What I always recommend to someone searching for the existence of God, is to go to the source! I found a deep relationship with God, and an experience of his Love that so transformed me as to be an adequate ‘proof’ of His existence. I believe anyone can also do this by uttering a prayer as simple as: ‘God if you exist, please show me you are real.’ A similar prayer led me on a journey of several years guided by the Holy Spirit. By seemingly strange ‘coincidences’, I was led to find certain books to read, and encountered people who said significant things. I was invited to go to retreats, until I one day had a powerful experience of the Love of God being “Poured into my heart” by what I now recognize was the Holy Spirit. (See Romans 8:8.) In response to that love, I went back to living in His Church, and serving Him with my life.
Finally, one last proof of God needs to be discussed. I asked the physicist with whom I was speaking why he was even considering Christianity. His answer was because of the influence of a friend of his who was a Christian. In his friend, he saw an authentic and powerful faith that was attractive to him. Of all the possible proofs of God, the witness of an authentic believer is the greatest! This is the call of all Christians, to be light for the world. This is especially the purpose of Religious Life, and our Franciscan Order. Our life as Franciscans is a public life. We wear a habit, and take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. We witness to a joy amid this poverty. A joy that does not come from this world, but from God. Our life is meant to be a sign, that God alone fulfills all our desires, and of all this world has to offer, it is as nothing compared to what God has prepared for us in the life to come (1 Cor 2:9).
I encourage all believers to be this powerful sign in our world, pointing the way to salvation for others. I encourage those who might be able to live the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to consider giving public witness the perfect joy that comes from God, as a Franciscan Friar. Contact me to learn more about our Franciscan way of life!