Why believe in God? How many people have asked this? How many people have attempted to write the answer down? And were any of them as humbled by the task as I feel? It’s an interesting exercise to write from me to you. There is a language, a vernacular, that comes with the conversation. I tease and say the Evangelicals speak “Christianese” but all religious types do it. We have many words for god. Many words for praise and prayer and to pray, for worship, for atonement, for forgiveness, for pride, for oppression, for good and bad.
These languages bond a community and restrict outsiders. You know when someone is not one of us. I feel like I’m trying to crack a code, a secret language that I know I understand, but my words are different than the words I hear in shul. I cross that bridge toward you and I feel only half way there, because now there are words for faith, for knowing god. There are words for the size of god, for the limitlessness of god. And this is the spot where it is not only about the words, but the belief. Understanding is not solely contingent on knowing the language because the language only makes sense if you subscribe to the idea that god is real, that in some manner or another this is a true thing. Belief gives meaning to otherwise empty letters arranged into words. The language barrier, the understanding gap, it expands here in a conversation between one who believes and one who does not.
This conversation requires breaking from all the words. A challenge that I am dipping my toes in now, feeling out the water, and I can’t tell from the surface how deep it is.
I won’t start at god or who that is, but I’ll talk about certainty. What makes us certain of anything? There is a difference between knowing something and being sure beyond all doubt. The knowing comes with evidence or affirmation. You believe something because you’ve been told or because you’ve seen it with your own eyes. But certainty… it leaves no room for inner argument. There is almost a faith leap when you jump from being confident in something, to eliminating all doubt. You’ve gathered what truth you require to feel sure enough, and then you step off the cliff and commit. Certainty.
I am certain I will be a good father. I am not a perfect man. I lose my temper. I am not the model example for self care or reliance on others. I indulge. I hesitate. But I believe in growth. I watched it in my father. I’ve seen him change from the time I was small to the man he is now. His flaws did not make him a bad father, they made him noticeably human, which is not a flaw. The greater flaw would be an expectation, from me or from himself, that he could achieve perfection, and then being always set up for failure. Instead he did the better thing and improved over time. I have rehearsed being a father. Daily I swallow my frustrations and hide my headaches in tender touches, in giggles and assurances. I know what it is like to be completely trusted by a small human being who wants only to be loved. I know how their brains want everything and I love helping them find that mind blowing new experience again and again. I will not be a perfect father, but I have complete certainty that I will be a good dad.
My certainty in god is like this. How sure can I, or can you, possibly be that I will be a good father? You can only know so much, yes? But at the same time, I say it with 100% confidence and I don’t think I’m wrong to do so. My sureness comes from the examples I’ve had, the experience I’ve acquired, but it is left for me to really just believe it. Those things are enough, and I accept this to be true.
Shavuot celebrates revealing Torah to the Israelites at Mt Sinai. Man was man, the Israelites were Israelites, god was god all before this, but now we have the words to say this is what it is to be one of us. The words have meaning because of this belief in god being real and the community bound by these words. Generations of people over thousands of years have believed in this god. The tanakh speaks of god walking with man, of angels, of powerful floods. Time itself is bursting with people who believe they know this god, been touched by this god, have felt or seen or been affected by this god- before Torah until this day.
I have felt God, which I can say feels like presence and peace at the same time, though not always. It is a fullness in your gut, (not your stomach,) and your chest and your limbs and your finger tips. I have had prayers answered, for comfort, for health, for inspiration and direction. I’ve felt the most aching loneliness when pulling away from god, or walking on paths that were not my paths to walk. I know that I am getting lyrical here, but how do you avoid it? Even what, to me, is tangible, seems unbelievable I know. Like anything spiritual. Where do we draw our own lines of belief? Do we say this person has premonitions but this one is clearly lying? What do I think of ghost stories when I have seen apparitions with my own eyes? Where are the lines of spirit and human and what is the division of heaven and earth and god and man? Well these are the largest questions.
And see, now I pursue them in the framework of an old religion, one that has survived century after century. And my conceptions of that god, they are bigger than that religion too, but that’s alright. I’m a limited being, my religious practices can be no larger than any of our humanity will allow.
But back to certainty. I’ve looked at the past, I’ve read the books. I know where men grasped for answer or grappled with ways to explain our hurt. I know the way ideas of god have been used to conquer or to oppress, pitting gods against each other and against men. These are large things, but small really, against time. Like we are. Entire people groups, rise and fall, and rise and fall again, and god exists through all of it. This god endures. I may rely solely on that feeling in my chest, but I don’t. I rely also on this enduring narrative about a real spiritual god,( and that doesn’t mean dinosaurs weren’t real and the big bang didn’t happen.) It means that I believe in a god that set existence into motion. I believe in a god that was in Egypt with the Israelites. I believe in a god that meets me in my meditation.
So this question of certainty, I take what I know, what I can conceive, and then I the take last step. I go from, what for me, is knowing things to the space without doubt. Which is what faith is, that last step. And then I can say… I know with all certainty, every cell in my bodies knows, god is there.