Between talking to my child and reading about a friends’ child, left me wondering whether it’s enough to believe in God without God also believing in you.
For many decades, I’ve counted among my friends a married couple made up of two of the nicest, most decent people in the world. It’s been decades since we lived in the same place, so we’ve kept up through Christmas cards, emails, and social media. From the outside looking in, their life has been lovely — he’s been a good earner, she’s been a stay-at-home Mom; theirs is a truly happy marriage of equals; and they have two beautiful children, both of whom did well in school and went on to successful post-graduate careers. It is a picture anyone would envy.
And yet, things aren’t always what they seem. Their daughter shared what was, for me, a very surprising message that I caught up with through social media: This beautiful child had been assaulted at a party in high school, leaving her feeling worthless and self-destructive. She suffered inside for many years before she found her way through to happiness again.
What surprised me was what the young woman said about her relationship with God as it related to her becoming emotionally whole again. To appreciate what I’m going to say, you have to understand that my perspective is that of a person who was an atheist who has gradually worked her way to being a deist. I don’t have a specific image of “God,” nor do I have a doctrinal tilt, although culturally and genetically, I’m Jewish. I simply believe that our world, from earth to the outer reaches of the universe, is too mysterious, magical, and well-organized to be some grand cosmic accident.
My friends’ daughter, however, grew up in a religious home and has always believed in God. What left her so terribly adrift was her sense that God didn’t believe in her. He existed, yes, but in much the way I, a deist by dint of rather hard work, imagine this mysterious, ineffable deity exists — as something infinitely far away that has the same awareness of us as we do of the ants in our garden. It was only when this young woman became involved in a very specific youth Christian movement that she was able to understand the Christian concept of God’s specific love for her. And for her, that brought healing.
I’m not questioning what my friends’ daughter needed and found to be whole again. I raise it here because it made me wonder about the nature of faith and people’s relationship to their God.
Coincidentally, just yesterday I was talking to one of my Little Bookworms who is a rather strident atheist. It was funny to hear from him the same points I once advanced when I was his age, back in high school and have now mostly abandoned. According to Little Bookworm — and he knows this is true, because he’s seen YouTube videos advancing this claim — the only reason people believe in God is because they fear death.
I agreed with him that the ultimate mystery that is death is probably a good reason for people to believe that there is more out there than we can discover with our five senses. No, he said, that’s just foolishness. There is no God and fearing death is a bad reason to pretend there is. Well, I guess when you’re young and healthy, fearing death isn’t high on the list of motivators. That certainly changes with age. [Read more…]