Why Believe?

This morning I spoke with a twelfth grade religion class in Guatamala via Skype. The class had just begun a unit on Buddhism and the teacher, a UST graduation, asked if I’d be willing to talk with his class.

The students’ questions ranged far and wide. They were interested in hearing about Buddhist vs. Christian prayer practice, life as a Buddhist nun, what it was like to meet the Dalai Lama and all sorts of other things.

One student asked why we should believe in God when we can’t empirically prove God’s existence? How can we believe in God when we can’t verify it.

Believing in God does require something of a leap of faith, because it requires us to accept the possibility that there is something beyond that which we can scientifically and empirically demonstrate. (I still remember sitting through my Problem of God theology course at Georgetown, which examined various “proofs” for the existence of God that had been offered over the centuries. I remember thinking that the proofs were entirely unnecessary for those who already believed in God and entirely unsatisfactory for those who didn’t.)

We can’t “know” that God exists the way we can know that that the square of the hypotenuse of a triangle is always equal to the sum of the squares of the two sides or that water and oil don’t mix.

And thank goodness for that. A God no bigger than we are – a God we could totally understand and map out – wouldn’t be all that meaningful a God. We can’t come to scientific and empirical proofs of that which is so much bigger than we are.

Ultimately, I answered the student, I can only know God by experiencing God. And I can experience God in all sorts of ways. And what allows me to be convinced that God exists may be very different from what convinces you that God exists. But we can all experience God and come to that conviction.