Faith in God

Faith is not about believing in God: God exists…Faith is about believing that God loves us.

I was at a christening service at the weekend, and got talking to someone who doesn’t believe God exists… it was a funny sort of conversation because he started by doing something I’ve encountered a few times before in atheists who don’t know me very well… he tried to pull an ‘intellectual’.

Here he was, faced with, in his mind, an earnest, inexperienced young mother, with a funny, arcane religious leaning… he could concede my charmingly naif sincerity… what more could one expect? Smiling beatifically, he leaned back in his chair and almost closed his eyes to start explaining his philosophy and how one can, if one chooses, use ‘rationale’ to work out the world…

Naturally neither the posture, nor the beatific smile lasted long. I did try to warn him gently, usually I do this by dropping information about my father in – an unwitting agnostic mystic with more qualifications than you can shake a stick at, in maths, pure maths, computing and engineering as well as a a sideline in quantum mechanics, presently doing a long-awaited PhD in Artificial Intelligence. Oh and a degree in geology… and  a certificate in education… I may have missed some out -but the point is Dad will only ever talk about what interests him -so my youthful and subsequent interactions with the old bean have always had a bibliography of prep reading or at least resulted in the acquisition of an enormous amount of knowledge.

Back to the point… once he had got almost up to speed this chap and I continued our conversation and at one point I found myself saying:

Faith is not about believing in God: God exists…Faith is about believing that God loves us.

He looked startled… and actually I’d startled myself because it occurred to me how often I’d had these sorts of conversations with atheists, agnostics and drunken friends in the pub before, and allowed myself to get sidetracked by the former point… belief in God’s very existence… not that I’ve ever tried to persuade anyone of that -I leave that up to God himself… just that I’d always tried to explain why I believed it.

But that is not the heart of the matter at all… so God exists… come on… we all know that deep down inside -and some of us know it more consciously… as the verse says:

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder. James 2:19

The important thing is that God loves us -and if you really believe that, if you really have faith in the love of God… then… wow.

I mean… have you ever been told for the first time ‘I love you‘ ? Is there any way on earth that you could ignore that… even if you weren’t sure exactly what that meant, could you forget it and walk away?

What if you tried to say -‘you can’t love me… I’m not worth it!‘… you could reject that love and behave as though it weren’t true… but what if the person said ‘I know you’ve made mistakes, but I love you’

you could say… ‘I don’t believe youand then behave as though it wasn’t true in order to make yourself feel better about rejecting the love -you could work hard at justifying your rejection or at looking for reasons to support your belief that it wasn’t true… but what if they STILL said ‘I love you’…

you could ignore them completely… trying not to hear ‘I love you’ or even convincing yourself that it was a figment of your own deluded imagination… until you could coolly hear ‘I love you’ and rationalise that it was just faulty synapses misfiring in your brain, a genetic flaw perhaps or a weakness brought about through youthful suppressed memories…

What if you couldn’t bear it so much that you wanted the person to stop so you killed them? What if you rationalised their execution as necessary to stop the ridiculous propagation of such delusions… ‘You love me? Good God what kind of madman are you?’

I love you

I love you

I love you


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About Jemma

Learning to be both a priest and a human being in the Anglican Church
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10 Responses to Faith in God

  1. “But that is not the heart of the matter at all… so God exists… come on… we all know that deep down inside -and some of us know it more consciously… as the verse says:

    You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder. James 2:19”

    Sorry, but you and the verse are wrong.

    Well, I’m not sorry. I’m sorry to put it so bluntly. It’s just a fact, though.

    “What if you tried to say -’you can’t love me… I’m not worth it!‘… you could reject that love and behave as though it weren’t true… but what if the person said ‘I know you’ve made mistakes, but I love you’…”

    See, for the atheists, this isn’t what’s happening. There isn’t any deity telling us they love us. There are people, like yourself, telling us that the deity they believe in loves us. Which is not the same.

    If you tell me you love me, that has a certain amount of power. If you tell me that Frank loves me, and I don’t know Frank, and there doesn’t seem to be evidence that this Frank even exists, it’s just confusing and somewhat irrelevant.

    • Jemma says:

      That’s true, if God seems a distant and unlikely prospect then how God feels about you is bound to be fairly irrelevant.
      Which is one of the reasons it is so important to share the love of God (not just in empty words) if you DO experience it. That’s why I’ve given my life up to serve God -it’s not coz I’m mad keen on the Church or even on other Christians over ‘non-Christians’… its that I am loved by God… and I know a lot of people don’t realise that they are ALSO loved by God, and I can’t actually get away with making the ‘Love of God’ my whole impulse for living in any other sphere than priesthood… (I’ve tried, but I kept getting told off ;o)
      I know people who don’t believe in ‘love’ at all, because they have not experienced it or cannot rationalise it into their frame of understanding… they can’t be expected to believe in something they have never experienced, but it would be incredibly sad if they did not listen to what other people said about love and entertain the possibility that against all measurable evidence it really DID exist… and perhaps even seek it for themselves.
      If someone told me honestly ‘Frank loves you’ I would not rest until I had taken every opportunity to find Frank and hear it from him myself…

      • “If someone told me honestly ‘Frank loves you’ I would not rest until I had taken every opportunity to find Frank and hear it from him myself…”

        Don’t assume we haven’t.

        I have. And found nothing.

        What I have found is some good people doing good things. Some bad people doing bad things. And some good people doing bad things.

        What I haven’t found is anything supernatural.

  2. Jemma says:

    Quite right too, God isn’t supernatural.
    God made all this, he sustains us moment to moment, you are as likely to notice God ‘standing out’ as you are to notice the ‘present’ moment, sandwiched between your remembered ‘past’ and your hypothetical ‘future’… God is so real that he puts our flimsy existence in the shade… but like ‘now’, even though God is the most real, the foundationally and ultimately real you have to work very hard to notice that…

    As to ‘good’ or bad’… you are right that these exist too.

    • “Quite right too, God isn’t supernatural.”

      Then you’re using a strange definition of the word ‘supernatural’. Or the word ‘god’. Or both.

      “God made all this, he sustains us moment to moment, you are as likely to notice…”

      If the first is true, then there should be good, solid, unequivocal evidence of it. As there isn’t, I’m not convinced.

      “God is so real that he puts our flimsy existence in the shade”

      I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you mean by ‘so real’. It’s like saying something is ‘very unique’. It’s a word that can’t have a qualifier.

      • Jemma says:

        Not really -if you read Christian theology you are unlikely to come across the word ‘supernatural’ applied to God, certainly as it is used these days, perhaps due to the Trinitarian nature of God -i.e. not JUST heavenly and ‘transcendent’ but also incarnate and imminent… with us in history -Christ… God, but a completely human human, and also with us: the Holy Spirit.

        Your second comment – about evidence- reveals something about why I used the phrasing ‘so real’. What YOU regard as solid, unequivocal evidence is personal to you… this is true for all people, including those engaged in scientific study who like to regard themselves as supremely rational over and above others -generally including scientific peers; we all operate on models based on ‘working assumptions’, it is unlikely that you have exhaustively tested many of the ‘solid’ ‘unequivocal’ assumptions that you live by… from cheese to gravity -you take them as a given -because someone somewhere has tested them and found them to be true… and much as the word may annoy you, you are happy to take these on ‘faith’… which is, frankly the only sensible thing to do, given the limited lifespan and experience of individual human beings… if we refused to engage with any aspect of the world until we had ‘gone over its workings’ we would have little time left to live… in fact if we didn’t take things ‘on trust’ or ‘put our faith’ in things as a routine, then we would not make it out of infancy.
        Other people’s experience, belief and testing led me to engage with the Christian religion, and having tested it-
        (not *before* engaging with it, as many seem to suggest is necessary… as though we would not wear shoes until we could skin and tan our own cowhide or eat bread we could not first reconstruct ourselves at a molecular level!)
        – BY engaging with it -I have gradually come to know God.
        No-one could construct God from a subatomic formula or recreate all his divine thought processes…
        There is a weird, modern tendency that is prevalent, to speak of God with personality (which is right) but then to expect to relate to God as an object or factor of existence, rather than as personality.

        In describing the difficulty in percieving God’s presence, I used the example of TIME because time is something we all live by, but we rarely notice the only real moment of time that we actually live in… the present moment… if you can actually quieten yourself to the point where you are aware of the present as you live it -you will probably encounter God… As it is -that’s bloomin hard to do, I think mystics from other religions refer to that experience as enlightenment… certainly that is an apt description of the experience. But a better place for hasty, time-trapped creatures to encounter God is in the Biblical text -the Word of God.

        From a strictly logical point of view -if you accept that God -widely regarded by those who are interested as originator and greater than any subsequent ‘things’ (not calling God a ‘thing’ since no one does) -is bigger, cleverer, and generally superlative in every way to the subsequent ‘things’ -it’s not a big surprise you can only ever gain partial or unsatisfactory data about him… after all you are less complex and smaller than God (I think that’s fair to say even if ‘god’ is a pure hypothetical to you).
        So it’s pretty surprising God has gone to the enormous trouble of making himself known to human beings through history -says something odd and lovable about him… he takes an interest in us, even if we don’t always take an interest in him…
        Anyhoo -I’ve answered your queries but have no illusions about convincing you of anything -that’s between you and God… or just between you and you if you’d rather (sounds a little conflicted but I expect it is ;o) that’s healthy.
        Thank you for your engaging comments!

      • Jemma says:

        BTW: I just wanted to remark that I have nothing against analysing bread and cheese at a molecular level -yay for that! … Just not when I ask for a cheese sandwich.
        I suppose theology is the same practice applied to God : get to know God -take a particular interest and THEN start to ask all the teensy complex questions… So… eat the sandwich -take an interest in cheese…get to know the cheese better! I think the only exception to that is haggis -to which one must be formally introduced before consuming.

  3. “Not really -if you read Christian theology you are unlikely to come across the word ‘supernatural’ applied to God”

    The question is less whether or not theology refers to their deity as supernatural than it is whether or not the deity fits the definition of supernatural.

    And in general, every deity does. Unless someone comes up to me and tells me that a tree is their deity. Provided a tree was all it was, then it would not be a supernatural deity. (Of course, I’d wonder why they called it a deity, but who am I to judge?)

    “Christ… God, but a completely human human, and also with us: the Holy Spirit.”

    My issue is the supernatural parts of your god, not the non-supernatural parts. If you claim to worship/follow/love a historical character named Yeshua, then I would admit that the person you worship is not supernatural. The second that supernatural attributes start getting associated with him, however, is when I cry ‘foul!’.

    He may be a completely human human, but you seem to be saying he’s a completely human human plus some other stuff too. It’s the other stuff that I have a ‘problem’ with.

    “What YOU regard as solid, unequivocal evidence is personal to you…”

    Not quite. What I regard as solid, unequivocal evidence is not personal. It’s formed by the scientific method, which has proved itself over the centuries as the most accurate way to determine the truth about the universe. If you have a better way, I am more than willing to hear it.

    “you take them as a given -because someone somewhere has tested them and found them to be true”

    Incorrect.

    I take them as given because they can be investigated and observed by anyone, with consistent results.

    I look at cheese and see cheese. I can document my observations, measure it, weigh it, taste it, etc. And if someone else does the same thing and comes up with the same results, then we start to take my observations seriously. The same applies to gravity, evolution and any other dairy product.

    That’s the beauty of science. Anyone can do it and discover the same thing that the experts tell us. Whereas, if I start asking for a sign from God, there is no consistency. I might get what I interpret to be a response from your god. I may get what I interpret to be a response from someone else’s god. And I might get no response at all. The lack of consistently heavily implies, at least to me, that when dealing with supernatural things of this nature that can’t be looked at scientifically, the answers have very little to do with actual truth.

    “it’s not a big surprise you can only ever gain partial or unsatisfactory data about him… after all you are less complex and smaller than God (I think that’s fair to say even if ‘god’ is a pure hypothetical to you).”

    If this is true, then I should disregard everything you’ve told me. For certainly you are just as uncomplex compared to this hypothetical god as I am, and thus your information and data is no more likely to be right than the data of anyone else.

    “So… eat the sandwich -take an interest in cheese…get to know the cheese better!”

    I’m sorry, but I picture you saying this while pointing to an empty plate.

    I will not get to know the cheese until there is demonstrable evidence that the cheese is there. Certainly, this might be super-complex, incorporeal and invisible cheese. But if it cannot be differentiated from no cheese at all, I see no good reason to treat it as anything but that.

    • Jemma says:

      “I look at cheese and see cheese. I can document my observations, measure it, weigh it, taste it, etc. And *if someone else does the same thing and comes up with the same results, then *we* start to take my observations seriously*. The same applies to gravity, evolution and any other dairy product.

      That’s the beauty of science. Anyone can do it and discover the same thing that the experts tell us. Whereas, if *I* start asking for a sign from God, there is no consistency.*I might get what I interpret* to be a response from your god.*I may get what I interpret* to be a response from someone else’s god. And *I* might get no response at all. The lack of consistently heavily implies, at least to me, that when dealing with supernatural things of this nature that can’t be looked at scientifically, the answers have very little to do with actual truth.”

      >>YES… you have pointed out perfectly in the first part, where you are going wrong in the second part -you do not attempt to discover and understand cheese alone – you do it in conjunction with other people who are also seriously interested in cheese- not all by yourself with nothing to compare it to and no way of knowing how to interpret the results…
      That’s one of the reasons you can’t actually be a Christian all by yourself with no interaction with others.
      We have a lot of information about God in the Bible -attributes that over time have become apparent and consistent… and other areas we still know nothing about- we also have individual revelatory experiences but they are personal and pretty much impossible to factor into the larger theological picture because of a lack of commonality-Jesus is a particularly useful aid to our understanding as he meets us on familiar territory -but even a lot of what he has done and meant is still discussed and debated and analysed to find out what we can say and know about God.

      “If this is true, then I should disregard everything you’ve told me. For certainly you are just as uncomplex compared to this hypothetical god as I am, and thus your information and data is no more likely to be right than the data of anyone else.”

      Yes I am as uncomplex as you and our knowledge is equally limited, and my relationship with God is no more evident to you than your relationship with your family is to me.
      But to meet your argument on semantic grounds: if you are interested in sheer quantity of ‘data’, the data you refer to is based upon such a vast number of people’s consistent experience over more than eight thousand years and those experts in the field, of human experience and theology who agree with its findings is still growing at such a rate, that your knowledge of cheese has an enormous amount of catching up to do if it is to prove its credentials…

      I think, from your apparent request for ‘a sign’… and one that is unequivocal proof to you personally, where cheese is concerned, you could run it through all sorts of analyses that would suggest the strong probability that it was cheese you had found… and in the end, since we human beings have decided in advance what we consider cheese to be, you could stop testing it and write a decent report to the effect that according to the accepted definitions, it was neither yoghurt nor Tofu.
      But despite your desire, we human beings do not have the ability to decide in advance what we consider God to be -though most of us, even religious ones, try… there is no category big enough to classify God, we can only describe some of the attributes that we consistently experience… and not everyone will be comfortable with that. In fact that’s one of the main reasons religion is so horrible and messy very often -because human beings cannot cope with the scope of God and want him to be a bit more containable, controllable and explicable -and usually a bit more like them… even if they don’t like themselves! But God is God.

      As to ‘imaginary cheese’ -for goodness sake don’t waste your time trying to envisage or to eat imaginary cheese- that would be stupid.
      You have had a long encounter today with an incorporeal being for whose physical existence you have no empirical proof, only hearsay and personal interaction… so don’t knock it xx

  4. “not all by yourself with nothing to compare it to and no way of knowing how to interpret the results…”

    With the cheese, this works. With religion, it fails massively. I’m assuming you’ve noticed the nearly countless different religions and denominations. If they aren’t consistent, that implies that they can’t all be right. But they can all be wrong.

    “if you are interested in sheer quantity of ‘data’, the data you refer to is based upon such a vast number of people’s consistent experience over more than eight thousand years”

    I would hardly refer to anecdotes as ‘consistent experience’.

    “But despite your desire, we human beings do not have the ability to decide in advance what we consider God to be”

    It’s not about deciding in advance. It’s about looking for evidence, any evidence, and seeing where it leads.

    As it stands, the evidence I see leads to people having had emotional experiences that they interpret to be divine. The reason I say that is because they lack any evidence beyond their own anecdotes. Which is just not good enough.

    “You have had a long encounter today with an incorporeal being for whose physical existence you have no empirical proof”

    Incorrect. I have your writings, and if I was a hacker I would have quite a bit of data about you from your blog. And if I was compelled to do so, I could search you out in real life if I wanted solid evidence of your existence.

    Your deity fails whenever anyone looks for empirical and consistently repeatable evidence. Just like the imaginary cheese.

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