A friend of mine sent me an email today with this quote: “A comprehended God is no god.” -St. John Chrysostom. I needed that. I needed to be reminded of the mystery.
Conversations with Atheists
I spent Easter with my in-laws, including my atheist sister-in-law. Honestly, she is one of the smartest people I know. Her grasp of science is far beyond my own. Her education is largely self inflicted and, unlike me, she seems to actually retain what she reads. Like me, she has a particular fondness for Christopher Hitchens and while we disagree on the issue of God, we agree on many, many other items of morality and decency. I appreciate the fact that she is so willing to discuss religion and deism with me. It was the challenge my faith needed.
But in talking to her, I found myself taking very rational viewpoints on my largely mystical and (some would say) irrational faith. Rationally, I have faith in God for two reasons: logically, it makes sense not only that there is a creator but that he would have all the characteristics of the supreme God. I came to that conclusion in my teens after reading St. Anselm’s logical defense of God, which I highly recommend you take Advil to read. He is complex and slightly obtuse because of his ancient writing style. But that was my first logical, rational reason for believing in God.
The second reason I believe in God and the Christian faith is a philosophical reason based on Pascal. Pascal’s wager is famous. It claims that if there is a God, you’re better off believing in him than not. And if there is not a God, then believing in him (and the Christian religion) does no harm and might actually make you a better person, so it’s fine to hold that belief anyway. During the vacation, my sister-in-law and I were able to discuss some of these issues for the first time since I entered the family and, I have to say, I greatly enjoyed it. It was a challenge, it was an intelligent discussion, and it was a lot of fun.
A Little Bit of Thomas
But after we talked, I began to wonder about myself. Some of my reasons for belief were so… un-mysterious. They were reasonable, rational, worldly, and terribly boring. They were also wonderfully uncertain. It just felt like I was hedging my bets on an issue that I should have so much more confidence in. I should know I’m right. I should know that I have placed my trust in something so sure that I never have to doubt again.
Sometimes I really wish I could be an atheist. It’s really nice and comforting to know exactly what’s what.
Faith Not Fact
That’s why Chrysostom’s quote is so important. Because basically, God cannot be comprehended. We can never be sure of God. And the point is not to be sure. The point is to have faith. Christ said that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move a mountain. In Luke, the Apostles ask Christ to increase their faith. Not their rational reasons, not their logical justifications, not any surety of what they believed in.
Faith is the mystery of God. It’s not about knowing. It’s about believing. I have problems with that. I like to know things. I like to have dependable things in my life, including people, myself, my work, science, and the list goes on. But the mystery of Christ is that you have to have faith and trust in him. No conversation with an atheist, no matter how fun and reasonable, should make you forget that. And when it does, it helps to have good friends to remind you of that.