We should probably qualify that question! People believe many different things of course. For instance: everyone believes that the world is round (well, almost everyone); most people believe that vegetables are good for you; and some people believe that life without chocolate isn’t worth living. But those aren’t the kinds of ‘belief’ we want to talk about. Rather, we want to focus on belief that there is a God.
Now, given that a great many intelligent people have had much to say on this topic (both pro and con), the reader should clearly NOT expect that this modest addition to the conversation will provide definitive answers! But our goal here is more humble; we want to explore what the whispers of our own hearts can tell us.
Think about all the cartoons you’ve seen where a guru is asked: “What’s the meaning of life?” What makes that cliché such a rich lode to mine for humor is that it touches the universal belief that the experiences of my own life MUST MEAN SOMETHING — despite apparently massive evidence to the contrary! And to heighten the irony, the urgency of the question isn’t at all diminished by the attainment of life goals. Indeed, many people have scaled the heights of earthly success only to find themselves at the pinnacle wondering: “Is this all there is?” In the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, we find the aged King Solomon, a man fabled for both his wisdom and the magnificence of his kingdom, struggling to come to grips with the reality that all he accomplished has no enduring value. “All is vanity” he repeatedly mourns.
Now, here’s the thing: Why would we have this universal longing for something that doesn’t exist? Each of our natural hungers is associated with a fulfillment: for thirst there is water, for a gnawing belly there is food, for the need for affection there are intimate relationships. And deep in our hearts we also know that this hunger for meaning says that it too exists.
This goes deeper than simple longing – that, one might argue, could be no more than a type of impulse that has evolved in our species to drive us towards improvement. But there is more to it than that. When William Shakespeare penned the phrase “All the world’s a stage” he expressed our sense that the progress of our life is proceeding according to a script that we have not devised, and is being performed for an audience that we cannot see.
For those of us who believe in the God of the Bible, it is perfectly obvious that these things should be so. We believe that He created each of us for a purpose, that we are guided through life by His hand for that purpose, and that our deepest longings reflect our destiny to fulfill that purpose. In other words, we know that God is the ‘food’ that satisfies our hunger for meaning and the ‘audience’ that holds our performance accountable and urges us on.
And that’s the crux of the dilemma for those who wish to deny God. Without someone in the audience, the drama of any human life, from the most depraved to the most exalted, is just meaningless posturing in a vacant theatre. Why does it matter whether we perform our parts well or badly? (And how do we even know the difference?) Those who deny God have no answer to that question. Yet, with only a few notorious exceptions, most deniers actually go to great lengths to rationalize that they are ‘good people’ even though, without any basis for moral judgements, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are empty labels. If the point of one’s life is measured only by its temporary effect on other pointless beings who themselves are on a treadmill to oblivion, what ultimate difference does it make? Yet – in our heart-of-hearts, we all know that somehow, it DOES matter. There IS meaning in our lives because there is someone greater than ourselves who gives it meaning.
So, why believe in God? Because to NOT do so is to deny the reality that my own heart bears witness to.
“For what can be known about God is plain to [every human being], because God has shown it to them.” (Romans 1:19)