I have a few things on my mind.
Right now I'm faced with big decisions
And I'm wondering if you have a minute, 'cause
Right now I don't hear so well.
And I was wondering if you could speak up.”
These lyrics by singer/songwriter Sara Groves touch on a frequent subject of this blog: God’s silence. I believe it’s one of the biggest obstacles to faith today, although the problem surely stretches back to the dawn of belief in an invisible God.
If there is a God, why doesn’t he/she show himself/herself? And, ask many who have given up on God and religion, if God is unknowable, why bother? Just get on with life and do the best you can without him/her.
Many who would like to believe in God, as well as many who on some level already do, are stuck on these questions.
In his book, “Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief,” physician and geneticist Francis Collins – head of the National Institutes of Health, best known for leading the Human Genome Project – writes about his journey from atheism to belief. As a young physician, he was struck by the deep spirituality of many of his patients, noting that “if faith was a psychological crutch…it must be a very powerful one.”
A later insight is, for me, crucial in this age of widespread indifference about God and belief. He came to the point of asking himself, “Could there be a more important question in all of human existence than ‘Is there a God?’” Later still, Collins was influenced by the famous author C.S. Lewis, author of the fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia, and Lewis’ well-known book, “Mere Christianity.”
After reading that book, he realized that “all of my own constructs against the plausibility of faith were those of a schoolboy.
“When I learned subsequently that Lewis had himself been an atheist, who had set out to disprove faith on the basis of logical argument, I recognized how he could be so insightful about my path.” Collins decided to prove to himself that atheism was the right path for him.
Instead, among the aspects of belief that greatly impacted Collins was the universal presence of a “moral law,” what some call the “natural law” – basically that humans are “wired” for right and wrong, and that this characteristic is not merely a consequence of cultural traditions.
Thinking about the possibility of a God, Collins speculated whether or not this would be a “deist God, who invented physics and mathematics and started the universe in motion about 14 billion years ago, then wandered off to deal with other, more important matters, as Einstein thought.”
No, Collins wrote, “this God, if I was perceiving him at all, must be a ‘theist God,’ who desires some kind of relationship with those special creatures called human beings, and has therefore instilled this special glimpse of himself (the moral law?) into each one of us.”
In this process, which must have included the emotional along with the rational side of Collins, he eventually concluded that “faith in God now seemed more rational than disbelief. …It also became clear to me that science, despite its unquestioned powers in unraveling the mysteries of the natural world, would get me no further in resolving the question of God. If God exists, then he must be outside the natural world, and therefore the tools of science are not the right ones to learn about him.”
There’s much more to this story, of course, and in future blogs I’ll deal with subsequent insights in his book. Briefly, however, Collins embraced religion and now refers to himself as a “serious Christian.”
I heard a National Public Radio report recently about the acclaimed movie, “The Theory of Everything.” Stephen Hawking, a renowned scientist, perhaps the most famous atheist and the subject of the movie, was quoted in the report as saying something to the effect that science will eventually be able to answer any question about the natural world.
He may be right, depending on what he means by “natural world.” There will probably be a scientific “theory of everything” if you’re talking about things you can measure, that is, whatever is not spiritual.
But many people, like Collins, have discovered the spiritual, and that, it seems to me, is an essential step in the search for God, and an answer to the problem of God’s silence.