‘Prove to me that God exists’, a bloke I was chatting to at a bar said to me. I was drinking a lime alcopop that I’d been given on the house. It was disgusting, and my cheeks were cowering inwards by the second.
Whilst my drink was uncommon and grotesque, his request was not. One of the major reasons people give for not believing in God is simply that ‘there’s no proof’. Now, it will often be phrased as ‘there’s no evidence,’ but what they really mean is proof – something concrete that would absolutely seal the deal, like God writing his name across the sky in stars.
There’s a lot that’s troublesome about that assertion, though.
It may make you feel enlightened and robust to say ‘I’d believe if there was irrefutable proof’, but the reality is that you wouldn’t submit any other aspect of your life to that charge. Outside of pure mathematics, people don’t talk about ‘proof’ in that strict sense. We look at the evidence and make a judgement on where that evidence leads. Nobody owns evidence. We all have the same data to work with.
You will hear people say it. ‘I only believe in what can be proven.’ Fool of a Took! Nobody does – that’s just a soundbyte. For starters, you can’t even prove that the previous sentence is true!
I can’t prove my wife loves me, or that I love her. I can put forward a good case, and I’d be happy to show you the scrapbook that I’ve collated for just such a purpose, but I can’t prove it using science or logic. But if I’d only acted on what could be proven irrevocably beyond doubt, I would never have plucked up the courage to ask her out, and we wouldn’t now be happily married.
There’s so much I can’t prove. I can’t prove to you that 50 Shades of Grey is the worst book ever written and that the author should be force-fed every copy a page at a time until she learns to never do it again and signs a binding contract to that end; but it is nevertheless true.
The point is this: If someone genuinely does live believing in only what can be proven, then they will end up desperately alone, because they will never know love. Even Sheldon Cooper engages in relationship without concrete formulae. So maybe the idea of irrefutable proof is just a cop-out.
The sister statement, that tends to hang around with the idea of irrefutable proof, is the following: ‘If there was a God, He would have proven it to us by now.’ The technical response is the same as above, that nothing that really matters to you in life can be proven in that academic sense. Love, Hope, Beauty, Purpose, Forgiveness: These are the things that really count on a day-to-day basis, and we all know them to be true, even though we can’t prove it.
But when it’s said that God would have proven Himself by now, it’s perfectly correct to assert that, actually, He has – to millions and millions and millions of people across the globe and throughout time. And maybe if you haven’t met him yet, maybe that’s because you’re looking for equations instead of relationship.
Because God’s chief aim is not to get you to merely or blindly believe in Him. ‘Even the demons do that, and tremble’, says the book of James. Again, I believed my wife existed long before I started going out with her. But belief in itself doesn’t bring love or warmth or delight. It was only by getting to know her and spending time with her that those things were possible. Same with God: He wants us to know Him, not just know about Him. There’s nothing to suggest that if God drew His name across the sky in stars, more people would be drawn into a loving relationship with Him.
The guy I was chatting to at the bar was, sadly, far too hammered on the limey alcopop freebies to care what I had to say. I’ve got a few bottles in my kitchen still. I can’t prove to you how disgusting it is as a drink, but if you wanted to come round and taste it for yourself, you’d know I was telling the truth. And then you’d vomit.