Have You Ever Wondered, Is There Really a God?

Author: Mary Beth Bonacci


By Mary Beth Bonacci

The New Testament presents Simon--whom Jesus called Peter, the Rock--as a vigorous, passionate disciple of Christ. But he also doubted and, at a decisive moment, he even denied that he was a follower of Jesus.-- Pope John Paul II, Cherry Creek State Park

Have you ever doubted?

I mean really doubted. Wondered, "Is there really a God, or am I just spinning my wheels here?" Or "Why am I being good and following all of these rules?" Or "Maybe there is a God, but it's hard to believe He cares about me. I'm miserable out here. Where are you?"

If you're human, I bet you have. It's a pretty normal, human response to basing our entire lives on Someone we can't see or touch. (Well, at least not in recognizable form. Basing your life on Someone you can touch, but who looks exactly like bread and wine, kinda makes people wonder, too.)

Being a Christian is a pretty life-altering experience. You have to "go against the flow" a lot. You have to do things other people don't do, or refuse to do things other people do. And that makes you stand out. Sometimes it's lonely. Sometimes people think you're crazy.

And you have to believe some pretty outlandish things. Like that God became a person, was executed as a criminal, was dead and then He wasn't, then rose into Heaven on some kind of invisible elevator. And that He still cares about you today, even when He lets you fail a test you didn't study for, or lets your friends totally dump on you when you don't deserve it.

So it's pretty normal once in a while to step back and say, "Wait a minute here. Is this for real?"

Of course, if you're a "good" citizen, your next response is generally, "Oh, no. I shouldn't doubt. God doesn't like that. He's probably mad at me now."

I think it's significant that the Holy Father talks about Peter. Did you ever see "Jesus of Nazareth?" Peter was the one who always looked kind of confused. His face seemed to say, "What are we doing here?" He'd seem like he understood, and then he'd ask a really stupid question, or pull a stupid stunt like denying Christ. Yet, he was the first to recognize Christ as the Messiah.

Doubt isn't necessarily about questioning God's existence. It's questioning why we believe. And that's a good thing. It's a really necessary thing-- because we believe for different reasons at different times in our lives. If you believed in God when you were a kid, it was probably because your parents told you He existed, and they read you little Bible stories with lots of big pictures. And your "prayer life" probably consisted of "Bless us, O Lord..." and "Now I lay me down to sleep..."

You kind of hope that most adult Christians have moved beyond that kind of faith experience. But how does it happen? It happens when, at some point, probably as teenagers, they say, "Wait a minute. Do I believe this just because my parents said it? Is this my faith, or just theirs? Is any of this true?"

There's nothing wrong with that. I think, in a way, it comes from God. It's an invitation to learn more about Him. It's an invitation to deepen our faith, to understand it so that we can live it more fully, and share it with others. After all, it's hard to convince someone else of the truth of Christianity when our best argument is, "Well, my parents said it's true."

Have you ever known someone who's really intelligent, and who questions everything? I have. I love people like that. In the short term, they can be a real pain, especially when you're talking about religion. Because when you answer their questions with the pat little answers you learned in CCD, they say, "Yeah, but what about..." or "That doesn't quite make sense, because..." They make you think a lot deeper, and clarify your own faith. And intelligent people who question, and who honestly search for the answers, tend to become the most convinced, and the most convincing, Christians.

Problem is, some people don't take these doubts and questions as an invitation or an opportunity to learn more. They take it as an excuse to "chuck it all." Face it, a lot of people just don't want to live the Christian life. It's a lot easier not to be a Christian. There are a lot of sins that are awfully fun in the short run, and people who've lived in those sins for long enough no longer have the motivation to make the change, or the clarity of mind they need to see God. As Scripture says, their "hearts are hardened." As we said a couple of weeks ago, their consciences have become distorted. They've been doubting and sinning so long that they're no longer particularly interested in finding the hard answers and in making the changes those answers entail. They may discuss or argue, but it's not to find the truth--it's to justify their own lifestyle, or to talk you into joining them.

So doubts aren't necessarily a bad thing. They're an invitation from God-- an invitation to grow in understanding and in holiness. But we need to take them that way, and to really act on them to find the answers. If you're doubting, and my bet is that sometimes you are, learn more. Get your questions answered. Ask your parents. Ask a priest. Go to a good Catholic bookstore and get some books on your faith. Write to me. Whatever you do, get the answers.

And most importantly, pray. Understanding doesn't come from us. When Peter recognized Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus said, "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in Heaven" (Mt 16:17). No one who doesn't love God or have a real relationship with Him is going to "get" any of this stuff. It just doesn't make sense from a strictly human point of view. Logic alone won't grasp it. We need the light of grace.

So do it now. If you let those questions ride, or if you just give in to them without searching, you're risking a spiritual "hardening of the arteries" that'll be awfully tough to correct 10 years down the road.

Bonacci is a frequent lecturer on chastity.

This article appeared in the December 22, 1994 issue of "The Arlington Catholic Herald."

Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the Arlington (VA) diocese. For subscription information, call 1-800-377-0511 or write 200 North Glebe Road, Suite 607 Arlington, VA 22203.