Do you want to know if God is real? The most convincing proof for God will always remain one’s own personal encounter with him.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
19 December 2017
Is God real? Does he exist? Although it’s an age-old question, it has perhaps never been more relevant than it is today, given the rise in atheism that finds its origin in 19th-century men like Ludwig Feuerbach and Friedrich Nietzsche. Another factor in the equation is contemporary society’s heavy reliance on science, combined with a high degree of skepticism toward the supernatural, spiritual and non-physical realm. Consequently, it’s often thought the physical sciences can answer every question. However, such a notion (called and/or related to scientism, empiricism, or naturalism) is patently false.
Does God exist? Each person and every new generation must answer that question.
The physical scientist cannot answer it definitively because it falls outside the scope of his discipline. Although science can and certainly often does provide evidence in favor of God’s existence, the divine Creator transcends the physical universe and thus cannot be observed, analyzed and tested using the methods of the physical sciences. As is so often said, “You can’t put God under a microscope.”
Although God cannot be dissected, directly observed, tested and experimented on, there are questions whose only reasonable answer is God. For example, why does the physical universe exist rather than nothing? Is it possible that the whole thing is merely a cosmic accident? And, even if it is, where did the matter and energy come from to make such an “accident” possible? The physical universe must have an explanation. And it can’t explain itself because it does not exist in and through itself. Its coming into being is contingent on something outside of itself: on a transcendent, non-physical cause we call the Creator.
God can be shown to exist using scientific methods other than the physical sciences. I’m referring to the divine sciences of philosophy and theology. That said, while it’s true there a number of philosophical and metaphysical proofs for God’s existence, some of which I would call “rock-solid,” they’re often not the kind of material people find convincing. Nor can they be classified as “light reading.” It’s not that they’re extremely complex; it’s that a person has to engage a different process of thinking to work through them. They’re often based on formal logic—something many people find uninteresting, burdensome, and too abstract to deal with.
The bottom line is, if you’re doubting whether God is real, you’re not alone. Lots of people question whether God is real and struggle with his existence. After all, he is mystery.
The good news is, God is plenty powerful enough to break through into your consciousness in a convincing, life-changing and revealing way. Scholarly study or learning theology or philosophy or reciting formulas is not required. An encounter with Jesus—as real (even more so) as meeting any other person—is on your horizon if you’re open to it. If you’re looking for Jesus, if you desire him, he will come to meet you. In fact, if you want to meet him, he’s already planted that desire in your heart. Nevertheless, the ways in which a mysterious encounter with Christ can take place are as numerous and diverse as there are people who have lived or ever will live. This means that God has a special meeting in mind tailored to perfectly suit you alone.
The most powerful proof of God is one’s own personal encounter with him. Is that something you desire? Is it a journey you want to take?
Do You Want God?
Rule 1: God always allows people to have what they want when it is a question of having a relationship with him.
One of the issues involved in encountering God is not really wanting to encounter him. If I push him out of my life, so as to go on living as I wish rather than as he wishes me to live, God will leave me alone—all to myself. After all, that’s what I want. If I’m in love with myself in a disordered fashion, I can’t be in love with God. There’s no room for him. And—this is important to get—God doesn’t need me or anyone else. It is I who need him.
Think of having a relationship with another person: If you lock him out of your life, the door is closed. In this case, you have pushed the deadbolt home.
Hence, a crucial piece of information: your heart has to be open to Christ and to meeting God. You have to really want it to happen. The more desperate you are, the more you thirst for God with love, the more likely it is you’ll have an experience of Christ. Does this mean inducing an artificial experience through working oneself up into a state of heightened emotion or that an encounter with God can be forced through engaging in a kind of rigorous psychological preparation? No. It’s not like that. But God does not force himself on people. That’s lesson numero uno.
What’s the takeaway here? Sincerely pray to God and ask him to reveal himself in some way to you. Ask him to help you to know that he really exists as a personal, loving and compassionate Father. Beg him to let you know him. Give him permission to act in your life in whatever way he deems best according to his infinite wisdom to answer your prayer. Things will soon change.
Rule 2: Pride doesn’t mix with God.
If you’re pridefully convinced that you are a “good person,” that God would not require any kind of change on your part and that your life is not in need of any reform, then that attitude is itself a serious problem. As stated above, there’s no room in you for God. If you’ve got everything figured out; if you’re so sure of yourself that nobody can convince you otherwise—and you would be offended should anyone try—then you’re little more than a self-centered, isolated, walking ego. The proud have no need of God’s love, for they are infatuated with themselves.
Rule 3: The unteachable are unmovable.
What is meant by this? There are some people who cannot be taught because they’re too busy listening to themselves and their own thoughts to absorb anything else. They seem never able to break free from their self-manufactured ideals and remain rigidly fixed in place. They’re resistant to what might surprise or shock or alter their way of thinking. They close their ears in self-absorption to concepts and truths requiring change on their part and refuse to cross over a line they’ve drawn in the sand. We might call this close-mindedness. But it’s more than that. It can also be the case of always talking and never listening and of blotting out what is true. It can manifest in an indifference to knowledge and change or as an obstinate suppression of whatever might produce a state of cognitive dissonance.
If you want to encounter God, you have to be open to listening, learning, and change. You have to be teachable, flexible, pliable. Why? Because knowing and loving God is by definition a transformative experience, not a static one.
Rule 4: Disinterest in learning about God blocks progress.
People learn about God in many different ways. As Vatican II taught in Nostra Aetate, other religions of the world often reflect “a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men” (2). Nevertheless, the Church “must proclaim Christ ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself” (Ibid). Jesus Christ is in his Person the perfect fullness of God’s divinely revealed truth.
If you want to know Christ (the incarnate Son of God or the God-man), you’ll need to learn about him. There is no better way of doing that than meditating on the divine scriptures, especially the gospels. As St. Jerome famously wrote, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” He also pointed out that when you pray, you speak to God; when you prayerfully read scripture, God speaks to you.
Grace and Effort
Rule 5: Getting to know God requires time, commitment and patience. It requires effort and your own efforts are indispensable. However, such an endeavor is impossible without grace.
Recall what I said above: if you have a desire to meet God, that in itself is made possible by grace (what theologians call “actual grace”). Christ has planted such a desire (grace) in your heart in order to turn your gaze towards him. It is his doing. It is part of his plan. It stems from his loving desire for you and your eternal well-being. It did not originate solely in you (although your openness plays an important role). You must seek the grace of God all along the journey of encountering him and entering into a relationship of communion with him, for without it you will most certainly fail.
This circles us back to the importance of prayer and praying with humility: “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Mt 23:12). Humility before God combined with a desperate need for him that flows from the depths of the mysterious and injured human heart is irresistible to God. When human love ardently seeks divine Love, the Love above all loves answers with True Love’s Kiss.
It’s the experience of a lifetime but not a once in a lifetime experience. The presence of God. There’s nothing else like it because there’s nothing else like him.
Perhaps you’re wondering if God is real? Why not give God the benefit of the doubt? Why not give yourself over to him in trust? Why not make the decision to believe in him, right here, right now? Then see what happens.
The most convincing proof for God will always remain one’s own personal encounter with him. That’s no secret to God.
I promise you this: you’ll never be the same again.
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Photo Credit: Deacon Frederick Bartels.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.