The 17th century mathematician Blaise Pascal saw belief in God as a kind of bet, a game of probabilities. For Pascal, it was simple. If you believed in God and were wrong about his existence, you didn’t lose much. You were wrong, and that is that. However, if you didn’t believe, and you were wrong, you lost an incredible amount: eternal bliss, a place in heaven, the favor of God, and so on. Thus, in terms of probabilities, it was better than not believing to believe. You may be thinking as you read this that this is an insult to your faith. That your belief in God is not merely a cynical numbers game, and it enriches your life in a multitude of ways. So, why do people believe in God?
From prehistoric times to the modern day, there have always been believers. The idea of God and the spiritual has sustained humanity for many thousands of years. Western philosophy from the middle ages sought to justify belief in rational terms; for example the cosmological argument justified belief in God in relation to the fact that all things must have a cause, and the first cause of the universe must have been God. There have been more sophisticated arguments for the existence of God, and reasons why people have believed. However, to some extent this may also miss the point, and one work keeps on coming up: faith. We may believe in God because we have seen him (either literally or figuratively). God may have comforted us at the time of our greatest sorrow. God may have given us the answers that we couldn’t find anywhere else. This is not to say that believe in God is somehow irrational, or unscientific. This is not the case. However, in a certain sense, the question ‘do you believe in God’ has never been a rational or scientific question. The Greeks understood this 3000 years ago, in their distinction between logos (science or reasons) and mythos (knowledge that deals with the more elusive questions of human existence).
For example, take the story of this college student. They came to America to get an education, and everything was going well. They were doing well in school, has loved ones and a supportive family. Then things started to go wrong. His girlfriend left him, and he started to do less well in school. Then he had to drop out. He started to get depressed, and he even contemplated suicide. One day, whilst sat in the university library, contemplating suicide, he heard a voice say ‘I’m Jesus and I’m here to help you’. This led him on a path to discussing his faith with those who he had always argued with, as he was formerly a confirmed atheist.
Saint Paul had the same kind of experience. When on the road to Damascus he heard the voice of God saying ‘why do you persecute me?’ This vision of God led to Paul being one of the most unlikely Christian prophets, as previously Paul was one of the biggest persecutors of Christians. This shows that God can change us, as anyone can be brought into God.
I guess what I’m saying is that to a certain extent, why doesn’t matter. What matters is how you believe. How, or why, do you believe in God?
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