How do we know God is real?
Well, two things are certain—/ the sun will rise and the sun will set. / Most everything else is up for grabs. —Charles Wright, “Crystal Declension”
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we know that what we know is true. Ever since Katherine's death, I no longer see things the way I used to see them. I no longer feel things the way I used to feel them. I didn't expect this upheaval to affect my understanding of God. But it has.
How do I know that what I know is true?
And I think I’ve found some semblance of an answer: I don’t.
I don’t know.
I have/had a faith that I believed was true but even then, I didn’t know that it was true.
People will tell you that they know their beliefs are true. But what they’re really saying is that they believe their beliefs are true.
They know what they believe and they believe what they know. But they can’t know whether those beliefs are universally true because it’s not provable either way. They have faith that those beliefs are true but that’s still different from actually knowing.
In their book, How God Changes Your Brain, neuroscientists Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman write that: “As far as we can tell, the human brain does not even worry if the things it sees are actually real. Instead, it only needs to know if it is useful for survival.” (page 6)
Turning this toward a belief in God, we believe God to be true because we exercise that belief. Whether or not God is real is not provable, anecdotal experience notwithstanding.
These scientists have also discovered that the more you meditate upon God and think about God, the more real God becomes to you.
New neural pathways are built and reinforced every time you exercise your brain to think about God and your beliefs about God. Which begs the question: is God just a manufactured product of our brains?
I was worried that I’ve believed in a serotonin induced God and not the real God—if there is such a thing/person. But over the last week or so I’ve come to think that it doesn’t matter whether my concept of God is true or not. It’s real enough and true enough that it’s changed my life for the better. I've had spiritual experiences where I felt God's presence and experienced it as unconditional love, a complete and total peace, a deep assurance that everything was going to be OK. Surely that was real? Even if my brain conjured it up as a means of survival—even then I trust it and believe it. I believe my experiences.
But still, I don’t know if God is real-real. God is real for me. But IS God real? I don't know.
I'm beginning to think that if there is a God, He/She is bigger than the Bible. The Bible cannot contain God, neither can any religion. God is bigger than big. God is bigger than my brain is capable of understanding.
I still believe there is some form of Ultimate Truth; but I don't think I can know it. I can see fragments of it. I can see glimpses of it. But I don’t know the whole picture.
According to neuroscientists, if I want to believe in God (which I do), then I need to keep going to church. I need to keep being around people who believe. I need to keep practicing prayer and Scripture reading and journaling. The more I do this, the more I believe.
So, today I went to Mass. We always go to Mass on Sundays. But today I went with the hope that I'd feel something again, that in the bread and wine, liturgy and prayers, in the repetition of ancient Tradition, I'd find my way back to belief.
And I found it. Just a glimpse. Just through the glass darkly. But God was there. And God was within me. And God was all around me.
It was just a glimpse. But it was enough. Lord, help my unbelief. Jesus, help me TO believe.