When I was in missionary college, in England, we had an interesting experience. During a class on postmodern society, we were visited by an actual atheist, who happened to be the father of one of the students. How exciting!
Where there are normally about 20 students in class, that time it was packed, also with students from other years who were not even following the normal lectures, just for a chance to talk to such a peculiar version of the human species. Our teacher found this quite funny, because as he rightly pointed out, one could speak to scores of atheists by just walking down from college grounds to the nearest pub and just open your mouth there.
Anyway, during the class this atheist asked who knew for sure that God exist. To my shame now, I raised my hand. Why did I do that? And why was it so strange to talk to an atheist?
The Great I Am
“[God] has also set eternity in the human heart” Ecclesiastes 3:11
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20
“The fool says in his heart: there is no God.” Psalm 53:1
It is a very Biblical concept that God exists (duh!). To even question the existence of God is plain foolishness and self-deceit in the mind of the Biblical worldview. For me God was therefore the ‘ground of all being’, this whole universe doesn’t make any sense without God. If you follow the reasoning of Romans 1:20 for example (see above), then everything that we can see is direct evidence of God himself. Without God, there would be nothing.
For me it was therefore unthinkable that God did not exist. To say that the great “I am” does not exist, is like saying “I do not exist”, which is defying all logic and experience (although later I learned that eastern philosophies are actually quite good at even questioning those things). To my defense, I was of course not 100% sure that this ‘ground of all being’ was exactly the Biblical God, but I did not really want to imagine things otherwise anyway.
Wired for God
So from a Christian perspective, and as the verses above clearly demonstrate, people are ‘wired for God’. Everybody should have some level of awareness of God, unless you are truly a fool. It is even brought to a level where everybody can and will be judged for their deeds based upon this implicit knowledge of God (see Romans 1). This is one big blow against any form of agnosticism and atheism.
And historically we see a lot of religion taking place, certainly in the times of first century Roman Empire. But were people always really wired for ‘God’? Is there a “God shaped hole” in our hearts or was there something else going on? Is it true that we can never find peace for our souls, until we find it in you, o LORD?
The God Shaped Hole – Religious Perspective
Rather than people having a God shaped hole, they have a religion shaped hole it seems. Just look throughout human history… I have read there are about 4000 religions (not counting denominations!). Far from all of these religions have a creator God like the YHWH of the Bible, which Romans 1:20 is referring to. Actually, the missionaries in Thailand have a very hard time convincing the Buddhists there is a creator God at all. To say that these Buddhists ought to know that God exists is therefore quite problematic; even though your everyday Thai tends to be very superstitious, belief in very implausible myths and doesn’t have any problem with conflicting ‘theology’. Yet God is a step too far for them.
Rather, when looking at things from a secular and a slightly evolutionary perspective, the rise of religions actually makes a lot of sense. Religion can be seen as a way to answer four basic human dilemmas:
- Death. People are mortal, yet we are wired to survive. And simply because we have evolved to such a level where we can imagine life after death, we wish to live beyond that horrid boundary of death which comes way too early for our intellectual preferences. So any religion that provides an afterlife, or reincarnation, is desirable to overcome this dilemma of human death. Interestingly with cryogen technology, or uploading your mind to the web, people are trying to overcome this boundary now through secular means, which is then again believed in in an almost religious sense.
- Responsibility. We humans do not always live up to our own standards as we would like to. The human psyche is complex, and we can be moody, arrogant, violent, etcetera. It is therefore easier to have religion that can externalize these ‘sinful’ natures, instead of having to master them yourself and taking full responsibility.
- Isolation. Human beings are also very social; we are wired for deep emotional connections. No matter how introvert you are, you need human beings to thrive and survive. Religion is often an answer to this need for connection, not only within the religious community, but also as a (BFF) relationship with God himself. With God you are never alone!
- Meaning. As humans we want to be part of something bigger, work towards something that will last, that which gives our lives meaning. It is very attractive therefore to believe in something eternal (like in Ecclesiastes) since it means that your contributions will not fade away over time but are forever meaningful. We want to belong, and be part of a cosmic drama that will change the fate of the future. That does not make it true, but it does give more excitement. Religion often gives just that experience. Imagine being part of an army of God battling over the eternal fate of souls, aided by the Almighty himself, what meaning that can give to your life!
The list could probably go on and on, this is a whole field of study in and of itself. But I hope it is clear that the God shaped hole in our hearts is more a hole for basic human dilemma’s that we need to find an answer to; and the wild variety of religions prove that point precisely.
After I lost my faith, I first thought I had this God shaped hole in my heart now, and nothing could make me happy instead of finding God again. This turned out to be wrong. I need to deal with my basic human dilemma’s, and they can perfectly fill the void as well. I truly don’t feel such an ache anymore as I felt in the beginning as an ‘atheist’.
The God Shaped Hole – Philosophically
However, what about the assertion of Romans 1:20 that we can see God through His works? This was certainly a big part of my reasoning for Gods existence. How can there be something out of nothing?
Truth be told, that is a big mystery. I don’t know. I don’t consider it a weakness to not know, I just don’t know. I would rather marvel at the universe. When we look at quantum physics for example, all our intuitions turn out to be wrong. Particles are at different locations at the same time. Galaxies move away faster than the speed of light. When we look at the moment of the Big Bang and try to rewind the clock to a fraction of a fraction of a second after the Big Bang, we end up in a universe without gravity or nuclear forces. Space and time stop to make any sense. It is just beyond our intuition and imagination. How DARE I say anything about what is beyond that realm?
I find it actually quite arrogant to claim anything about what is beyond this universe, if it is not through a direct revelation from the supernatural itself. Who are we to say that we understand the invisible at all? It is only in the worldview of a recently created earth, with human beings at the masterpiece of God’s creation, where God has created humans in the image of Himself, that it makes any sense that humans would intuitively know something about God.
In a world that is billions of years old, where humans are here by chance and yet have the privilege of being alive and experiencing the universe… why would our intuitions be right about the supernatural? There is absolutely no guarantee that our brains evolved to a state where we can readily understand the supernatural, while we did evolve to a state to imagine things beyond the corner, beyond what we can see, so we could survive much better. In other words, we developed a rich imagination that allows us to connect the dots much better than any other species on earth… but it just might have some very serious side effects, like 4000 different religions.