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Does God exist?

I was frantically paging through the latest

issue of the magazine, looking for an article;
an article that would deal with the topic
announced on the front cover; but I could not
find it. A few days later, when I had a bit more
time, I searched for it more carefully, from the
front cover to the back cover, till I had reached
the conclusion: the one thing that certainly did
not exist, was this: the article.

"Does God Exist?" was the question printed in

bold letters on front of the magazine, and I
would have loved to read what someone -
maybe a theologian, maybe a fellow clergy
person, maybe one of the lay readers of
Southern Anglican - had to say about this. But
there was nothing about it at all in the publication in front of me. So I eventually
decided that instead of writing letters to the editor about missing articles, I could
rather do this: write the article myself. So, here we go.

Firstly, who would ask a question like this? Often I have been thinking, that this is not a
typically African question. I have hardly ever heard it posed, ever since I came to this
continent in 2001. In fact, I wonder if anyone can seriously ask this question, while
standing on African soil, breathing African air? On the other hand, I am very familiar
with it from my home country (Germany), although I have to admit that there, on the
other hand, it is often posed as a rethorical and even cynical question.

Let me try to illustrate this observation with a little example. For over a year now, our
diocese is using a course material called "Rooted in Jesus" (RinJ), developed in Africa
and for African audiences. While the choice of topics and much of the content remind me
a lot the alpha course, which we had used over many years, something is distinctly
different about the oveall approach of RinJ. Take, for example, the central topic of the
opening chapter, proclaiming that "God loves you". Give that to any European,
secularized and post-whatever audience and you will most definitely and immidiately
hear the following response and challenge: "before you tell us about God's love, could
you please first prove his (or her?) exitence!?" To the European mind, it seems, the
question wheter or not God loves us remains a non-question, until the issue of existence
is settled. It does not make sense to speak or even think about God's love until we have
clear proof of God's existence.

Strangely (for me as European) - or maybe naturally? - this order seems to be reversed in

African thinking. "How do we as humans relate to God and God to us?" (e.g. "does God
love us?") clearly has epistomological priority. And what relevance would even the
question of the existence or non-existence of some God (or god?) have at all, if that first
question had to receive a negative answer? Put simply: "If God does not love me (or if
there was no way for me to know that God loves me), why would I even care about God's
existence or non-existence?"

Secondly, who would we want to turn to with this question? To the theologians and
philosophers? The academics? To the pastors, priests and evangelists, the practitioners?
To the children and their mothers living in informal settlements, who maybe know best?
Or even to a scientist like Prof Dawkins?

And what kind of answer do we expect? A highly polished theory, abstract and full of
onthological arguments? Or something based in the experience of the church and of life
itself? Or maybe a mix of these? Are we asking the question as Christian believers - or as
those coming from outside the realm of faith? Are we looking for apologetic ammunition
and cannon fodder or are we driven by an existential need?

Some may have been shocked to see the question printed in such big letters. Is it even
permissible to ask it? Would that, in itself, not be a form of doubt (if we are willing to
deal with all possible answers)? On the other hand, would it not be a farce (if we are only
willing to consider one particular type of answer seriously)? It is the great teacher of the
Church, Anselm, who encourages us to ask, to investigate - not in spite of, but because of
faith. Faith seeking understanding is what he commends, and there is no seeking without
asking questions. Any questions. This question, for example.

Thirdly, let's skip, by and large, the history of the question, but not without at least
mentioning that it is one of the issues which has kept Christian theologians occupied for
centuries. Piling proof upon proof the whole system appeared to get more and more
watertight throughout the Middle Ages - until the big "R"s came (Rennaissance,
Reformation, Rationalism) and Scholastica took early retirement. In the modern period it
comes up again, of course, but in a much more existential sense: Can we still talk about
God and whether "he is there" or not - after the horrors of Auschwitz? But that would be
a topic on its own.

Fourthly, we could eventually start approaching the question itself by asking: what do we
mean by "exist"? What do we mean by "God"? And so on. Enough stuff to fill huge
volumes with definitions and critical observations; but issues which we cannot entirely
avoid, if we are serious about posing (and to some degree answering) our question. So,
let's give it a try.
"Does God exist" in the sense that a chair or a table exists? The chair I sit upon I can
litterally touch, feel, move around, see or destroy. But all these things I cannot do with
God (unless my god is some statue of wood and fabric - in which case I might be a Hindu
believer, but probably not a Christian). While this may seem trivial, it means that nothing
in the material world corresponds directly or indirectly to God (not even the most holy
objects like the tabernacle or the temple in Hebrew religion!) If we can speak of God in a
Christian way it only makes sense, if this God is not part of this material world; it only
works if this God transcends all that which we perceive as "reality".

But then, "does God exist" in the sense in which me and you exist? I experience myself
as "existing" - with or without desCartes. I experience others as existing: sisters and
brothers, friends and enemies, fellow humans and even pets and trees. In its reflection of
how God is experienced, the bible has often not hesitated to connect to experiences form
the sphere of the living (bio-shere), and there in particular from the sphere of human
existence. But the same bible has also often warned, not to confuse he two: my ways are
not your ways, my thoughts are so much higher than your thoughts. Yes, the bible does
indeed speak about God's love, pacience and justice: human qualities. It portraits God as
father and mother, full of care and compassion - and anger at times! But in all that (in
technical terms called anthropomorphization) it never forgets that God is the "totally
other", as a famous theologian has put it.

Finally "is" God? Sometimes refered to as "Higher Being", even non-believers, deists and
a lot of other people may make concessions to a god who simply "is", and thus "exists":
as a philosopical necessity or abstract interpolation – as a very static God, so to speak.

In contrast to that, however, Christian faith and theology have always tried to
counterbalance a God that simply "is" by a God that "does": a God of history, a God of
covenant; more of a "Higher Becoming" than a "Higher Being" if you want. Only that
comes close enough to the dynamism found in our Judeo-Christian experience of God.

So, have I answered the question? No. Did I intend to? No. Have I shed some light? Well,
hopefully. To me the answer lies not in theological or philosopical argument; not in
scientific stringency and even less in biblical proof-texting. The most convincing route
towards an answer for me is one of prayer. Sometimes, for my morning prayer, I use
these words (from the Morning Prayer of the Northumbrian Community):
One thing I have asked of the Lord,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life;
to behold the beauty of the Lord
and to seek Him in His temple.

Call: Who is it that you seek?

Response: We seek the Lord our God.
Call: Do you seek Him with all your heart?
Response: Amen. Lord, have mercy.
Call: Do you seek Him with all your soul?
Response: Amen. Lord, have mercy.
Call: Do you seek Him with all your mind?
Response: Amen. Lord, have mercy.
Call: Do you seek Him with all your strength?
Response: Amen. Christ, have mercy.

To whom shall we go?

You have the words of eternal life,
and we have believed and have come to know
that You are the Holy One of God.

Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ,

King of endless glory.


If this was not the case, what sense would a question like "does God exist" make? It
would be uttely irrelevant. Only for us who are willing to "seek the Lord our God" with
all our heart soul, mind and strenght it is a question of importance. But then, for us, isn't
it already answered?

In closing, I would like to acknowledge a talk on the very topic, which I heard a few
years ago and from which I have borrowed some ideas. So, if you want more, go and get
the real thing in "The Blufers Guide to Theology" (podcast series by Simon Taylor and
Paul Roberts on Excellent stuff, but... WARNING: a good sense of
(British) humor is prerequisite for that one! Links can aso be found on my website).


Author: Dr Lutz Ackermann, Community Priest at Christ Church, Polokwane.