Does God exist? Does it matter anyway? This is a question philosophers, theologians and ordinary people have been grappling with for centuries. For some, the notion of ‘God’ feels abstract, archaic or loaded with cultural or political baggage. For others, it simply feels irrelevant, something that only seems to have meaning or significance for those of a religious disposition.
Existentialists take the question seriously, after all, they’re concerned with answering questions such as, who am I, why am I here, what is the purpose of life? Many are atheist and draw bleak conclusions. We’re here purely by chance, a cosmic accident. One day our solar system will die, we will die with it and there will be nobody to remember or care that we even existed.
I believe this is an honest appraisal of life without God. It leads to some startling conclusions. If there is no God, there is no absolute truth, no absolute right or wrong, no absolute meaning to anything. The only meaning is that which we make for ourselves. We create values and worthy causes or bury ourselves in everyday activity to avoid facing the inevitable angst.
I find it difficult to get away from this conclusion, if I hold the view that God doesn’t exist. I can of course do things that feel meaningful, I can do things that others find meaningful too, e.g. I can use my talents to contribute to the wider family, society or world. These things feel culturally important, intuitively right, personally fulfilling, the best way to build a happy world.
The underlying problem persists however, as if nagging in the background of our consciousness. It surfaces occasionally, e.g. with the birth of a new baby, mid-life crisis, the death of a close one, poverty or war. What does all this mean? Why are things as they are? Is there anything more to life than this? I too will face death - what would make my short life worthwhile?
Existentialists pose a stark challenge. Life is meaningless. Our efforts to avoid this reality are defensive, delusional and futile. There is no ultimate point to anything. We can face this reality or deny it. Either way, the facts remain the same. Nevertheless, we can still make choices. We can choose to be, do and become our best, to fulfil our human potential.
This all presupposes, of course, that God does not exist. If God does exist, a very different picture emerges, depending of course on our concept of ‘God’. I experience God first and foremost as an intuitive phenomenon, a deep sense of knowing, an awareness of an inner presence that transcends my own self. My Christian beliefs help me make sense of this existential experience.
If God exists, if the God of Christian theology is the God who is, I exist because he exists. He created me which gives me a profound sense of identity: I am first and foremost a child of God. He created me with an eternal purpose in mind: my life is first and foremost an opportunity to fulfil his designs, plans and intentions in, for and through me.
This paradigm, this way of living in the world, presents fresh challenges. How to exercise faith in an invisible yet somehow discernable God, how to live an authentic life based on his call whist distracted by my own preoccupations, how to live with suffering and injustice with a new vision of what could be, how to work with others to achieve meaningful transformation.
Nevertheless, this belief presents a radical alternative to the atheist existentialist view. It fills bleak darkness with blazing light, hopeless meaninglessness with hope-filled meaning in everything. It isn’t wishful thinking, an attempt to avoid existential nihilism. It’s a profound revelation of truth and reality, a relationship that calls me beyond myself into amazing possibility.
Nick is a freelance coach, trainer and OD consultant specialising in reflective practice.