How do I know God is real? This is a question that many people (even Christians) struggle with at various points in their life, especially at a young age. This question especially was a subject of debate in my own mind periodically growing up. As a cradle catholic who has remained faithful to this moment in my life (obviously I was, and still am, a sinner), when it came to spiritual dry moments (usually because of my sins,) it was easy to ask the questions: Is this all real? Am I missing out? Am I just mistakenly following something that has been exaggerated or embellished? It was never a pressing question, but would appear every so often in my prayer during teenage years, even into my first couple years of teaching religion.
Sitting with unanswered questions is a great fear of many Christians. I have heard and witnessed multiple times a young man or woman question their faith, and their teacher/pastor/parent cannot provide a satisfying answer so the statement ‘You just have to have faith’ enters the conversation. While this is partially correct, this is often a mistake because young people are looking for substantial proof, and will walk away not only questioning their faith even more, but also believe that the instructor doesn’t know what they are talking about either. While the instructor ardently wants to give a sufficiently convincing answer (whether out of love for their student/child or pride of being correct in the disagreement), pulling out the faith card is often a mistake.
The answer to “How do I know that God is real” can be answered in a multitude of ways separated into two categories: the theological and the experiential. The Church has had great theological proofs over the years from some of the greatest minds in our faith’s history. The most famous of which is “St. Thomas Aquinas’s 5 Proofs of God’s Existence”. The Church has also had great witnesses of faith through conversions, miraculous healings, and martyrdoms. All of these are responses to the experience of God’s love. Yet, since each individual is different, God manifests His love for them in various ways.
The pitfall of the Catholic School teacher/parent/pastor is the desire to convince someone of God’s existence through theological argumentation, rather than sharing their own experience and beliefs. I found this out very quickly as a teacher, because sometimes I even found my own words unconvincing. As time has gone on, I have identified the ways in which God has spoken to me. When asked if God is real, I reply with these three thoughts.
This proof is both theological and experiential for me. Most people do not know how to read the Bible. I was one of them. I knew a lot of Bible stories, but I did not know exactly how they fit. Once I realized how the whole Bible flowed to tell the story of salvation history, and the typology and foreshadowing it contained despite being written by multiple authors over hundreds of years, I have been convinced of God’s intelligent design and authorship. In addition, I did not let the Words of Christ in the Gospels convince and convict me of a call to deeper repentance until I took reading the bible daily seriously. Once I committed to reading the Word of God daily, and acting on those Words, God became much more visible in my life.
2. The example of holy men and women
The Church has a rich history of men and women who have lived sacrificial, self-giving lives that have resulted in sainthood. Even if you do not believe in sainthood/heaven, nearly everyone can agree on the holiness of men and women like Mother Teresa. To say that many good men and women were mistaken or misled in what they believed when the fruit of their work bore love, mercy, and peace seems unconvincing to me.
3. Personal experiences in prayer
Anyone who has committed themselves to true humble prayer will feel God’s presence at some point because God is always ready to reveal Himself. The consolations God has periodically given me in prayer are sources of comfort when my prayer life has entered a desert. I even see distractions/temptations in prayer as proof that God exists. I can go for multiple minutes if not hours focused on entertainment consumption or even work. However, sitting down and praying may be the hardest amount of self control I have ever had to exhibit. The fact that something is working so hard to keep me from praying leads me to believe that the person I am seeking (God) is real.
While these are some of my favorite ways God has revealed himself to me, the proof of God’s existence will vary from person to person. God is not limited in the way that He will show love to His children. We can experience Him in the same way or very differently, yet it is still the same love. We must remember that just because we experience God’s love in a certain way does not mean that this will be convincing to someone else. The only thing we can convince others of is that we ACTUALLY believe that God is real. Our words/theological proofs mean nothing if we do not exemplify this in our own lives.