This topic is a great one and offers many opportunities for skeptics and devotees alike to endorse, dismiss, discuss and/or debate. After all, what better dinner conversation, or story idea for a movie, than to discuss the existence of God. I had the opportunity to do just that with a group of seventh graders at our own parish when one of the students asked, “Do I have to believe in God in order to receive the Eucharist?” The real presence of Christ as God within the Eucharist is a reality and we are all asked to believe in this Divine mystery. Believing is a matter of faith, and the degree in which we pray and to the degree in which it is granted, will determine how easy or hard this belief is. Our hope is that this young person (at the age of reason or seven years old) is able to understand and believe that it is truly Christ who is present within the Eucharist and that we are being transformed with Him. Both the real presence of Christ within the Eucharist and the proofs for the existence of God are inextricably tied to each other. The Church is initiating a Eucharistic Revival from now until 2025. You can read about it here: https://www.eucharisticrevival.org
For this young person, who is now in seventh grade, I used our great theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, to respond to them. His answer from the Summa, Prima Pars, question 2 seemed like a good place to both challenge and initiate fruitful conversation. If you are like me, I trust St. Thomas. I know that his mind, his logic, and his knowledge are far beyond my own. I know enough about him and his works to say “Wow” this guy is a genius. You may say, “what are you thinking, the Summa with seventh graders?” Well, the Summa can be difficult to comprehend, but these seventh graders were up for the task and genuinely sought and arrived at St. Thomas’s conclusions. St. Thomas provides five ways or proofs for the God’s existence. It’s worth reading: https://www.newadvent.org/summa/1002.htm#article3
The truth of any belief is: you must be inclined or open to believing what is being proposed, in this case does God exist?, in order for you to hold a portion or all of that belief. You’ve heard the saying, “people will see what they want to see, and believe what they want to believe,” and to a degree this is certainly true. God Himself plays a part in this to the extent we allow Him through His own revelation. Sometimes, no matter how much we persuade, argue, exhort, cajole, desire, pray for conversion etc. people will continue to believe what they want to believe. The Church understands this independence as free will, the same free will God gave to us in the beginning of Genesis.
For us who believe in God, we believe that it is God who initiated our belief in the first place. He is the Creator, the One who formed the very consciousness, the very place where our beliefs are held. It is He who is “a priori” and has communicated to us, or evidenced to us, that He is here (present through the, Sacraments, the Church, its people, and the Holy Spirit), or there (when we talk about Heaven or the Kingdom of God), or nowhere (since God the Father exists outside space and time). This existing outside space and time is the dilemma. The usual empirical proofs that we use in science don’t work the same way with our faith. We say that God is Love and the so the proofs then are really like love. Love exists, but it cannot be measured or observed like we do physical objects in the world. We know it is real, it is essential, but you can’t place your finger on it.
For some people, talking about God is like talking about something or someone with whom or for which they have never encountered or heard of. For others, they have heard about God, or a god, but believe they have little to no faith experience with this God. Sometimes, through life experiences, they have been greatly disappointed by failure or loss. Sometimes, they have not been provided with a trustworthy witness or the empirical evidence they seek to provide the surety necessary to formulate or solidify their belief. For many non-believers nowadays, the importance of believing in God is as important as believing in Gracilaria Skottsbergii, a very rare ocean plant. This belief simply does not affect their life, so they live their lives with no or very little thought about it at all.
We also live in a world where people are encouraged to believe whatever they want and we can experience so many things which were once unimaginable. We have Google, Wikipedia, other friends, institutions and a billion other sources to provide diverse and alternate proofs for our own and other beliefs. We can simply manufacture beliefs. It truly is a gift and it is also remarkable that we live at a time when everything is available in a millisecond at the touch of a screen. This unfortunately and often leads to a false sense self-worth and a dependence on instant gratification. Things become fluid, even things which should remain the same, that we need to create healthy stability. People are now fluid. It will ultimately come down to “what is my experience, how much do I trust the source, what is the level of my interest and its importance, and who or what are my influencers?”
The Catholic Church has many, many, great sources of information that can help us understand and believe in the existence of God. Many Catholics continue to discern these precepts and points of view in order to grow in their faith. The key to finding God is to find both interesting and dynamic sources such as theology and philosophy that will vivify and enlighten our everyday experiences. The Church highly values discernment and the formation of one’s conscience. Read, explore, investigate, learn and research to know the Truth. Know thyself with the help of time-honored traditions and trustworthy people. The hope is that the Truth, which the Church holds, which Christ revealed, will be the truth that we arrive at.