According to Will Durant, “The greatest question of our time is not communism vs. individualism, not Europe vs. America, not even the East vs. the West; it is whether men can bear to live without God.” The importance of this question impacts us all because it is not simply an intellectual exercise, but a question of life. If God indeed exists, then it would change everything. The consequences would be major, and to ignore God, to avoid God, or to reject God could be costly. But can we really know that God is real?
As it is often framed, such a question means that we are asking for overwhelming evidence or evidence of a particular nature before we feel we can make a judgment. We may insist that if God were real God would reveal himself on our terms, whether through science, or the arts, or philosophy. Yet my response would be that we should defer judgment, hold back our prejudices and our desired terms, and follow the trail of intimations to where they may lead. Let me lay some foundations.
Since the beginning of time until the present, the overwhelming majority of people have believed that God exists. This is not a compelling argument, but it is nonetheless an occurrence that demands explanation. What’s more, many scientists and philosophers continue to see overwhelming evidence of design in the natural world. The complexity, order, and life-sustaining factors are too significant to be answered by chance. If you watched a movie and were clearly awed by it, but were then told that it just came together by chance, you would scoff at the suggestion! The beauty, the plot, the detail, and the coherence tell you plainly that an intelligent agent was involved. As the old song says, “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could.”
Our encounter with nature, life, and the sheer majesty of the universe invites reflection, and often generates a sense of awe. Albert Einstein said, “The mathematical precision of the universe reveals the mathematical mind of God.” The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “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 we are without excuse.” The information and data points to design; the order and creativity suggest a Creator. And the Scriptures describe a holy and personal being.
But can we know God? The Psalmist said, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Paul said to the Romans, “It is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” God is not an abstract idea, a philosophical concept, or a proposition. God is the Lord of life and the Lord of all and can be known to those who will humble themselves.
Believing is a starting point for a new, real, and active relationship with the living God. The God who is seen in creation, hinted at in conscience, revealed in Jesus, testified to by witnesses, and written about in Scripture, can be known practically in the life of the Holy Spirit, given to us by faith and repentance.
Can we know that God is real? I believe the answer is yes, but on God’s terms, not ours. And Lord willing, one day we shall see fully, even as we are fully known.
Stuart McAllister is vice president of training and special projects at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.