Thanks for the questions, and your thoughtful reply. I think I failed to explain clearly enough, or you misunderstood, or a bit of both.
I am not saying that if you assume God’s existence, then He will exist for you, as if God’s existence is a purely psychological, internal experience. Nor am I saying, “believe because I say so, and then you will find I am right”. No one can be expected to make such serious decisions based upon say-so.
What I am insisting upon is that we define what we mean when we talk about “proving God’s existence” or “finding God”. If we were looking for a lost gemstone, or a rare species of macaw, or even for the existence of black holes, we would undertake a particular kind of search. That’s because the nature of what we are looking for is found through observation, through the use of instrumentation, and mathematics.
But were I to announce that I am trying to “verify the existence of my friends”, such tests would not do. I will quickly find that tests for their physical presence in certain places, their birthdates, or their daily movements would only provide circumstantial evidence for certain people being in certain places. Such scientific tests would tell me nothing about their relationship to me, their personalities, or our affection for one another. The only way to “verify the existence of my friends” would be to treat them as friends.
Let me anticipate your objection. What if my friends are imaginary? What if I construct a perfectly coherent inner world in which Mr. Rabbit and Mr. Horsey are my continual conversational partners? Is this not analogous to the religious believer talking to his invisible god? To answer this objection, I can only invoke your real-world experience. People who happily converse with non-existent invisible friends typically do poorly when dealing with visible, actual people around them. They have an inner reality, but it does not correspond much with outer reality. Ask yourself, is this the case with all the Christians you have met? Do their conversations with the God they say they know make them more or less useful and practical in the real world?
For this reason, the Christian is doing something very different to the insane man talking to himself. The Christian is actually making a logical deduction: If God the Creator of the cosmos exists, then he is not confined to one place. He is infinitely present. If God the Creator of persons exists, then he must be infinitely personal. If the infinitely personal and present God exists, I must speak to him as I would any other person, learn of him as I would any other person.
Now, it is true: few of us make these logical deductions. Instead, the five year-old closes her eyes and prays, as if it is the most normal thing in the world to do. It is worth pondering why prayer appears to be intuitive to small children.
That is what I mean when I say that we must treat God as a person if we wish to know if He exists. Knowing persons is not a matter of finding out their height, weight, and current body temperature. If God exists, knowing Him is not a matter of trying to locate Him, or find visual or audio evidence of Him (as if we would know what to look for, or know when it had been right in front of us). Such empirical evidence, which I would argue is actually in plentiful supply, is still easily dismissed or interpreted differently by the man refusing to grapple with the personal nature of God. It is a lot easier on the conscience to make God into an impersonal substance, and then say that He, or It, has never been observed.
On that note, there is an important question I must ask you. Assume, for the sake of argument, that the Christian God exists. The perfection of beauty, goodness, love, truth, and justice: the sum total of our highest aspirations and deepest longings. The question is this: If such a God existed, would you be willing to serve him? If such a God existed, would you be willing to worship him?
Think carefully on this one. If you answer yes, then the next question is, why don’t you? If you reply that you have not yet found him, then in principle, you should have no objection to my suggestion to begin treating him as a person, to find out if he exists. If you would enjoy serving God, then avidly knock on his door to see if someone is home.
If you answer no, then you have been very honest with yourself. You have admitted that even if God’s existence were proved to your total satisfaction, it would not move your will one bit. You would remain committed to independence and self-service, and would resist God’s demands that you know and worship Him. In other words, you have admitted that the question of God is not primarily an intellectual matter, but a moral one. Even if your intellect and mind resolved the question of God’s existence, your desires would remain implacably opposed to serving God, and intractably committed to serving self.
That should give you pause before you go on demanding more and more evidence for God’s existence. For why play a game with yourself, if you already know what you would do when God’s existence is proved beyond a shadow of a doubt? Why turn God’s existence into a detective mystery to be solved, when you know in advance that you would not submit to him once he is ‘found’? This only means your intellectual enquiry will be tainted with dishonesty – knowing in advance what answer you will not accept. It means you have a vote-rigger in the room of your mind, and you are not dealing with him.
This is why an honest pursuit of God must grapple with two concepts simultaneously: God’s existence and my consequent responsibilities to him. And you cannot choose between those concepts: the one implies the other, and neither can be sought in isolation from the other. We can look for evidences of God in the natural world, but we must simultaneously be speaking to him and asking for him to reveal himself, preparing ourselves to submit to him or be taught by him.
That returns me to my point. The only way to pursue both the reality of God’s existence and the implications of God’s existence is to seek God as a person. To seek God is to seek a person, one whom you will have to encounter, speak to, communicate with, and then possibly embrace life-long obligations. There can be no divorcing of his existence from his personality. You cannot stalk a girl and hope to know her as a companion. You cannot stalk God and hope to know him as he is.