This series of posts on the existence of God is something of an extended thought experiment on my part. Several years ago, while walking along a one-lane country road under a thousand stars, I took up a mental exercise. My goal was to come up with a good answer to the riddle, “If God is all-powerful, can He create a rock so big that He can’t lift it?” without consulting any other thinkers.
I had an intuition that the question just didn’t make sense, that there was either confusion or misdirection involved. But I couldn’t readily see how it was confused; I wasn’t prepared to articulate a response.
As I turned the question over a few times, I reflexively looked up (this is how I remember the stars, and a hint of a cloud in the hazy gray on dark blue). Now, obviously God is not “up there” – but I knew that. Looking up is more of a posture – like kneeling – for the sake of the human being, rather than an attempt to locate God. Looking up demonstrates with the body what is happening with the soul.
But that was the spark – “God is not up there,” I thought, “as though He had a body.”
Now that is interesting. If God does not have a body, how would He go about building and lifting rocks?
So there was this gap between the spiritual and the physical, and I did not know the way across. I pondered that for a while.
Then I thought of an author and her story. I don’t know whether there was any step between my question and the answer, or if there was, whether it would make any sense to apply language to it. There is a common understanding that the mind works without “showing its work” – indeed, showing one’s work can be very tedious. Or, most people are familiar with the phenomenon of working through a thought process so fast, it almost seems instantaneous. Of course it’s not, but it is much faster than trying to lay it out one step at a time in clear language.
Anyway, once that thought struck me, the riddle fell apart. Of course an author can move things in her story without having a body within the story. She can really do anything in her story, she really is, indeed, all-powerful. (My larger response to the riddle is in the linked post).
I looked up again, and the sky was new. Rather, not completely new (this was not a vision), but it somehow stirred.
No, God was not up there, and even if I could touch the sky, I would still not be touching God. Yet, He was immanent. It was His sky, and He was sustaining it in existence, even at that moment. That was the “nearness” to God that I felt.
It could be mistaken with a vision because some of the scales had fallen from my eyes – I saw something I hadn’t seen before. But for those who are more sensitive to God – the purer in heart, perhaps – this is just an ordinary way of seeing. God is always “in the sky.”
That glimpse, that narrow opening, has been a marvelous gift. We have seen how it can aid in understanding what God is like, and some of the current arguments for God’s existence. Of course, in my life, the intellect is bound up with the spirit, and again with the heart. Thinking about God’s omnipotence inspires awe, as well as a certain pride, as a child is proud of his strong father. Likewise, I don’t want to believe a falsehood, no more than your everyday skeptic, and so the logical validity of arguments for God’s existence give a kind of assurance which – contra the usual charge – does not stand on its own, but is simply supplemental. I’d like to explain that further, and perhaps the next post is a good place for that.