“At the end of the day, does it matter if we believe or not? Does it matter what we believe?”
The other day, one of my students spoke these words with great sincerity. We were in the midst of discussing arguments for God’s existence and he delved directly to the heart of the matter: does what we believe matter?
I knew this question was going to divert us from the lesson plan I had for the day. We were supposed to go through a few of the arguments, discuss them, and then share what we thought about those particular arguments. But I find it difficult to pass up opportunities to discuss aspects of the faith they are genuinely interested in discussing.
So I took the bait.
I posed a question to them: Does truth matter?
They thought for a moment and then began to offer their responses.
“Yes, truth matters.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“It is simply a matter of opinion.”
This is the heart of many debates in religion, politics, science, and simply life in general: what is true? And, perhaps a question posed more in today’s world than in previous centuries, does truth matter?
I talked to my students about how some truths are opinion based. It is true that I think blue is the best color. People have differing opinions on this matter and I don’t worry about people who prefer red or yellow or green. These are truths that vary based on the person.
Yet there are truths that are objective. These remain true regardless of my personal opinion, knowledge, or awareness of that truth. Gravity did not become true when it was discovered or defined. It is because it is true that it was able to be discovered and defined.
Naturally, I would argue the same thing about God. Either God exists or He does not. He doesn’t exist for some and then not exist for others. He either is or is not and my opinion doesn’t change this reality.
“But couldn’t we all be wrong?” one student asks.
“Sure,” I tell them, “that is why we rely on faith in addition to reason. We choose to believe even though we may be wrong.”
“Wow.” At least one student seemed surprised by my admission that we could be wrong.
“What we need to do is to honestly pursue the truth. I believe that if we honestly do that, we will find it. Of course, you know what I think is true. I think God is real and He exists. But knowing and seeking the truth is important. Because if God is not real, I want to know now.“
As a teacher, some of the most treasured moments are when the students seem to be leaning into the conversation. When they want to hear what you have to say, even if they don’t agree with it all. I don’t claim to always speak the truth beautifully, but I think the truth has a natural beauty to it. You cannot manufacture genuine curiosity and a sincere interest in the conversation. Those moments happen purely by the grace of God. Yet when they happen, I treasure them as moments that vindicate the other aspects that seem mundane or tiresome.
“If God is not real, what are we doing here? If God isn’t real, I want to stop wasting my time. I want to stop wasting my time praying and going to church. I want to get a new job because spending all day talking to high school students about something that isn’t real, is a waste of time. If God isn’t real, then I have a meaningless degree and went ridiculously into debt for nothing. I want to do something that matters with my life. And so if God isn’t real, I want to know that so I can believe it. Knowing and believing the truth is important. It matters.”
Believing in God’s existence is not a matter of opinion. Rather, it is a matter of living in reality or refusing to live in reality. There is a truth and it should profoundly impact our lives.
“But if He is real, then we need to accept that truth and live it. It should change the way we live. Knowing and believing this truth is important.”
There were plenty of other questions and comments that wove their way into our conversation. We discussed atheists doing good things and some doing better things than some Catholics. They asked questions about hypothetical situations and if that person would go to Heaven or Hell. I told them I never get overly concerned about figuring out who is going to Hell because it isn’t my job. They had more concerns about how atheists could do good things and they should be in Heaven. I told them that Jesus said more than be nice or do good things. He told us to repent and believe in the Gospel, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. His words challenged people to the point that some wanted Him dead. Centuries later, those challenging words still apply to us.
The conversation didn’t come to this perfect conclusion with all of the questions neatly tied up with answers. But I left the conversation feeling profoundly satisfied. They demonstrated, without even being aware of it, that humans have a deep longing for the truth. A student who never asks questions was deeply engaged in the conversation, posing several questions to me. I am realistic enough to know that they didn’t all walk out of the classroom thinking that I was brilliant or that all of their questions had been perfectly answered. I simply hope that they left with something to think about and the realization that what we believe should have profound implications for the way we live.
What we believe to be true does matter. And if I have pursued and found the truth, I should have a natural desire to share that with others. Too often we shy away from proclaiming what we believe because we fear offending others with different views. But if God is real, we should want everyone to know this, to believe this, and to live this truth. Our lives should propose to the world the truth of God’s existence.
And this truth is so important that I am willing to bet my life on it.