But what if you don’t? No, I mean seriously. What if you don’t believe at all? If God is limitless love, and you don’t feel loved or loving, if you look into people’s faces and see nothing but chores and challenges, people to fight against and ‘shooting at someone who outdrew you’ how are you supposed to believe? Believe in what? What kind of God is this, really?
And I have had times in my life like that. Times when God and love seemed really far away and I felt like the protagonist in Leonard Cohen’s Halleluiah. Times when belief was impossible. I didn’t know why I should bother at times like those. Why was I getting up in the morning? What was the point of it all and who was I doing the work for?
I love believing in God. My belief adds a lot to my life – it adds colour and depth, dimensions that didn’t exist prior, security, strength. Without it, I still do the next thing, but I have to (as my son says these days) come up with three good reasons why. If it’s not for God, and it’s not for the people I am having a hard time with, why am I bothering?
Sometimes, I do it anyway. I pray with gritted teeth. I love people who don’t want my love (and trust me, seventh graders are clear about the fact that they don’t want my love,) I do my chores and I work hard. I don’t need a reason to do the next thing – why I do it isn’t always clear. Sheer inertia, in part – not doing the next right thing is sometimes complicated and it’s easier to believe (or at least pretend) that one is simply too lazy to stop… Sometimes, I do the belief thing because there’s a memory of when it worked, or a hope that this time it will be different. Sometimes, it’s pure stubbornness. So what if God doesn’t exist? I’ve decided to believe in God, and I’m going to keep believing in God no matter how non-existent God is. So there. (What? You don’t think that’s rational? Me neither. However, I’ve tried rational, and give how crazy life is, rational is highly overrated.)
Sometimes, I remember the reason for my belief – a hug, a warm look, a beautiful summer day, a laugh, and all of a sudden the existence of a God of love seems obvious. My life is full of wonderful people and wonderful situations, great adventure and excitement, opportunities to do the tasks I consider important. I get to bring joy, to teach and to love. I get to help and to enjoy. I get to aim for what is most true within me. I am infinitely lucky, and it’s not hard to believe in God, given how lucky I am.
It’s useful, though, to know that I can believe at those other times. When someone close to me becomes more distant (for whatever reason), when I am troubled, physically or emotionally, when the things I want to do don’t work out, I know that I can do the belief things until the belief itself returns, and in the meantime, be sustained by having those ritual tasks and milestones that add meaning and stability to my life. One day, my belief will return. Either way, as per the song, I’ll stand before God (whether God exists or not) with nothing on my lips but ‘Halleluiah’.