Q: I was raised as a Catholic and went to Catholic school for many years.
I've always believed what's in the Bible because it is the word of the Lord. But how do I know Jesus was really the Messiah? Many people have said they were the Messiah over the centuries, and they've all turned out to be quacks.
Also, I'm very sad about all the pain and suffering in this world. I just can't believe that if there is a God, he would allow this.
How do I spend my days on this earth and just accept what's going on? And how do I know if there really is an afterlife? I want to believe there is a God, but I just can't anymore. — B., Oceanside, NY, via firstname.lastname@example.org)
A: I'm grateful for your crisis-of-faith question because it appears regularly, in slightly different forms, in my weekly in-box of messages from readers. This time around, I want to try a different tack in answering the "Come on, prove to me that God exists — I dare you!" query.
I have no desire to prove to anybody, including you, dear B., that God exists. I also have no interest in defending the idea that God ought to do everything good and stop everything bad in the world, a concept no religion on earth has ever taught.
I have no inclination to defend quacks who claim to be religious, any more than I would defend thieves who claim to be public servants. Yes, I could do all of these things, but I won't. Today, at least, I have no desire to sell God to unwilling customers.
God is not a used car, and clergy or other religious folk ought not, I think, willingly cast themselves as God's salespeople. Today, I'm in more of a "Take it or leave it. It's your choice" kind of mood.
Instead of me trying to sell you on God, let me just humbly ask you to look around. Look at the religious people you see in your community, across our country and around the world. Even when you include the terrorists who've distorted Islam for their own vicious purposes, I think you'll observe something that reflects quite well on both God and the people who believe in and serve God.
What I observe (and I freely admit my pro-faith prejudice here) is that religious people are doing a lot of good all over the world. I know and support many soup kitchens, shelters for battered women and summer camps for the poor, and virtually all of them are run by religious institutions or religious people.
I recently listened to Raj Shah, the administrator of the USAID, America's foreign aid agency. He spoke with awe about the work that Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church, based in Lake Forest, and other congregations are doing in Africa.
He said, "Some of the good they are doing, our government has not yet learned how to do."
I'm sure there must be atheist soup kitchens, and I know that many non-governmental organizations like Doctors Without Borders are not religiously backed in the great work of healing they do, but on balance, I believe that religious folks reflect quite well on God. I ask you to consider what their faith has done for their good works.
If the fruits of faith are so obvious to anyone who surveys the doers of good deeds in our world, what does this really say about the effects of God on grateful and willing souls? I don't mean to be blunt about it, but if the cynics and atheists you know are doing more good work in the world than the religious people you know, then perhaps you should become — or remain — an atheist. But that's just not how the world looks to me.
And as for Jesus being the Messiah, I may be the wrong guy to ask. However, I urge you to reread the end of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:15-20), which is uplifting for all people and says with an eloquence I could never equal what I've been trying to teach you today:
"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears evil fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. ... Therefore, by their fruits you will know them." (NKJV)
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