Photo by Amanda Slater, Flickr. C.C. Licensing.
Season two of “The Story of God with Morgan Freeman” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. Central) on the National Geographic Channel. Once again, I’m writing about it here each week from a Christian perspective as a preview. This post is about episode three, the season finale, “Proof of God.”
In the final episode of “The Story of God’s” second season, Morgan Freeman travels the world speaking to people who believe they’ve experienced proof — often tangible, sometimes powerful — of experiences with the divine. From tribes in Africa who believe their ancestors’ spirits can heal the sick to a Buddhist who believes his faith gives him incredible power over his body, the episode finds people claiming to have had experiences where they’ve brushed up against God.
As I’ve written before, I have difficulty with these stories of supernatural experiences. Maybe it’s the result of growing up in an age of modernity, where science appears to have explained so much. Or maybe it’s just that God hasn’t chosen to reveal himself to me through overt, unbelievable means. Certainly, I’ve spoken with Christians who claim to have experienced miraculous healing and even some who’ve experienced speaking in tongues, but it hasn’t happened to me. There was once a time where I mourned this lack of experience. As someone who is prone to doubt, I thought those things would answer my questions forever.
But I don’t do that anymore. I can’t demand that of God. Scripture itself testifies that even those who saw Jesus’ miracles didn’t always believe and follow him. And while I’m glad that those who believe they have seen supernatural evidence of God have those experiences, I also think it makes sense that God doesn’t choose to part the skies and show his face. Faith demands a little bit of uncertainty; it wouldn’t exist without the possibility of being wrong. And while I can’t put together a mathematical formula to prove God, nor has he appeared before me, I believe he has left some proof of his presence in this world. It just doesn’t appear where we’d expect.
The testimony of Earth
One of my favorite parts of this episode comes when Freeman visits a physicist who believes that science ultimately reveals the existence of God. If God made us, the man says, we can’t really expect to replicate him through an experiment. But the complexity of our world, the order of the universe and the consistency of mathematics show a design and care that he believes points to a creator.
I believe much the same thing. I think some Christians and some secularists have pit science and faith against each other for too long. As I wrote last season, I think science can explain the “how,” but it needs religion to explain a “why.” The more we explore the universe and the deeper we go down the rabbit hole of science, the more in awe we tend to be of how intricate this universe is. Some look at it all and see a collision of random processes and chemical interactions; life shouldn’t exist, they say, but it does and there’s not necessarily a meaning. But I see something different. The more I learn about the complexity of our world, the more I see proof of a creator who oversaw its design and who keeps it moving. I believe the miracle of this world testifies to the existence of God (Romans 1:20).
When covering last season of “The Story of God,” I was deeply moved when it came to addressing my belief that creation and evolution work hand in hand. Throughout the year, I continued to read up on this issue, and I came to the conclusion that while God created the world, I believe he used the processes we’ve called “evolution” to do so. When I began reading up on this, I was initially terrified. What if studying evolution caused me to lose my faith? But the opposite happened. As I read about Christian scientists and academics who were able to reconcile their faith with the science of evolution, I learned that their belief in God was actually strengthened. They saw God in all his complexity and were humbled that he gave us the knowledge to seek out how he did it and learn about the beauty of his creation. My faith was also strengthened and my view of God enlarged by taking the time to learn more about our universe, science and the wonders of nature.
But it’s not all intellectual. When I’m at my breaking point, and when I feel like I’m losing my anchor, God reminds me of his presence through the beauty of this world. The sun peeking through the trees on a spring day. My daughter and son devolving into laughter over some silly joke. Watching a deer walk across our backyard or staring out the window in awe of a thunderstorm. Being in love with my wife and realizing that there’s a depth and power to it that simple science can’t explain but that I’m so glad exists. To me, this is proof of God, and it’s all around.
What about the still, small voice?
Elsewhere in the episode, Freeman visits a Christian who was trapped in the Twin Towers on 9/11, who claims he felt God’s presence speaking to him in the middle of the terror, telling him it would be okay. He says God didn’t speak to him audibly but rather that he felt God’s presence reassuring him.
I talked earlier about my own lack of experience with the supernatural, but I wanted to come back to this. Because I know many people who don’t have any claim of supernatural experience but do believe that God speaks to them internally, through their conscience, their thoughts and sometimes, though it’s hard to explain, in a voice that comes to them internally in times of confusion, fear or distress. Is that a proof of God?
This does happen to be an area where I have some personal experience. I remember a Christmas Eve, around the time I was hitting my teenage years. My grandparents did a quiet communion service at their church and my family was there, gathered around the altar in candlelight, praying. As I was in early adolescence, I was a bit angsty at the time and, for some reason, fearful about the future. I don’t remember the specifics; I just remember being afraid. And as we sat there, praying and observing the Lord’s Table, I remember hearing Chris, you will be okay. I am with you and I have a plan. I didn’t hear it out loud; I heard it inside me. It’s hard to explain. But it wasn’t my internal monologue. It was more calming, and had the power to push back my fears and give me peace. I do strongly believe that, in that moment, God spoke to me.
Christians believe that when Jesus left and returned to Heaven, he gave his followers the Holy Spirit. The spirit is the third person of the Trinity; it’s just as much God as Jesus was. And the Holy Spirit lives in humans. While some believe this doctrine explains overt supernatural abilities, the majority of Christians believe it’s something quieter and harder to discern. It’s the presence that helps us understand God’s will and reveals to us what we should pray for. It’s the guide that tells me what to do and what to believe when every fiber of my being wants to run the other way. It convicts me of sin and gives me peace even when the world is falling down around me. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a very real thing for Christians. It doesn’t necessarily feel supernatural, and yet Christians believe it’s God himself indwelling us. I can’t necessarily show it to someone who isn’t a believer, but for me, it’s another proof of God.
Ongoing, living proof
As I’ve said before, I’m thankful that National Geographic has taken two seasons to do “The Story of God.” It’s been fascinating to observe other faiths and even to see Christians whose traditions, practices and beliefs are sometimes different from my own.
It’s really been a reminder of another proof of God that I believe exists, and that’s the ongoing changed lives and actions of Christians. I’ve seen lives transformed because of Jesus. The church has endured for more than 2,000 years amid persecution, controversy and war, and it’s still here. Despite every division we have, Christianity still exists and, at its core, it’s just as beautiful and life-changing as its ever been.
Photo couresty wagdi.co.uk, C.C.
We live in a world where Christians have a bad name. And, let’s be honest: sometimes it’s earned. I’m just now trying to come to terms with how people who claim to believe and follow the teachings of Jesus can often act the way they do. But I also know there are things I approve of and things I enjoy that other Christians find antithetical to the faith. And yet, we still pray to the same God. We still worship alongside one another. We’re going to walk the same streets in Heaven.
And maybe that’s the biggest proof of God for me. That despite fractured unity, petty in-fighting, hypocrisy and selfishness, the Church still exists. It still thrives. I can love people I sometimes vehemently disagree with. In spite of our failures, we still forgive and are forgiven. In spite of our anger, we still unite. In spite of our addiction to this world and its pleasures, we still gather to worship the God who is bigger than this world. Christianity walks with a limp sometimes, but at least it still walks. And that, for me, is proof that something bigger than humanity is holding it together. The continued growth and existence of the church is, to me, proof of God.