Years ago I heard a wise man say, “I believe there is a God, but if there isn’t, we’d have to invent one.’ I didn’t immediately ‘get it’. I thought he was just being flip—but the thought stayed with me.
Recently I have returned to that thought. It seems that in the 21st Century, as a society, we’ve lost touch with God; God has become irrelevant. When, by law prayer was eliminated from classrooms and public assemblies, the idea of God gradually faded. That isn’t to say that all thoughts of God have disappeared, but its place in society’s consciousness had been relegated to the back seat, whereas it was once front and center.
In the time when references to God were common-place, many people would say grace at meals and prayers at bedtime—that is now a rarity. Before radio and TV, it was fairly common, especially in rural areas, for families to gather round a table as a family member read from the Bible. In 1912, at the realization that the Titanic was sinking, the ship’s string ensemble spontaneously began playing ‘Near My God to Thee’—that would never cross the minds of people today.
We can’t know God because God is so beyond our human understanding. It is worse than unfortunate that so many different ways of attempting to grasp what a God must be and what One would want of us, led to different images, definitions and demands which led to conflict and division. None of the images can capture God.
Whether God is, or is not real, our understanding in the contemporary world is that God represents the source of all that is good and desirable . . . all hope, truth, love . . . the vessel of all goodness. Ergo the opening statement, ‘if there isn’t (a God) we’d have to invent one. We need a reminder, an incentive to continue striving for the good. Only if good surpasses evil will the planet continue.
As thoughts of God have faded from our awareness we have seen an escalation of dangerous and destructive behaviors. On the large scale: explosions of violence and vandalism during peaceful protests; political polarization where each side flatly rejects anything proposed by the other; widescale polluting of the planet; increasing presence and threat from nuclear weapons; terrorism in the form of suicide bombers and individuals with assault weapons opening fire on innocent strangers and vehicles driven into crowds. On a smaller scale: a willingness to close eyes to facts and fabricate alternative ‘truths’; airline passengers attacking flight attendants over being told to mask up for public safety; brawls at sports events—both professional and little league; school board meetings interrupted by parents shouting and demanding changes in the curriculum . . . a general demise of civility.
The general public seems to accept this as ‘the way things are’ and not realize it is in our hands to change. We need God; either embraced as real, or ‘invented’ by a return to intentionally seeking ‘the good’.