”¦how can we know that any of this [Christian teaching] is actually true? So far, I’ve been trying to clarify what the words mean. But how does anyone ever get inside this language, get to the point where they can make it their own? Christians may be talking about a trustworthy God, but how do we know that this is a real God, as opposed to an impressive character in a book? In other words, does God exist?
You won’t be surprised to hear that I haven’t yet found the decisive new argument that will prove once and for all that there really is a God; but we do need to remember that the number of people who come into a living personal faith as a result of argument is actually rather small. Many centuries ago, a great theologian and pastor, St Ambrose, said that ”˜it did not suit God to save his people by arguments.’ Of course they have their uses. When people argue against the existence of God, it helps to have some points you can make to counter the idea that belief is just completely irrational. But what is it that shifts people’s imagination and vision and hope?
The Bible has no arguments for the existence of God. There are moments of conï¬‚ict with God, anger with God, doubt about God’s purposes, anguish and lostness when people have no real sense of God’s presence. The Psalms are full of this, as is the Book of Job. Don’t imagine that the Bible is full of comfortable and reassuring things about the life of belief and trust; it isn’t. It is often about the appalling cost of letting God come near you and of trying to trust him when all the evidence seems to have gone. But Abraham, Moses and St Paul don’t sit down to work out whether God exists; they are already caught up in something the imperative reality of which they can’t deny or ignore. At one level, you have to see that the very angst and struggle they bring to their relation with God is itself a kind of argument for God: if they take God that seriously, at least this isn’t some cosy made-up way of making yourself feel better.
And that is actually quite a serious point about where belief in God starts for a lot of folk. It starts from a sense that we ”˜believe in’, we trust some kinds of people. We have conï¬dence in the way they live; the way they live is a way I want to live, perhaps can imagine myself living in my better or more mature moments. The world they inhabit is one I’d like to live in. Faith has a lot to do with the simple fact that there are trustworthy lives to be seen, that we can see in some believing people a world we’d like to live in.
It puts quite a responsibility on believing people….
–Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2009), pp. 20-21