“I believe in order that I might understand.” We had a devotional speaker on Tuesday whose talk centered around this entire concept. I was familiar with the more famous “cogito ergo sum” – “I think, therefore I am” from Descartes, but I had hitherto never heard this apologetic philosophical phrase. As he unpacked his interpretation over the course of a half hour, I began to think of how this statement applies to my own faith and life. When later that day I opened up a book I was reading and was greeted with the same statement a mere few sentences from where I had left off, I decided it was worth some more in-depth consideration and writing.
The statement is attributed to Anselm of Canterbury, playing off of a saying from Augustine of Hippo. I don’t have a great knowledge of theologians from long ago, save knowing that some of them were among the most brilliant minds that helped to shape Western thought. But even as the Enlightenment came and attempted to dethrone God with Science, the place of reason in faith became clouded. Understanding, as man understood it, superseded belief in anything that could not be measured. Today we find ourselves in a place where many work with fervor to prove it is scientifically possible to create “life” with the right mix of chemicals and some electricity, that there is no need for a Creator, and thus, in many minds, there must not be one. So then what? What has that shown? A lifetime’s work to prove that each human lifetime is of ultimate insignificance, a sequence of reactions eventually stilled by nature and time. I believe… in order that I may understand.
If we, as humans, truly think we’re special because we have all the mental capacity and intellectual gifts we do, that set us far above and apart from any other species to the extent that we dominate the world, then what? Somehow we must understand the place we’ve been given. Something must account for the vast experience of the universe set before us, and the complexity of our very corporeal beings. Believing is not “the easy way out,” as some may say, but the beginning of an entirely different road, especially in Post-Modern Western culture. Believing in the God of the Bible and the story woven therein calls us to make something of our existence rather than 70 years of Hedonism or expenditure of rational energy attempting to prove we came from nothing (and we are therefore free to do whatever we want). In choosing to believe in order to understand not only our place, but everything about reality as we are able to experience it, we begin to understand the significance of all things. Comprehension of natural and man-made systems all points to one place, the Creator who made them all possible. Free will can be seen as the greatest of gifts and the source of every pain inflicted on the human race. I believe in order that I may understand all things. Why the stars twinkle and how they got there. Why I ended up in Nashville. Why I was born where and when I was. How am I supposed to react to that person, and why does it matter? How does my eye work? Where in my brain cells are the memories stored? It all starts to fall into the place of this God and His story (and now His Kingdom through which he’s redeeming all He created). I believe… to understand.
I’ll close by commenting on something a brother at Ethos said tonight during one of our discussions at the park. The conversation had turned somewhat to the subject of trying to prove whether or not God does exist, and he said something to the effect of, “I serve a God that, even if I could prove He does exist, it wouldn’t change my life.” That really struck me. Honestly, I believe that to the overwhelming majority of people on this earth, scientific proof of God’s existence wouldn’t change things. Really. Just think about it. If scientists published a paper tomorrow with irrefutable evidence for a Creator who is to this day orchestrating the cosmos, would that really change humanity? I don’t think it would affect how people treat others, how they behave, or what they spend their lives pursuing. Unless God showed up in a concrete way, providing empirical confirmation, perhaps appearing as a creature the size of a mountain and physically speaking the words, “I am God” in the tongues of all men, there would still be skeptics. But would it change what people do and how people are? I have to believe that regardless of proof, people will live how they choose. Proof does not necessitate belief, a forerunner to understanding, so proof of God would not by any means imply all people would understand their value and calling and the story in which we find ourselves.
So those are my thoughts on “believing in order to understand,” and why the past couple of days have led me to evaluate the maxim “credo ut intelligam” and its application to my view of knowledge and meaning.