In the spring of 2010, a tornado siren was simply a time to go downstairs – just in case. My husband’s parents hadn’t yet experienced the New Year’s Eve tornado that hit a Missouri restaurant where they were dining. My grown daughter hadn’t witnessed the Good Friday tornado from the back steps of our home while we were venerating the Cross. And Joplin, Missouri hadn’t suffered unspeakable loss from the deadliest tornado since 1947.
No. In the spring of 2010, a tornado siren just signaled a time for gathering downstairs. On one of those stormy nights in 2010, we all ended up in the basement. My husband checked out the food pantry and decided that a bag of chocolate chips would help pass the time. As we popped chocolate into our mouths and played with the dog, we talked. Somehow, we got on the subject of doubt.
Atheism and agnosticism.
John has faith. He believes in God, but he understands how some people just cannot believe in things they cannot see or touch. One of his friends has studied faith matters and philosophies and still says it’s not enough. John doesn’t agree, but he understands why his friend has doubt.
On one level, I understand it as well. The three cherry trees that died shortly after my husband planted them in the back yard are probably not experiencing any eternal existence. Since they weren’t capable of conscious thought, I don’t suppose they cared one way or another.
But humans are different. We have the ability to love another, die for another, forgive another, work with another. We have the capacity to scam each other, destroy each other, hold bitterness against one other, and tear each other apart.
We can bless. And we can curse.
We can rule over one another. And we can serve one another.
Even some of our illnesses set us apart. We can die from stress, suffer from mental illness, and find healing through the most extraordinary things. Like faith, hope, and love.
It is true that we know very little about what comes next. God acknowledges our limited human understanding in Sacred Scripture. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, what God has waiting for those who love him.
Love. Maybe that’s the key. The most important thing separating us from a cherry tree just might be our capacity to love. Love points to an existence beyond the here and now. Our capacity to love links us to the One who is Love.
We live in a society that does not feel compelled to believe in mysteries like faith, hope and love. We study everything, except what lies beyond. We throw our efforts into our careers and our brains and our bank accounts. We complete degrees. We build houses. And we invest.
Many blindly accept that we cannot know what comes next. Or worse, that there is nothing to know about next things. But then a brilliant mathematician, scientist, and philosopher like Pascal throws out the challenge:
Okay, so it’s a gamble. On a purely rational level, we cannot know, Pascal says. For the ones who do not have faith, it is a toss of the coin.
Either way, we’ll find out. Pascal believed the better bet was on the side of God’s existence. That gambler has everything to gain and nothing to lose. Betting that there is no God is foolish. This gambler has everything to lose and nothing to gain.
Agnosticism, says Pascal, is not an option. Death is inevitable. So place your bets.
It is an interesting application of probability theory.
For those of us who have a faith which shapes everything we do, we have trouble understanding the thought processes of those who have no faith in God or eternity. How do we help them get from point A to point B? From no faith to at least some faith?
My husband tells me to have compassion for the one who cannot believe and to encourage him to try. Just try. Faith, no matter how small, leads to faith. Encourage them to say the word maybe. To drop the word impossible.
For we know that eternity is possible before we know that it is certain.
Like tornados. A remote possibility becomes a certainty. And everything changes.
John and I don’t casually look at each other when the sirens sound these days. Tornados have touched the lives of people we know.
I suppose there are many who think everything is a roll of the dice. God’s existence. Tornados that touch down. Lottery tickets. Blind dates. There are some things that are too important to get wrong. Like whether or not God exists. Like whether or not you should go to the basement even though a tornado has never touched down in your back yard before.
So, you bet on the tornado being real. You’re wrong? You have a little time with the family in a safe place. You’re right? You live to see another day.
And you bet on God being real. You’re wrong, you won’t ever know it. You’re right, and you gain eternal life with the one who made you.
Yes, there are some things that are too important to get wrong.