The core problems of epistemology remain with us, and are particularly charged in the case of religious propositions, because of the severity of the consequences involved. If Christianity is true, then God exists and Heaven and Hell exist.
Pascal’s Wager does not provide us with virtuous belief in God. If one’s only reason to believe in God is to avoid the eternal torment of Hell, then one’s belief is not honourable, not worthy of credit in the way that Abraham’s faith was creditworthy. However, the gravity of the situation, as emphasised by Pascal’s Wager, should be cause for concern. This is a legitimate basis for earnest, openminded investigation of the propositions of Christianity – the beginning of a journey, to be completed by virtuous means.
Philosophers have debated whether the proposition, “God exists”, is analytic or synthetic and whether it can be known a priori or a posteriori (if at all). Christians have offered both kinds of knowledge in answer to the question of why they believe God exists: some say that reason requires them to believe, while others say they have experienced God – or both.
Belief in the existence of God is only the beginning of religious enquiry. Learning who that God is and entering into a relationship with that God are further steps. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the ontological argument is persuasive – in itself, it would not tell the inquirer whether God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Other arguments, evidence, and information are required to lead one to believe the propositions of Christianity.
A distinction must be made between assent to a proposition and one’s attitude towards that proposition. In the Christian narrative, the figure called “Satan” (not to be confused with the satan in the Book of Job) knows that God exists but his attitude towards that proposition, and its Subject, is hostile.
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
Openmindedness is essential in respect of both assent and attitude. Many have rejected Christianity on the basis of a supposed conflict between who Christians proclaim God to be and the suffering of our own existence. Humans have been badly hurt: by nature, by ourselves, and – so Christians contend – by the spirits that hate us. It is easy to acknowledge the existence of evil – much harder to believe in an all-powerful God who lets it happen.
Believing in God – as opposed to believing that He exists – is not easy. In our fallen world, it is natural to doubt. Indeed, philosophical scepticism and caution are virtues. The testimony of others, while persuasive in some contexts, is grating in others.
Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
Relational matters are not like impersonal ones. Discussing geology or archeology is very different from trusting God in the midst of adversity. The deeper our feelings, the more effort is required to persevere in the face of their pressure. Some will say that refusing to give up belief in God in the face of (seemingly) contrary evidence is irrational or a blik. Indeed, Christians themselves would advise adherents of some religions to abandon their gods, because of the evil associated with those gods in the religious texts and theologies extrapolated from them.
So, what is the basis of the Christian belief in their God, the Father? How do they persevere in trusting Him amidst the negative feelings elicited by our own sinful natures and the adversity of life? How do Christians justify their faith?
To say, as St Paul does, that God works all things for good for those who love Him, is to speak of the end, to make a statement that is logically necessary given the nature of God. This is what Christians are called to do: to keep their sight on the end, called by various names (Heaven, the Restoration, the Consumation, the Blessed Hope, etc). But we must not mistake that end with the End: Christ Himself.
The way through is to stay close to Christ. We may endure scorn as a consequence, but Christ is our foundation, our “cornerstone”. Even when He seems silent, yet we may speak to Him in prayer, casting all our cares on Him.