Chapter OneDISCUSSION ONE
Is Anybody Out There?
In the Beginning-God?
Wouldn't it be great to know for sure about the existence
For centuries, great minds-philosophers, theologians,
and scientists-have argued various positions,
hoping to settle the issue of whether or not God exists.
Even today the topic is debated as intensely as ever.
Sincere, intelligent people remain on all sides of the
Why do some people seem so certain, while others
remain skeptical? Where do you stand? If you believe
he exists, how do you know? And if he doesn't, why
are so many people convinced he does?
Most of us in this culture grew up hearing about
God-as well as the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and
the Tooth Fairy. Many of us said bedtime prayers. We
hoped God would give us a new bike if we were good.
Or we feared God's anger after stealing something
from the drugstore.
Surrounded by such input since childhood, we have
been ingrained with the idea of a "higher power." In
fact, many people accept God as reality without even
questioning. Yet as we get older, we outgrow childish
dreams and fantasies. Once we learn the truth about
the Easter Bunny, what do we do with God? Maybe
he's the product of wishful thinking, too. Is there any
evidence available for the existence of God? Or maybe
we shouldn't look for evidence-is God offended by
people who need reasons for believing?
Often, people who have suffered greatly have the
hardest time believing in God. Or at least they have
trouble believing in the goodness of God. Norman
Mailer, author of The Gospel According to the Son,
shared this perspective: "If God is all good, then he is
not all powerful. If God is all powerful, then he is not
all good. I am a disbeliever in the omnipotence of God
because of the Holocaust. But for thirty-five years or
so, I have been believing that he is doing the best he
can" (Time, May 5, 1997). Mailer is not an atheist,
he's an angry-theist. The God of his childhood didn't
fit into his adult world, so he had to redefine God-or
What do you believe about the existence of God?
How can you be sure? Is belief in God intellectual suicide?
Tough questions . but worth taking the time
to find answers. The purpose of these sessions is to
guide you through a path of thoughtful contemplation
about the existence of God and to invite you to
explore and discuss all the options.
OPEN FOR DISCUSSION
1. Think back to your childhood. What did you
believe about God during those years? Describe a few ways your views have changed
2. What are some factors that have influenced
your current beliefs about God?
Positions About God
If you were to hit the streets, survey in hand, what do you think
people would say about the existence of God? Certainly you
would find a wide variety of answers. Here's a summary of the
positions people take with respect to the existence of God:
The atheist says no god or gods exist at all. "The
universe happened by chance; there is no ultimate
The agnostic says it is not possible to know if there is a
god or not. "God may exist, but no one can know for
The deist says God created the universe but has left it
alone ever since. "God set the world in motion like a
windup toy and does not get involved."
The theist says God exists and is involved with
creation. "God is not only out there, he cares about his
creation and desires to have a continuing active
participation in it."
The polytheist says many gods exist. "You have a god, I have a god, and there are many gods out there."
The pantheist says that God exists in and through
everything in the universe and is one with the universe.
"God is part of everything; he is in the trees, in me, in
you-even in that survey you're carrying."
3. Which of the previous positions about God
represents the most common belief among
people you know? Which view is least popular
among your friends and acquaintances? Give
reasons for your answers.
4. How convinced are your friends and
acquaintances that their views and beliefs
about God are accurate? What do you think
determines the level of confidence they have?
5. How do you think most people decide what
they're going to believe about God? On what
do you think they base their beliefs about
6. Which of the views of God listed makes the
most sense to you? Why?
7. On a scale from one to ten (one represents low
confidence and ten represents high
confidence), how certain are you that your
view is based on actual evidence rather than
8. What might help to increase the level of
confidence you have in what you believe about
HEART OF THE MATTER
9. Frequently, we place our trust (that's what
faith means) in people or things, even though
we cannot know for sure they are
trustworthy-such as when we board an
airplane. What other specific examples can
you give of "everyday faith"?
10. During those times when absolute proof is
impossible (there is no guarantee a plane will
arrive safely), what factors help you determine
whether you'll place your trust in something?
Belief in God does require faith, but it does not require blind
faith. You do not have to toss reason and intelligence out the
window to accept the existence of God. Concluding that God
exists can be a reasonable faith decision.
11. Since it is possible to doubt anything-and
therefore impossible to prove absolutely the
existence of God (or anything else)-what
factors would help you get to reasonable
certainty concerning God's existence?
CHARTING YOUR JOURNEY
With this session you're beginning a journey. Keep in
mind that you do not need to feel pressured to "say
the right thing" at any point during these discussions.
You're taking the time to do this work because you're
looking for answers and because you're willing to be
honest about your doubts and uncertainties. Others in
your group would also benefit from hearing about
what you'll be learning. So use these sessions profitably-ask
the tough questions, think "outside the
box," and learn from what others in your group have
to say. But stay authentic about where you are in your
To help you identify your progress more clearly,
throughout this guide you will have opportunities to
indicate where you are in your spiritual journey. As
you gain more spiritual insights, you may find yourself
reconsidering your opinions from session to session.
The important thing is for you to be completely truthful
about what you believe-or don't believe-right
12. Check the statement(s) below that best
describes your position at this point. Share
your selection with the rest of the group and
give reasons for your response.
____ There's nothing I can see that would
change my opinion. I'm pretty sure there
is no God-at least not the way Christians
____ My beliefs may have been formed more
by what others have taught me and not
by what I really think.
____ I think God exists, but I'm not sure I have
solid reasons to back that up.
____ I'm pretty sure God exists, but I don't
know what impact that has on my life.
____ Actually, this is an important topic. It's
good to finally have a place to address
questions like these.
____ I believe God exists, and I'm hoping to
learn more to understand him better.
____ I believe God exists, but a personal
opinion of this nature should be kept
____ Write your own brief phrase here: ______
Scripture for Further Study
* Genesis 1
* Job 38-41
* Psalm 14:1
* Psalm 19
* Isaiah 40
* Acts 17:11-12
* Romans 1:18-32
* 1 John 1