1. I can’t see God.
I can’t prove God exists. I can infer that God exists because of the grandeur of the universe, but an atheist looks at the vastness of the universe and sees a cold, harsh place that doesn’t seem to point to a personal God.
I can appeal perhaps to personal religious experiences which have been formative for me, but when I look at many of those experiences, while they were personally encouraging to me, they could be as open to interpretation as the ending ofPan’s Labyrinth. (Was she crazy or did she see something? Who knows).
I can appeal to the miracles that friends of mine claim to have performed/seen–but am I unspiritual to wonder if they’re exaggerating?
Even if they were, I can understand the incredulity of someone listening to a third person account of such an event.
The biblical writers seem to ponder the invisible nature of God (warnings against idolatry, Paul’s comments in 2 Corinthians 4:18, Hebrews 11:1, etc.), but is that enough when you’re trying to have meaningful conversation about God with friends who only trust the scientific method (which evaluates the physical seen world)?
2. The universe is harsh.
Evil, pain, and suffering exist in the world, and if you buy into theistic evolution and an old earth (disclaimer: I do), then you’re left with the problem that for 100,000 years before Abraham, people were dying at 25 of hunger, disease, and brutality.
Does this point to a loving and benevolent God?
The Hebrews had a couple of different ways of processing evil in the world.
One way was proverbial wisdom (if you do right things, life goes well. If you do bad things, not so much).
Another way of dealing with evil was contemplative wisdom.
Contemplative wisdom acknowledges life as it actually is.
It readily admits that sometimes, no matter how many right things you do, good people still suffer.
Ecclesiastes pretty much says, “None of this makes sense. Obey God anyway.”
Job concludes, “Good people suffer. If God’s real, then shut your mouth.”
This can help one to see that the Bible (thankfully) offers no pat answers to the problem of evil, but it can leave a person dissatisfied.
1. Unseen Inference.
It’s a leap of faith to assume metaphysical meaning behind the universe (via beauty, spirituality, etc.).
God, like G.E. Moore’s idea of ”good” as undefinable because “good” is not a “thing” we can point to, is a subjective reality inferred by the individual. Nevertheless, many people believe that “good” exists.
In the same way, one may infer God’s existence as one infers the existence of “good” even though it can’t be seen.
Admittedly, this doesn’t necessarily deal with God’s unseen nature; however, it does reveal that people believe in many things that are inferred but not seen.
2. God & Evil.
Even if we assume that God is real, does the presence of evil in the world diminish the reality of God or his character?
One way of answering the problem of evil is to say that God’s “elect” are elected to make the world a better place (See: N.T. Wright Surprised By Hope); however, anyone familiar with the story of Joshua may dispute this. The New Testament may offer something more compatible with this view, but considering that the New Testament narrative has only been in effect for 2,000 years, one is forced to ask, “Why did it take so long to get to this point?”
Another way of answering this which may be far less satisfying to a non-theist is to go back to Job.
Once Job “saw” God, the questions became less important.
Thomas Aquinas never finished his Summa Theologica. Why? Because he had an ecstatic, spiritual experience that caused him to declare that everything that he had done up until that time was worthless.
This may help to explain why some theists are not thrown off by the problem of evil. They aren’t appealing to reason but to their experience (as the psalmist does in Psalm 73).
The question about God’s unseen nature and the problem of evil are answered by the theist, it would seem, in the realm of religious experiences.
For the believer and unbeliever alike, it would behoove both sides to seriously consider the legitimacy of their own experience with/lack of spiritual experiences.