Sermon May 5, 2024 by Tricia Gerhard

Does God exist?  This is a question that has been debated for centuries – scholars, scientists, and philosophers have spent their lifetimes trying to prove or disprove the existence of God, only to have their theories discredited by other scholars, scientists, and philosophers.  We seem to be at an impasse – even Wikipedia agrees that God’s existence “is not testable either by proof or disproof”[1]…. And yet we keep trying!

Stephen Unwin is an American mathematician who uses probability theory to do risk assessment for companies using dangerous chemicals, and he decided to put those skills to work on the question of whether or not God exists.

You can read all about his work in his surprisingly funny book “The Probability of God” where he approaches the uncertainty about the existence of the holy with the tools that mathematicians use to deal with uncertainty in any other problem.

Now, I can think of several questions and topics that are a bit taboo in church, and “does God even exist” can sometimes be up there near the top.  Are we even allowed to ask that? IN the church? On a day when we’ve celebrated communion?  You may or may not know me well enough by now to know that I will answer yes to this.  Yes to questions, yes to doubt – it’s the reality for most of us here that we sometimes struggle with balancing rational thought and intellect with faith.

I’ve certainly had those doubts at various times, and occasionally wonder how to explain that I have a “masters of divinity” when it’s a degree that sounds like something out of Harry Potter and I spent four years studying something that I certainly can’t prove exists.   So what am I, what are WE even doing here?

Well I don’t know about you, but even though I can’t prove it, faith in God just makes sense.  I don’t mean a naive faith where we just readily believe everything we are told or everything we read – I’m talking about a vibrant, spiritual faith that doesn’t require us to turn off intellect and critical thought when we walk through the sanctuary doors, where we use those beautiful critical thinking skills that we’ve been gifted with.   God isn’t offended by doubts, questions, or wrestling with scripture and tradition – in fact there’s an ancient Jewish understanding that just as Jacob wrestled with God and was renamed Israel or “the one who wrestles with God,” Israel’s descendants are called to continue the legacy of wrestling with the Holy, with scripture and with tradition in order to create and discover meaning in life.  [2]

Jesus himself loved a good question.  According to the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, he is recorded as having asked 307 questions in the Bible – of his friends, his adversaries, and even questions lifted directly to God.[3]  Others asked him 183 questions and do you know how many he answered directly? Three.  Giving an easy answer was just not his style.

So… where do your questions take you? Are you curious about science and evolution and how the universe came to be? Interested in space and how far it goes? Or maybe in the midst of personal challenges and the struggles of life you’ve wondered “why does God let bad things happen when I’m a good person?” or maybe the violence and strife of the world causes you to consider the nature of good and evil itself?

We’re curious and we want answers, and over the centuries we’ve certainly studied and discovered a LOT about this world.  We’ve gone further into space, deeper into the ocean, discovered smaller and smaller particles and learned more about the brain and the human body than any civilization ever before.  And yet… we still have no proof that God exists.  All we really have… is love.  And that sounds trite and is definitely a line in many pop songs, but for me it’s the only logical, convincing argument that God is real.  Because there’s no other reason for love.  I’m talking pure, altruistic love that motivates us to do things that serve no other rational purpose.

Sure, some elements of love can be explained from an anthropological perspective.  Loving actions cause us to share resources, protect the vulnerable, and provide safety as a group, thus ensuring our species or our population survives longer.  That’s big picture stuff.  But for individuals, does love serve a purpose? It makes us feel good, but from a strictly scientific evolutionary standpoint, survival of the fittest will take us further.  Look out for number one, use your time and energy to further your own goals rather than concerning yourself with others.  Offer love and caring actions only when it benefits yourself.

But that hasn’t been my experience with love, and if I were to guess I would say it hasn’t been yours either.  Besides your own personal experiences (that I’d love to hear about over a cup of tea), we’ve got so many examples in this church family of folks sharing love and doing loving things just in the past year alone and truly there’s no good reason for it except to say that there’s something holy and mysterious motivating us.  The way you reach out to one another when you notice them missing from the community or when you know they are ill or grieving.  It’s evidenced in how quickly the meatball sub list gets filled up.  We see it in the time given to the ministry of this church in volunteering at funerals, in committees and teams, in studies, groups and outreach.  There are so many ways – big and little – that you, the people of this community of faith – share love with each other and with the world.  The baptismal promises we make when individuals or families come forward – that we will surround each person with love all the days of their life.  The way we make a commitment to welcome every person who comes through this door and remind them that they are not alone in this world.  These are not things that we do lightly or easily or because we get something in return.  To serve and give and love solely for the benefit of others… that is love that comes from the Holy One and spills over into our world.

Jesus talked about loving each other repeatedly during his time teaching, but as his time on earth grew short and he gathered one last time with his friends, his message became more urgent.  The writer of John’s gospel records what is now called “the farewell discourse” where Jesus talks for four straight chapters, summarizing his entire ministry one last time and then he basically goes “if you remember NOTHING ELSE that I’ve told you, remember this one thing.  Love one another.”

The letter of John, which came out of the same community who wrote John’s gospel, puts it even more plainly.  “Love is from God.  God is Love.”  It doesn’t get more direct than that.

Friends, we can’t see God.  We don’t know what God looks like.  And we cannot prove that God even exists.  But we can see love.  We know what it looks like.  In the face of all the pain, all the suffering, the injustice, and the inhumanity that can be part of this world: We find ways to love, we’re inspired by something that we can’t explain, to do things that don’t often make sense.

God is Love.

Stephen Unwin, the mathematician who was calculating the probability that God exists, finished his work and he landed on a 67 percent chance.  Sorry, that’s a bit of a spoiler, but you’ll have to read the book to find out how he got there.  67% isn’t bad, that’s a 2 to 1 in favour of God’s existence.  But in an interview with CBC, Stephen added that his own personal calculation, taking into consideration his life and experience, resulted in that number bumping all the way up to 95%.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we all need to be mathematicians to do calculations about our faith (although we could make some really nice pretty graphs) but Stephen is a math guy and that’s the language he speaks to question and wrestle with this being or this concept or this feeling that we call God – and whether you’re in the midst of doubt, or you’re confident and sure, or probably like me you’re occasionally swinging back and forth somewhere in the middle – you are welcome here as we worship together, as we experience the embrace of community, and the inexplicable, almost surreal manifestations of God’s love all around and within us on a daily basis… we are reminded that God is love, and love is God.  Amen.