The whole concept of faith involves belief in things that are unproven. While the chief argument of the atheist is that we can’t prove God exists, the counter argument is that they can’t prove he doesn’t.
In the modern age, educated people are more likely to believe in ghosts than in God (and incidentally, who has ever been killed or wounded by a ghost? If they do exist, why be afraid of them?)
The Holy Spirit used to be known as the Holy Ghost, but the word ‘spirit’ doesn’t have the same spooky connotations. Some people profess to be ‘spiritual’ but not religious, although because there is no definition of the word that they would all agree on, it may mean one thing to one and something different to another.
For the purpose of this little study, let’s say that people who call themselves ‘spiritual’ believe in a higher power – something or somebody not in human form but capable of influencing what happens in the human realm. They may or may not believe in ‘spiritualism’ as in the ability to communicate with the dead, as practised by someone known as a ‘medium’ but I don’t think that is what most really mean.
I think people who consider themselves spiritual are closer than they would like to think to believing in God, but just can’t bring themselves to do it, because it’s too complex and involves, as they see it, too many rules and regulations, dos and don’ts.
They will tell you that you don’t have to believe in God to be a good person: one who helps others and doesn’t knowingly do any damage in life – and in many cases I think they’re right.
I can only speak for Christians, and even then, only from my own experience. So not all Christians are good people, and not all non-Christians are good people – if we could all agree on what constitutes a good person. We do what we can within the limitations of our own flaws and weaknesses, and we try to fix our flaws and strengthen where there is weakness.
Does a non-religious person have a definition of the word “miracle”? The Bible contains lots of stories involving miracles, all powered by God, through a chosen few including, notably, Jesus. But what is a miracle? It’s something that happens that seemed highly unlikely but which we were desperate for. We couldn’t make it happen. So even non-religious people will “pray” for a miracle.
And who are they praying to? Are they directing it to God, just on the off-chance that such a person or thing exists?
Modern-day “miracles” are often seen in a sporting context, so let’s look at one of those.
In 2005, Liverpool Football Club won the UEFA Champions league against AC Milan in the neutral city of Istanbul, Turkey. Liverpool weren’t, by common consent, the best team in Europe at that time. They weren’t even dominant in the English Premier League. And in the Champions League final they were 3-0 down at half time.
How many Liverpool fans were “praying for a miracle” while they got the beers in or made a cup of tea? How many half-jokingly closed their eyes and begged some higher power to help them out?
And then it happened: in the second half they scored three goals, making it 3-3, so after 90 minutes came extra time. No change after the added 30 minutes, so it went to penalties. Liverpool won 3-2 on penalties.
The match has gone down in football history as The Miracle of Istanbul.
But was God involved in that? Italy is probably a more Christian country than England, with the Catholic Church fundamental to its society. So millions of Milan fans must have been praying too.
Is God a Liverpool fan? Seriously, what do you think?
Prayer is a question of belief, of faith, but we have to be sensible about this. If you’re praying for your team and someone else is praying for theirs, how can a loving god give it to one rather than the other? God is the father, and even human fathers would not make such a decision between two of his children. We might try to make a decision based on who deserved it more, which team was playing better and who had been a good boy recently, but ultimately we can’t make that judgement.
The point is that in times of dire need, we realize we can’t do it on our own, so we reach out for help. But if we only ever consider the possibility that God exists when we need him, what message is that sending? How about a bit of gratefulness for the good things that have happened so far?
Nobody has all the answers – not even atheists.