Parenting is hard. Can I convince my son God exists?
Opinion: I argued with my son about whether God exists. This is how it went.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
The other day, my 14-year-old son said something that made me freak out as a parent. He said, “I don’t believe in God.”
Now, we’re not a super-religious family and I don’t mind him trying out this mindset but I think it’s valuable to believe that there is a higher power. I think that gives us a sense of humility and, hopefully, a sense of comfort during tough times or moments of doubt. So I felt as a parent that I had to stick up for the idea of there being a God. But first, I asked him why he thought there was no God.
He said, “If there was a God then why do horrific things happen? Like the Holocaust?”
I said, “If you want to use the existence of horrible tragedies as proof that God doesn’t exist, why isn’t the existence of miraculous things proof that maybe God does exist?”
He said, “But if God made amazing things happen, then why would he make terrible things happen?”
I said, “I don’t believe in the idea that God is a puppeteer who’s controlling the actions of each person. I believe in a life force that sort of hovers above and around and beneath us, creating and influencing the world but not micromanaging it.”
He said, “But religion has been the cause of war, death, molestation and…”
I said, “Religion is deeply problematic but that’s because of the fallibility of people. Religion isn’t necessarily the same thing as God.”
I told him I understood his questions — and that for a time in my life, I also had questioned whether there was a God. I was never an atheist, but I was unsure about God’s existence until the day I went skydiving. I was in Florida shooting a TV show that asked me to skydive as part of the show. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise but it turned out to be momentous.
I jumped out of the plane and the world all around and beneath me was chaos. When you’re falling, things are moving too fast for you to truly comprehend what’s going on. I was screaming for several seconds before I even realized the sound I was hearing was me screaming. But then I pulled the cord, and everything slowed down to an extraordinarily peaceful pace. I was 4,000 feet above the Earth, floating like a feather, and I could see for miles — large buildings looked tiny.
“I had a perspective on our world I had never before had. I could see a city and a river and cars and fields — I felt like I could see the whole world and yet I knew that as much as I could see, the world was many times larger. And in that moment, hovering above it all, I said to myself, ”There must be a God. There must be some force that’s bigger than all of us who’s floating over us. There must be something more than us.”
My story moved him a bit, but my son is very analytical and my quasi-spiritual certainty was not enough for him.
He said, “But if God is so large and so powerful, then why doesn’t he just destroy evil?”
I knew we were at a critical point in the conversation. I had to come up with a big point to help him find a way to believe in God because I think life is much easier when you believe there’s something more than us. He loves to debate but our children’s attention spans are only so long. Just another minute and he’d say ‘OK, I’m now bored by this conversation.’ I had to come up with something more conclusive …
I said, “I don’t know why God doesn’t destroy evil. I don’t know why God wouldn’t stop the Holocaust or would let a baby die. I can’t account for all the bad things in the world. But I also know this: if there is a God, I think He is far more brilliant than I could ever comprehend. I don’t pretend to think I could ever understand His thought pattern.
“God has got to be beyond the ability of the human mind. He has to be, so if there are things we don’t understand, it’s because we can’t. Maybe one day you’ll get to Heaven and He’ll explain some things and then you’ll understand but I bet one day you’ll get to Heaven and ask Him questions and you still won’t understand His answers. He’s too much for our brains to comprehend and that’s why we have to fill in the blanks with faith — and hopefully out of that faith comes peace.”
My son paused and took that in. I could tell my point had made a dent because he was just nodding and processing.
Then he said, “What if we’re all just a simulation for aliens and we don’t really exist; we’re just part of a video game for another species?”
I said, “OK, good talk.”
I’m not one to force religion on anyone but I think believing in God and/or a higher power makes life a little easier. It helps explain the confusing parts and it can help carry you through the impossible parts. I think I reached my son but I’m not sure. Parenting is hard, and you’re never sure that you’re doing it right.
Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.
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