“My dad doesn’t believe in God,” my friend whispered.

“What?”

“He thinks that after you die, there’s nothing. No heaven, no hell. Just nothing.”

I had been invited over to my junior high best friend’s house for dinner when she sprang this news on me. It had never occurred to me prior to this that belief in God was optional. During the meal, I stared at my friend’s father, wondering if his nonbelief would show up in his everyday habits. Did he seem particularly sad? Joyless at the prospect of the lack of an afterlife? I couldn’t honestly tell. He looked like a man eating his dinner.

Since then, of course, I’ve met dozens of nonbelievers, of various ages and character. Most are nice people, generally optimistic, altruistic even. A number of them are kinder and more thoughtful than some of the so-called believers I know. They just don’t believe in God. Or religion. I get the sense that a few of them think I’m something of a soft-headed goon for being a believer. That’s okay with me. And I feel no need to proselytize to them. I don’t necessarily think they’re having a bad life without faith. Faith is necessary to me, but perhaps it isn’t for everyone.

However, I do know one thing: Not believing in God isn’t God’s fault. Oh sure, you can look around at the world, at bombs dropping and children starving and the worst sorts of inhumanities, often done in the name of God, and claim that God must not exist. The world is too spiritually polluted. And if indeed He is all-powerful, why does He let such atrocities occur?

We could argue about that point (free will and so on), but ultimately, God’s work is beyond our understanding. I tend to agree with the great Thomas Merton who, having himself been an atheist for many years, understood why some people choose this route. It is not God’s fault; it is religions’. Those who do not believe do so because no church has spoken to them of God in a way they can relate to. The God of most religious people isn’t good enough for them to believe in.

I get that. I often wonder at religions who claim their God wants war or who thinks their particular religious sect is superior to all others. The gods of these religions aren’t good enough for me. I even think God is kinder, larger and more expansive than my chosen religion, Catholicism, although for me Catholicism comes closest to my beliefs.

It all comes down to this: God is bigger and better than human beings can express. If you haven’t found God yet, it’s because nobody has given you reason to. We have failed. But please believe that God has not. He’s there, and He’s greater than you can imagine, and better than you could ever hope for. All I can do is pray that if someone truly wants to find Him, He will be found. And for the rest of the nonbelievers? I’ll let you eat your dinner in peace.

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