What is it to understand God

EvangelicalFrankfurt and Offenbach

When believers and atheists argue, I often ask myself whose side God might be on.

I am not talking about such conversations here where one has the impression: "Today, lack of understanding is boxing with stupidity". No, the discovery of an antique, rotten board on Mount Ararat is no proof that the Bible is right after all. Conversely, dinosaurs are just as unsuitable for refuting belief in God. Belief in creation and the theory of evolution can be combined very well with one another. And the relationship between historical and narrative truths in the ancient stories of faith (such as the Flood) is somewhat more complex. Such conversations are simply wrong because you could be purely mentally further on both sides and not even reach the actual “crucial points”.

Rather, I am interested in the deeper, meaningful conversations between believers and atheists. About such conversations, in which both agree to talk about what concerns them personally, what concerns them personally, what is support and hope for them. For their life and their death.

Here, too, the “fronts” don't seem as clear to me as they often appear. The danger with "us believers" is that we understand God too often, too quickly, and too well. As it were better than God himself. Jesus Christ himself dies on the cross, the symbol of Christian faith, with the cry of God forsaken: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 16:34; Matthew 27:46) . That should protect us from a “pre-pious” appropriation of God against his will.

In a public conversation the other day, a theater director asked critically where the ambivalences in the Christian worship services actually remained. Whether the tensions (unlike in the theater) have always been resolved, harmonized. We are all always somehow accepted.

We're getting too close to God. Dilute us with the incomprehensible. And neither do justice to God, nor us, nor the world in its deep paradox, its contradictions. The ZEIT supplement “Christ & World” has the column “The atheist who misses something”. But what kind of faith should it be that would not “miss something” in this world as it is? Who wouldn't miss God?

Conversely, the danger with atheists is that they understand God too often, too quickly and too well. Or just don't understand. So with the opposite sign of understanding, but the same result: namely, to be done with God.

I can well understand that people don't believe in God. But I can't understand when there's nothing wrong with you. The many questions in view of the fact that we are at all, that we will one day no longer be and that the world, life and we are what they are. The question of what will happen with all the suffering and love that we have experienced in this life. And that we have attached to others. Being enchanted in the face of the beauty of the world and of people. Desperate in the face of the horror of both. Just as doubt and contestation are part of true faith, so, conversely, longing and hope for the “great maybe” are part of true atheism. Or the deep suffering that God doesn't exist.

The Bible is sometimes criticized for being contradictory. Thank god it is. How should it not be full of ambivalences, breaks, tensions when it tells the story of God with people? In stories from around 1,200 years.

Martin Walser used the beautiful term "self-contradiction-seriousness". In the Psalms, for example, God is most violently approached, challenged, and doubted because of his silence, his distance, his lack. Then in the next verse to praise, praise and thank him. Or Job. In an argument with his pious friends, he calls on God against God. And it is the too god-certain theologians and religion experts of his time with whom Jesus repeatedly clashes in the traditional disputes.

Believing in the crucified one includes the deep, challenging experience of the inability, even the impossibility, to believe. The emptiness, the distance, the absence of God. It is not the last word to be said here. But only by saying it can faith in God's love be truly preserved in this beautiful and terrible world.

A belief that is “self-contradicting” in this sense is not absurd, unreasonable, inconsistent. But it is necessarily paradoxical, incomplete, full of temptation, tension and doubt. He always carries the other, unbelief, within himself. This gives a new quality to the conversations between believers and atheists. A depth of encounter in which the fronts are no longer so clear. In which God - in the face of the cruel reality of suffering and violence - is perhaps better understood by his opponents, doubtful, critical, and incredulous than by his advocates.

Or as an acquaintance once said: "When my friends thank God for finding a parking space while shopping - how should I understand God's action when refugees, women, children are drowning in the sea at the same time?"

No, I don't just believe atheism is godless, just as I doubt the God-security of faith. We should not make an image of God for ourselves (Ex 20.4). Because it is an event of all-embracing, creative, reconciling, changing love. Because it belongs to the essence of this love to renounce oneself, to make oneself small for us, to hide under one's opposite. And because I can't really talk about this love without being changed by it myself.

Therefore: Let us begin again to quarrel for God's sake and for the sake of man.