What sign or response to prayer would make you doubt the existence of God?


#1

One common question that non-Christians often get asked is (in some form) “What evidence would convince you that God is real?” I want to turn that question on its head. What sign or response to prayer would make you doubt the existence of God?

I ask this question not to cause people to consider doubting God, but in part to discuss the disparity when it comes to signs and prayers. When there appears to be something positive that even remotely points to God’s existence believers are quick to point to it, dismissing the notion of coincidence. Yet, when something negative occurs there’s never the same suggestion of divine intervention.

For example, if there is a building fire and everyone makes it out safely God is given credit. If only a handful of people or even one person makes it out, it’s a miracle and God is given credit. If no one escapes but a religious artifact survives (like a Bible or crucifix) then it’s a sign from God. If there are no survivors and no straws to grasp, then God is still real and his plan is a mystery.

There doesn’t seem to be the same level of allowance for changing an opinion that most non-Christians have when asking the question as to what sign might make one believe.


#2

The building fire is a good example of confirmation bias where we only seek out evidence to support our pre-existing belief and dismiss contrary evidence.


#3

The problem with this approach is that for those who have strong faith, it’s not a logical occurrence. In other words, if it were a logical occurrence, then my faith would be like

I pray —> I get answer/ response X ----> I conclude based on X that God exists.

And then there would be a converse as you say:

I pray —> I get answer/ response Y ----> I conclude based on Y that God doesn’t exist.

This is not how faith works, nor have I ever thought in this way. The one time I had a significant doubt about God and this whole religion thing, it was not based on a response/ lack of response from God, but something totally different that I heard/ read that bothered me for a few days until I resolved it in my mind, again not really based on getting a “sign from God” although He may well have sent the Holy Spirit to me to help me dispel the doubt, and then all was fine with me and God.

Your post to me just shows the futility of trying to convince people that God exists by asking them what kind of “evidence” would convince them and then presenting a bunch of examples. Such discussions may be helpful in opening somebody’s mind, but in the end, you’re either going to accept God’s gift of faith in a non-logical way, or your faith is always going to be subject to some kind of logic attack and won’t be very strong.

Just to add onto my post - in last week’s homily the priest talked about doubt and what leads to doubt. His point was that none of us are immune to doubt, it can strike any time, and for any reason. He said that many doubts stem from a situation where we are either suffering ourselves or having to watch a loved one suffering. People doubt that God exists or, if he exists, that he cares what happens or that he has the power to change or prevent the situation; the idea is that if a loving God existed, he wouldn’t allow such bad things to happen. I believe this is a major reason people doubt, so “lack of response” in this situation would mean that they prayed for a bad situation to change and didn’t get the result they hoped for. Either nothing changed or things got even worse. This type of situation has not caused doubts for me personally up to this point though. It was something else, a church teaching I found questionable and made little sense.


#4

Lack of response of course is the only sign that can lead to the logical conclusion that there is no one listening to your prayers. You pray and nothing happens.
Even though the Holy Church Fathers and the Bible indicate that there are known other reasons why God refuses to answer and make His presence known, to explain these ideas to an agnostic or an atheist and expect them to just accept them “as teaching of the Church” is what methinks is the vastest mistake done in Christian Apologetics. Only God Himself can convince an atheist He exists and for this He has to answer somehow a prayer the atheist asked. We can help by praying to God He answers and shows Himself to that person but we simply cannot just explain that Saint X said that God doesn’t answer because of some reason or the Bible says so and expect that atheist to just take our word for it. If he or she does take our word for it is not the logic that convinced (because there is no logic in saying “the Bible and the Church says so”) it is because God moved and made Himself known to that person.
In modern times Christians we really thought we can prove God existence by logic alone (and thus diminish His own supernatural role in it all) and the results are unsurprising - the number of atheists is growing. Let us be meek and admit we cannot prove God’s existence, only He can. Our words are not stronger than the Apostles who for themselves took no credit for those words. We tried to be smart and cool and impress our atheist counterpart with our wits and God laughs in our face because we have been too proud.


#5

Interesting question.

I’m having a difficult time constructing a response – maybe I need more coffee – but as best I can express it, my faith in God isn’t based on responses to prayer or any sort of evidence.

As @KevinK stated, we humans seek evidence to support our chosen world-view. Any contrary evidence will either be dismissed or somehow shifted around to fit into our worldview. This goes for things like belief or disbelief in God, all the way down to much smaller things, like the belief that I am a terrible cook.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this (except that believing I’m a hopelessly terrible cook means I don’t even try to improve). Everyone has a worldview. Everyone.

I think was is important is that we are conscious of our worldview, that we don’t just wander through life thinking we are exempt to beliefs about how the universe works, or our place in existence, or the value of human life – just to list a few examples.

Although raised as a Catholic, I left the Church for many years. I was in my late 30s when I made a conscious choice to embrace Catholicism as my worldview. I choose to believe in God. I choose to believe in the teachings of the Catholic Church. I choose to trust in God’s providence regardless of the answers to prayers, or the good or evil I see in myself or my fellow human beings.

In short, my faith is a choice. And I’m OK with the discomfort of incongruities in understanding. Life’s moments and events swirl around me, and I stand in my faith.

Sorry if this is a bit muddled.

And now, I really need to get to work.

Enjoy the day!


#6

After suffering terribly for over a little over a year my sister died of cancer seven months ago. Because of her death, one of her sons, 22-years old, lost his faith completely for obvious reasons: If there’s a God, He didn’t seem to answer any of the prayers that were said for her. In his eyes, God, if He exists at all, abandoned his mother and him, as a result. However, at the same time, her ex-husband, his father, came back to take care of her, never leaving her side until the day she died. She fell in love with him again and believe me that’s a miracle in and of itself.

Moreover, my very Catholic mother has been experiencing severe depression/anxiety for well over two years. It seems no matter how much she prays, it continues. She’s been hospitalized three times . Every once in a while she gets a little relief, maybe a day or a few hours here and there, but for the most part, she feels like she’s in Hell. She’ll never lose her faith, but she wonders why God has abandoned her. The death of my sister hasn’t seemed to make a difference either way except to say I think she’s glad for my sister because she believes, after all of her suffering, that she is in Heaven. She wants to die but because of her faith she will not take her own life.

Although, I’ve had my moments where I really question God, even get angry, despite watching both my mother and sister suffer terribly, my faith in God is stronger than ever. Not to sound cliche, but God works in mysterious ways and His ways are not ours. When we pray we can only see a very small part of a very large picture, and we normally pray for what’s best for our earthly existence, not necessarily for what’s the most important: salvation. I believe He does answer all prayers according to His will, and sometimes what’s best for our earthly existence is not what’s best for the salvation of souls. My problem now is I just want to get this earthly existence over with and I’m sure that’s not a good thing especially since at this point I’m not so sure I’ll go to Heaven.


#7

Prayer is always answered in a way that is good for our salvation. As Jesus says, prayer is answered “that your joy may be full” (John 16:24)–full joy is salvation. Perhaps in a particular case not granting us what we ask is better for our salvation or that of the person we pray for, even if it means suffering (See Jesus’ own prayer in Matt. 26:39).

The Roman Catechism sums this up:

For God will either grant what is asked, and thus they will obtain their wishes; or He will not grant it, and that will be a most certain proof that what is denied the good by Him is not conducive either to their interest or their salvation, since He is more desirous of their eternal welfare than they themselves.


#8

For believers it’s not an opinion. For believers, having things turnout in ways we don’t understand is not necessarily reason for doubt. That’s the difference.


#9

I don’t base my faith in God on signs but on rational arguments.

So if these arguments could be shown to be inconsistent or false, then I’d have a second look.

Interestingly, based on these very same arguments, any sign or response would be a contingent reality and therefore presume God’s existence, in the first place.


#10

Thank you for posting this. I think people confuse joy with happiness as I once did, therefore, prayers are considered not answered if the person doesn’t feel “happier.”

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author, and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” Hebrews 12:2


#11

In my opinion, this kind of question from Christians is a bit silly anyway. So I am sorry you are asked this question.
Christianity does not rely on convincing evidence in a material way. Evidence is there to one degree or another, whether it be historical documentation or philosophical proofs. And everyone has personal confirmations that help their faith, but at the end of the day “evidence” will never suffice as a basis for faith.

Apologetics that relies on material evidence as proof for God is wrong-headed, in my opinion, as it will never be enough.
And yea yea, “what if…”. “what if Christ came down on the clouds tomorrow”.
Well, he hasn’t. And we are not to base our faith on what ifs.
“A wicked generation demands signs”

In my opinion, the fact that none of creates ourselves is a starting point. None of us can explain our existence, outside the material explanation of our parents having sex. And that is not a very satisfying explanation for the origin, meaning, and purpose of our lives.


#12

This question doesn’t really make sense; if God doesn’t exist, there couldn’t be a sign or response to prayer, since everything is just happening by chance. It’s impossible to receive a sign that God doesn’t exist, because there’d be nothing to cause such a sign.


#13

I am sorry that you have experienced such simplistic presentations of Christianity. This type of belief can be nothing but superstition when carried too far.

At the same time, looking at the outcome of events and giving glory to God is a way of expressing gratitude.
You are looking at the issue in the fundamentalist literalist way above. These types of expressions of God’s providence do not have to be cause and effect like that.


#14

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