I believed in God before I ever heard arguments for his existence. Well, sort of. I knew a version of the cosmological argument when I was a child because it’s so easy to stumble into but as far as I remember, it wasn’t given to me by anyone. So, when I eventually began to wonder about God’s existence the question of how I knew he existed plagued me. The answer I initially thought of was prayer.
God was an ever present entity in our home when I was growing up. We had so little money that we had to turn to him often. When we needed money for school fees, when we had no food to eat, or had no money to pay our rent, who could we go to but God? And he heard us. Memories fade over time but there is one incident I still remember. We drank our last chocolate milk that night so we had none to drink before school in the morning and my Mom was worried because it meant there would be no breakfast. My little sister (she couldn’t have been more than 3 then) suggested that we pray and pray we did. At 5 am the next morning, one up our neighbors brought us tins of cocoa and milk because he had extra. That was what we grew up knowing God as – the one who heard our prayers and took care of us.
Things changed. My Dad got a good job when I was about 8. I went off to boarding school at 10. At 12 I was writing my Junior Secondary school finals. And then came the incident I want to write about. I know the beginning because my Mom told me. My Dad went to visit his Dad (kind of. They weren’t really related by blood) who took him to a witch doctor who informed him that my Mom was trying to kill him. So he wanted her to leave.
To understand the absurdity of this story, you must understand my parents. They got married when my Dad was 18 and my Mom was 17. They were both in the university and dirt poor (most people were). My Mom is the kind of person who prays. She prayed for my Dad to get a job so we could pay our rent, landlords wouldn’t beat her anymore and schools would stop treating us so badly because we couldn’t pay our fees. There were night vigils and fasting and everything else you can imagine and he finally got a high-paying job. All her prayers had been answered. Killing my Dad wouldn’t make us richer or happier. She says she loved my Dad and I could believe her. Why else had she stayed with him through hell?
My Dad had worked to put himself through school. His real Dad was dead (killed by his Mom or grandmom, I hear) and his mom didn’t help him. In fact, they didn’t know him. Until he got the job. Then everyone who wanted money could come to him. What I didn’t witness, I heard from my Mom. As the story goes, he gave them a lot of money but they always thought he had more and he wasn’t giving it to them because of my Mom. So they did everything in their power to break them up (that part I witnessed). The witch doctor was only the latest attempt. I don’t think my Dad was the witch-doctor going type. In fact, I don’t think he believed there was anything to them. I probably got my skepticism from him. He didn’t go to church with us, but he didn’t go to any shrines either.
Anyway, fighting ensued. My Dad wanted my Mom out of the house and she wasn’t leaving. Thankfully, there were no no-fault divorce laws there. Both partners had to agree in order to get a divorce. As it is when you’re a child and your parents are fighting, you only see half of what goes on. I saw that my Mom was unhappy. My Dad moved to the spare room. My mom almost hanged herself one night. One day, she put all of us kids in the car and just drove. She had no idea where she was going. She drove to another state and checked into a hotel. Her head was still bleeding where my Dad had hit it with a hammer (or something else. I might have the incidents mixed up). We spent the weekend at the hotel, although we had so little money. Eventually, I suggested we go back home. God would take care of us – he always did. And so, home we went.
When we got home, my Dad wouldn’t let us in. We spent the night in the car with my baby brother banging on the front door, crying to be let in. He let us in a little before dawn. I remember he was sitting on the couch when I went in, staring at the TV (perhaps it was on, perhaps it wasn’t). I told him I hated him and at that point, I sincerely did. He was leaving for Holland on transfer in a few days. He hadn’t gotten our visas so we could go with him. I was supposed to go back to school to write the rest of my finals. He wouldn’t pay for the trip and my mom had no money so I was home while everyone else was at school.
So, here’s what my Mom did: She borrowed some money and paid so I could go to school and began fasting and praying for my Dad’s dad to die. That was a major theological difference between my Mom and I. I thought we should pray for people like that to repent. She wanted them dead. Her fasting lasted seven days. The eight day was the day I was returning to school. On the seventh night, my Dad got a phone call. His dad was dead. He had eaten his dinner, watched some TV, gone to bed and never woken up. On the eight day, my dad woke me up told me to get ready to go to school. He was going to pay for the trip (he didn’t know my Mom had done it already). He drove my mom and I to the bus stop, prayed with us (for the first time in ages), gave me some money and sent me off to school. He was leaving for Holland in a day or two. He tried to tell his employers to prepare visas so we could go with him, but it was too late.
The change in him was as welcome as it was sudden. My mom told me that she knew when my Dad had refused to send me to school and suggested that I sell food on the street to pay my way, that someone (his father, presumably) had put a spell on him. He loved me and would never act that way towards me no matter how angry he was. That was why she prayed for his Dad’s death, I presume – so the spell would leave. I didn’t believe in spells or miracles or witch doctors (except the fake kind who took your money and gave you fake answers) but I knew that God had done something for us just like he always did.
Things like that shaped my views about a lot of things of which God was one. When I was a freshman in college wondering if God existed, I returned there in my mind. God has worked wonders for us (even if they were not miracles in the strict sense). How could he do that unless he existed? I am a firm believer in coincidence, but even that couldn’t explain my whole childhood. My religious instruction ended when I was about 9 because we stopped going to church. I took classes in the Christian religion in secondary school but rejected what I was taught because I thought it sounded wrong. If I was ever indoctrinated, it was by incidents like this. They fixed a view of God firmly in my mind that I could not lose: a picture of a good and powerful God who hears us when we call. I have forgotten what I learned in Sunday school, but I remember this and it affects me. When someone asked me why I worship God, my answer was “He has been good to me. How could I be ungrateful?”
So, how do I know God exists? All the arguments help, but I would be a liar if I said they were it. This isn’t it either, but it is one of the reasons.