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February 13, 2017

What is God? "Blind" faith offers some answers

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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While discussing the meaning of life with a group of young co-ed university students from varied backgrounds, one asked a very simple but incredibly difficult question: "What is God? There appear to be many gods among the peoples of the earth."

That gave rise to some vigorous discussion when another student added, “Believing in God needs blind faith.”

I took this to mean that he felt himself so well educated in scientific methodology as to wholly trust facts over faith. My brief answer was, “But not believing also requires blind faith!”

The students’ questions illustrate a central problem facing youth today – coming to grips with the existence and the nature of God.

The three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, teach monotheism; that is, the supremacy of one eternal, all-knowing, all-seeing, infinitely loving and ever-creating God – a God whose divine will is continually being revealed to us.

While we humans pride ourselves on understanding measurable empirical laws, like those of physics and gravity, we are much less adept at understanding the less-tangible universe of natural laws that govern us from within.

So, while most of us don’t attempt to jump from a fourth-floor balcony and expect to survive (because we believe in the law of gravity), we read about the divine law of the “golden rule,” or treat others as you wish to be treated, and find it so easy to ignore.

Similarly, we learn about entropy and the science of aging and know that our human bodies eventually die, just as everything else in the universe will. Yet we reject or ignore that our souls will outlive our bodies and return to the Almighty and that the universe itself will be recreated in a form that God only knows.

Amid the frantic pace of our over-scheduled and technology-obsessed lives, we scarcely spare a thought over the divine mystery of why you, and I, and everyone on earth were created in the first place.

We seem to devote the greatest part of our time, intellect and energy on physical survival and reproduction, just like every other living creature, from single-celled amoebae on up.

But in reality, animals perform these essential tasks far better than we do because they are “hard-wired” to respond instinctively to the natural laws governing their particular species. They were not designed to ignore, argue about, or defy them – they simply, and successfully, comply.

In fact, compared to animals, we humans do a lousy job at even these basic tasks: we over-consume, we destroy the environment, and we kill one another in our ferocious determination to attain needless power and wealth.

We buy food from the market using money we’ve earned, but fail to connect with the earth in which it is grown and seem unable to comprehend giving thanks to God who created it.

We have marvellous technology for viewing distant reaches of the universe, watching the birth and death of stars, yet rarely give a thought to its supreme Designer.

In a world that values self-sufficiency and personal autonomy, we barely know how to frame the questions our less-technologized ancestors asked: Is God outside our world? Within it? A principle? An idea? Just who is God anyway?

The answers, or answers, are both simple and elusive. In essence, the believer seeks God first of all within the self.

God is self-described in scripture, whether it be the Torah, the Christian Bible, or the Qur’an.

Divine revelation is directed outward as a stimulus to human spiritual experience. Thus, the Qur’an states that it is a book of guidance to “those who are mindful of God.”

Interestingly, the Qur’an itself does not try to instill faith in its readers, but guides those who are already on their journey of faith.

Just as with the advanced textbook material I wrote during my career teaching microchip design, I had to assume certain prerequisites for readers to be able to understand it; I was writing for a certain kind of “believer,” someone already on the intellectual journey leading to expertise in this field.

In the same way, a holy book will not provide guidance unless you’ve begun the spiritual journey yourself. It is not easy, but faith – what some choose to call “blind faith” – makes it possible.

Drawing again from my area of research, I can affirm that the experiences encountered along the way become part of positive or negative feedback loops; faith determines how much influence they have on the outcome or destination. Doing public good throughout one’s journey will lead to positive feedback, even though difficulties and challenges may abound.

The more one trusts to faith in God, the more impetus there is to do good, and the more one’s faith is strengthened as a result. From personal experience, I can confirm that the journey is worth it.

A mindful and always-thankful approach to faith may seem “blind” to some, but it really works. I invite everyone to set aside skepticism for a moment and just try it for yourself.

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