My son says he does not believe in God
Feb 12, 2016
Shortly before Christmas 2015 he told me that he doesn’t believe in God, and he only received his sacraments because it was expected of him by me. I explained to him that faith is a powerful thing and that it’s helped me through many difficult situations. He still does not believe that it’s possible that God could have made everything we see.
First of all, I explained to him that as a parent it is my duty to give him a base of faith to build on and that it’s only natural that a parent will introduce his/her own faith to their children. However, as you could imagine, I feel like somewhat of a failure in that department. He’s a teen, who is a great kid, but obviously strong opinions. I WANT him to believe, but I can’t FORCE him to believe. He no longer attends Mass on Sundays although has agreed to still attend at Christmas/Easter or other occasions.
This is a BIG question: How do I begin to help my son BELIEVE in God? My own belief in God is unexplainable…I just know He exists and faith is a blessing to me. I can’t tell him that God just exists because in his mind he needs ‘proof’. I pray about this often. Please, please help me.
Asked at 06:27 am on February 12th 2016
Hi Stacey, although the formation for seminarians has changed a bit since my time, the Church still insists that we all study philosophy for years before we take on theological studies. Why? Because faith builds on nature, and our human nature includes the gift of reason. We don’t only know God’s existence through his revealing himself through the various great figures of the Old Testament – Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and so on, and through his own Son Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
Ancient Greek philosophers like Parmenides, Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle all discovered God by human reason without the aid of revelation. And later in the Church, great thinkers like St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas drew both on reason and on revelation in writing both philosophical and theological works, often a blend of both, since as St John Paul II pointed out in his encyclical, Faith and Reason, each nourishes and supports the other.
What’s great about your son is that he’s asking questions, because as Jesus tells us, ‘seek and you shall find.’ St Anselm’s definition of theology was ‘faith seeking understanding,’ and in a way, that could be said of philosophy too. So if he’s really interested, he should ask himself the question asked by philosophers since Aristotle that starts a rational quest for God is ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’ That’s a question about the mystery of existence, our own and everything in the world these last 13.8 billion years.
The point is, there are lots of different ways at arriving at the truth, but none of them use the kinds of proof you find in the natural sciences. For example, there’s no natural scientific proof that only natural scientific proofs arrive at the truth – but that’s another question. Nor that one person loves another. And if we take a lifetime to come to an even beginning of an understanding of the mystery of another human being, it shouldn’t be surprising that understanding God ain’t easy.
A book he might try is Peter Kreeft’s Because God is Real: Sixteen Questions One Answer or his Philosophy 101 by Socrates: An Introduction to Philosophy via Plato’s Apology. Belief in God isn’t irrational, it’s just that without a rational background, our faith can seem to have shaky foundations. Certainly, as a philosopher all my life, knowing that God exists through a hardheaded exercise of reason is a useful backup to faith. If I know through reason there’s a God, that if there’s a God he must be intelligent, good, and personal (because how could personal beings come from a less than personal Being?), my faith has the support of reason.
While there are ‘proofs’ for God’s existence (Aquinas has five what he calls ‘ways’ that use reason to explore God’s existence), what faith has is ‘evidences’ – like St Paul’s listing of all the people the Risen Jesus appeared to, or the ‘evidence’ of the holinesss of a saint’s life. Anyway, be patient with your son, try to get him to read some serious books that deal with the existence of God, like the ones I mentioned for starters.
Very best, Fr Brendan
Replied at 11:46 pm on February 17th 2016
I have a daughter who doesn’t believe in God, although she isn’t so direct as to come out and say it. I’ve told both my daughters about my promise to God when I got married that I would bring my children up in the faith. I fully believed at the time that that was a solemn vow, and I still believe that.
You correctly state that we cannot force our children to believe. Faith is a gift from God, and we need to be constantly grateful for this great gift of faith.
I agree with Fr. Brendan that your son’s openness and honesty about his views is a positive sign. Of course you want his faith to be genuine. Better that he tells you what he really believes than to ‘pretend’ that he believes.
One of the things I hold on to is my knowledge that God loves each one of us (including your son!) more than we ever could. In light of this situation, probably the best one can do is pray regularly that somehow and at some point he will be touched by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Our priest at Mass gave us a homework assignment about 3 weeks ago. He told us to read the Bible together at home as a family. That assignment has been a real blessing for me, because it’s something we can do without my ‘forcing’ my daughter to continue religious instruction. What I usually do is take the Gospel reading of the day along with the commentary of the day which I get from the daily Mass readings via e-mail. No observable results yet, but it’s another alternative to simply praying.
I will pray for your family, and especially your son.
God bless you.
Replied at 01:10 pm on February 22nd 2016
Hi Stacey. I imagine how hard it should be for you this. In my case it’s not a daughter but some loved ones Who don’t have faith.
I once heard something that has helped me a lot: Talk to the one Who really lisents. Talk to the one that can do something. And that is God!! Keep praying!
It took like 30 years of constant praying to St. Mónica to See the conversion of his son St. Agustine. There is Hope!
Blessings and Greetings from Guatemala!
Replied at 05:06 pm on March 03rd 2016