Yesterday I was waiting for the bus on Nanaimo Street when a car pulled up alongside me and a woman got out. She approached (I was the only one there) and said, “Excuse me, we’re going around the neighbourhood asking a question of our neighbours – do you have a minute?” To which I said yes, thinking perhaps it was about the increase in break-ins or some new development that was making people unhappy. I did not notice that her hands clasped a small bible, but even if I had, I would have said yes anyway.
“Do you believe that all the suffering in the world is caused by God?” she asked. To which my unconsidered response was “No, I do not believe that. I’m a non-believer,” and as the pained look spread across her face I said, “I hope you have a good day.” Then she got back into the car her friend was waiting in, and they drove away.
The exchange took perhaps only one or two minutes, and as they left I realized how inadequate my response was – for it is not true that I am a non-believer. I do believe in the miracle of science, the capacity for humans to change themselves, the wonder of natural beauty, and the tenacity of life struggling to survive this time and place. And more to the point I have faith – faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, that mostly we will continue to do our best to fix things, that I will find the strength to exist even in times of great suffering, that my love – though physically finite – reverberates through the people with whom I connect.
I sold myself short by saying “I don’t believe,” when really I meant, “I don’t believe in God”. I don’t believe in a world controlled by an entity. I don’t believe in the limitations set forth in the books of any religion. But that’s such a small part of what there is – I would rather be understood as turning toward instead of turning away from.