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How Could God Possibly Love Us?

I recently began re-reading the famous novel, “The Exorcist” by William Blatty. The movie of the same name, made in 1973, is considered by many to be a classic, starting a whole genre of “supernatural” horror films. The book, unlike many contemporary novels, is in my opinion actual literature.

I recall that back at Iowa State University, I saw the movie with a group of my fellow graduate students, some of whom had no interest in religion, others who were skeptical, if not cynical, about the existence of the spiritual. Because I had been a priest, I was deluged after the movie with questions and comments.

The movie, though about beings believed to be the personification of evil, seemed to spark interest in the spiritual – a subject that had been ignored, forgotten or a matter of contempt for some of them. It was the awakening of a part of them that had been asleep for some time. 

Some of them, no doubt, had been religious as children but “outgrew” it. As for many people today, religion became irrelevant, having no practical value, seeming to offer nothing but outdated doctrine that is no help in day-to-day living.

A Way of Seeing

In several recent blogs, I’ve quoted Rabbi Harold Kushner, who became famous for his book, “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.” He has written elsewhere that many of us, religious and non-religious people, are confused about what constitutes spirituality and religion. Religion, he writes, is not primarily a set of beliefs but a way of seeing.

“It can’t change the facts about the world we live in, but it can change the way we see those facts,” he says.

It seems so hard for us to “see” these days. We have to do so through a fog of skepticism, consumerism, secularism and anxiety. It’s hard to focus on the spiritual, let alone the religious. This is true, I believe, even though our “true selves” are meant for God and each other.

So what can a person searching for God learn from a 40-year-old novel like The Exorcist?

According to the story, the exorcism – by two Jesuit priests, one a psychiatrist who taught at Georgetown University, the other a celebrated anthropologist – was reluctantly performed as a last resort. Nothing had worked to stop the girl’s rantings and ravings and the apparent presence of a malevolent personality within her.

In a conversation before the ritual, one of the priests speculates that the target of demonic possession is not the person possessed but the people who observe or learn about the possession. “And I think the point is to make us despair; to reject our own humanity …to see ourselves as ultimately bestial, vile and putrescent; without dignity; ugly; unworthy.

“And there lies the heart of it, perhaps: in unworthiness. For I think belief in God is not a matter of reason at all; I think it finally is a matter of love: of accepting the possibility that God could ever love us.”

Indeed. If skeptics get past all the other objections to belief in God, how can we believe that a being whose presence stretches from here to beyond the ends of the universe, who is ultimately responsible for all that exists, who has no beginning or end, could possibly care for the billions of us who are specks on an obscure planet? It’s hard enough to believe there may be a “higher power” responsible for the existence of the universe let alone to believe that power has any interest in us, who are often fickle, weak, dishonest, distrustful and destructive.

It boggles the mind. Do I dare believe it’s possible? And for us skeptics, perhaps the most important question is, “What evidence is there to support it?”


It depends, of course, on what you mean by “evidence.” If you’re looking for scientific evidence, forget it. But science has no monopoly on the truth, which also comes packaged in music, literature, art, and the history of humanity. And all through history, among almost all people, God appears to have revealed glimpses of him/herself.

The writer of the Book of Isaiah in the Hebrew Bible – who lived over 700 years before Jesus – was already eloquent on the subject of God’s love for us. He lamented that God’s people thought God had abandoned them. He compared God’s love with the most intimate of human love, placing these words in God’s mouth:

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast

And have no compassion for the child she has borne?

Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”

Ultimately, in the book and movie, the exorcists drive out the demon. But it requires Isaiah-type fortitude, near-heroic effort and lots of trust in God’s love.


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