I was out last weekend with my three-year-old son in the woods near our house. We were walking on a path along a small creek, enjoying the sound of the running water and thinking maybe we’d catch a glimpse of some wildlife. About ten minutes into our hike, we spotted at the water’s edge what appeared to be a pile of stacked stones. Moving closer to examine the pile, we saw that it consisted of twelve stones, all whitish in color, smooth in texture, and flat enough to allow each to balance upon the one below it. They varied slightly in size and were arranged more or less with the largest at the base and the smallest at the peak. My son, intrigued by this unexpected find, looked from the stones to me and asked, ”Papa, who made this?”
I replied honestly, “I don’t know.”
“I like it,” he said, unfazed by my inability to answer his question. “Can we make one too?”
“I don’t see why not. Just don’t get too wet or we might get into trouble with mom!’
So we spent the next twenty minutes or so finding rocks to his liking and then carefully assembling them into a tower alongside the original. Once the task was complete, we stood back to look at the two towers side by side.
My son, looking pleased with the result, asked me, “Do you think the person who made the first one will see ours?”
“I guess that’s very possible.”
My son thought about that for a moment. “Do you think the person will mind that we copied his idea?”
I couldn’t help but laugh a little. “I’m pretty sure he won’t mind. If we destroyed his pile, I think that might make him sad. But we just imitated him, so that might make him happy.”
Seeming satisfied with this, my son looked at the two piles one more time. “I think his is better, but ours is pretty good too.” We headed out of the woods and back home.
Later that evening, as I was sitting alone by the fire, my son’s question echoed in my mind. “Who made this?” He didn’t ask how it got there, but rather who made it? What allows such a young inexperienced mind to know with certainty that anyone made the pile of stones? I realized, of course, that the answer lies in our human ability to reason. Without any formal education, the ability to read, or being taught anything specifically about rock towers, even a three-year-old knows from observation and interaction with the natural world that stones don’t just stack themselves. What we saw that day down by the creek was the work of a being with intelligence, will, and purpose.
And so it is with the existence of God. It’s a fairly common notion that belief in an intelligent Creator is a matter of faith. After all, many say, since we can’t prove God’s existence, we simply have to take it on faith that a supreme being exists. But this is to understand the word “prove” in a limited and misleading way. When we observe patterns, design, function, purpose, even beauty in the natural order, it is quite reasonable to understand that there must be an intelligence that underlies it all. We actually do prove the reality of a cause through the observation of effects (which is really how most things are proven). Denying the existence of God, from the standpoint of reason, therefore becomes as absurd as suggesting that the rock tower by the creek came into existence by its own will or through some series of random events. A child understands this.
But reason can only take us so far. Ultimately, I could not provide a definitive answer to, “Who made this?” Reason alone certainly allowed us to know that someone indeed made it, but not much beyond that. I couldn’t say whether it had been a man or a woman, a senior citizen or a teenager, someone who likes football or baseball, vanilla or chocolate, etc., etc. Since we weren’t actually there in the woods at the time of the tower’s creation, knowledge about the person who made it would require some form of revelation. This is the point at which faith comes into the picture.
Suppose upon exiting the woods that day, my son and I had encountered someone standing there who said to us, “Did you see the rock tower I made back by the creek?” That revelation, along with our willingness to accept it as truth (since reason at that point would give us no real cause to doubt it), would constitute an act of faith. (And the natural extension of that act of faith would have been a relationship with the one who made the revelation.) Contrary to some modern views, reason and faith do not oppose one another; faith builds upon that which reason allows us to know.
Upon seeing the rock tower, my child certainly could have chosen to simply kick it over. But it seems to me that his desire to imitate it was the more natural response to order and beauty. If we are indeed created in the likeness and image of the One who created us, would that not include an innate need and capacity to create? The denial of God really ends up being a denial of ourselves.
Yesterday, we were down by the creek again. Standing beside the original stone tower and our own was yet a third one. We’re sure that someone made it. Maybe today we’ll find out who.