A man and woman praying

So is there an all-loving all-seeing God or is it a convenient invention to salve the soul?

I have had major reason to consider that question over the past few weeks as my 12-year-old nephew, Rory Staunton, cruelly lost his life to a toxic infection in a New York hospital.

In the intensive care unit I met two pastors, both doing their best to console a frightened and exhausted family desperately concerned for their little boy.

With one I ended up discussing the philosophy of Spinoza, the Dutch philosopher, who believed that if there was a God he was abstract and uncaring.

When you see all the war, the killing, the famine, and suffering it is easy for many to agree with Spinoza.

We discussed the Sermon on the Mount, and the eight beatitudes, which are the most relevant part of the Christian theology in my experience.

Those are profound statements that truly do preach humility and compassion and revive faith in the New Testament.

Yet how has that love and mercy expressed itself?

There were two church services for Rory, one in Ireland, one in America where God’s mercy and grace were front and center.

I was assured by many that Rory had gone to a better place and that God had a plan for him.

At his funeral mass there were repeated references to a merciful God but it was hard to see the mercy in depriving my grieving sister and her husband of their beautiful son.

I acknowledge now more than ever, the importance of the ritual of the religion, especially in the wake of Rory’s death when I see the incredible comfort that the ceremonies brought to his parents.

I saw God in the incredible caring of Father Tom, from Mayo, in the hospital room in New York in the way he told my little niece that her brother was gone, a truly saintly man.

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Rory Staunton, a beautiful boy, leaves this earth. The hardest column I will ever have to write

But that is not the same as believing in God.

Despite the overwhelming desire to believe the answer is positive the question must remain unanswerable.

There is no evidence either way that is definitive or conclusive for me.

My awful encounter with death has if anything, increased my sense of how unknown the great questions of our existence remain.

I am comfortable with that. Great certainties held by people unnerve me anyway. All punishing, all powerful, all merciful deities of whatever religion make it too easy to avoid the really difficult question which is: Who are we? Why are we here?

I’m afraid I have no idea.