Morgan Freeman has played God on the big screen, but in real life he sees the Almighty as an invention of the human mind.
It might seem curious, then, for the 78-year-old actor to star in a National Geographic Channel show all about God and religion. But "The Story of God with Morgan Freeman," which airs its season finale on Sunday, isn't so much a celebration of God as it is an exploration of human beings' unending search for the divine, Freeman says.
"An interesting phenomenon of human existence is that we cannot accept that we are here without oversight," the actor said in a recent interview with The Huffington Post.
In the season finale of the show, Freeman shares a sobering story from his life to demonstrate. When he was just 16 years old, he says, he came down with pneumonia, and an abscess developed on his lungs. One day, the abscess burst and he nearly died.
"Some say God saved me," Freeman says in the episode, with a mysterious twinkle in his eyes.
The episode explores the power of miracles -- why we believe in them and how they shape our understanding of God and our place in the world. Despite the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that divine intervention made him survive his illness, Freeman isn't inclined to call his recovery a miracle.
“I’ve survived so many things in my life that I don’t find myself asking the question of 'why,'" Freeman told HuffPost.
But the question of "Why me?" isn't an unreasonable one, especially for those who have survived near-death experiences or recovered from extreme trauma.
In the episode, Freeman meets with religious leaders, psychologists and people who have had "miraculous" experiences, all in the hopes of unpacking this phenomenon. Among them is Alcides Moreno, a man who survived after falling nearly 500 feet in 2008.
Moreno and his brother, Edgar, were washing the windows of a Manhattan building when their platform broke, plunging them 47 stories to the ground. Moreno survived the fall, but his brother died in the accident.
One of the doctors at the hospital where Moreno was treated told The New York Times, “If you are a believer in miracles, this would be one."
But Moreno struggles with that analysis. For many people of faith, Freeman says in the show, "miracles are proof that life is not random.” They suggest that God has a plan for our lives.
But was it God's plan for Edgar to die? And if Moreno was saved by divine intervention, then what is God's plan for him? These are questions Moreno says he's still grappling with and may continue to ponder for the rest of his days.
The hunger for some sense of order in the universe can lead people to pray for miracles, wager with the gods and have their fortunes read. Freeman investigates all of these practices and more, even traveling to visit a Chinese fate calculator who reads his astrological chart. See the clip below:
Our chart provides a map for our lives, says feng shui master Jenny Liu, but it doesn't preclude the possibility of free will -- or miracles for that matter. But Freeman is still skeptical.
“I don’t believe that we have a preordained life. Your fortune cannot be told," Freeman told HuffPost. The desire to know where our life is headed and seek some insight is understandable, he acknowledged, but even that relies on our belief that supernatural forces are at play in our lives.
"Life is more about what you believe than almost anything else. That’s why God still exists,” he said.
People spend their lives searching for God, he continued, when true divinity may be in front of us all along. In Hebrew, Freeman recounted, the word for God is derived from the verb "to be," making it translate roughly as "I am." He used this example to explain his own beliefs on the subject.
"God is in all things -- a sunset, a bloom, a rose," he said. "The ultimate answer to the question of God’s existence is ‘God is.’”
The season finale of the "The Story of God with Morgan Freeman" airs on Sunday May 8 at 9pm EST on the National Geographic Channel.