I was challenged this week to consider what the difference is between me and ‘the Lady’, that is, between one who professes to ‘know’ Jesus and be indwelt by His Spirit—a ‘believer’, and one who has chosen to live a prudent and moral life as much as possible but denies the existence of any god. She knows plenty of mainline ‘Christians’, lots of religious people but claims to see no difference between us— I quote:
“As I say often, what interests me greatly is why it is so important for some very intelligent people to so willingly accept these myths. There is no difference in the lives of people like you who believe and people like me who do not. Your life is not any richer or happier or free from strife and problems.”
This seemed such an audacious claim that I of course set about contesting it. In part my response was:
“It is true that we are all made of the same genetic ‘stuff’. We may even share certain interests (chatting about books for instance) but your ‘phone’ is dead (referring to a prior conversation on the subject of prayer). Until that connection is made live you will never know the dimension of life you are missing, and the quality of life comparison becomes mere wishful thinking…from my observation there is nothing compelling about denying the reality of God in this world. Even if my belief were mistaken I would rather have lived with the joy, purpose and hope that come of knowing there is a God who holds my life in His hands, calls me by name and keeps count of the hairs on my head–who indeed loves me without conditions, than to trade these in for denial, which offers a transient show of ‘freedom’ but ends in lonely bondage to the tyranny of myself as my only god. That’s the way I see it.”
Well, that led to a barrage of responses from the defenders of the god-less viewpoint which sobered me to realize something more… but first some excerpts—
What an atheist (with regards to the Christian God) does get is intellectual honesty and freedom to wonder if “God” may take some other form than the unimaginative and limiting deity conceived by religion. I don’t think denial applies to an atheist. –George
Joy, purpose and hope can be achieved without an outside force.
If a belief in God gives comfort to those who have none, or love to those who have none, then yes, a belief in God may have some merit. But, that merit is only an imaginary coping system. As an individual, I take full responsibility for my circumstances. It does not give me comfort, or hope to blame my circumstances on a God, or to expect a God to change them. The thought that a God holds my life in his hands is a bit scary actually. It takes all control away, it takes all choices away. I am responsible for how I choose to live my life and the actions I choose to make.–Suzie
If I select five atheistic friends and compare them to my five siblings, I see no difference in the morality of their lives, their human frailties and weaknesses, their kindnesses and generosities. The only difference is the lack of Church and God in their conversations and of course attendance at religious services. Also the atheistic are more accepting of the religious beliefs or lack thereof of others in their lives. –the Lady
Skepticism is a virtue, but faith is not. I’ve seen too many good people duped into believing false things over and over and over again, and being seriously financially or physically harmed.—Mr.Brain
There is no difference between the lives of those who believe and those who do not. When Katrina hit New Orleans it did not separate believers from non-believers to impact.
I do recognize that there are some differences between us because I assume you spend much time either in church, saying prayers or thinking of God and Jesus and asking for guidance from them which you then implement in your life and the lives of those for whom you are responsible. I would imagine the biggest difference is that you attribute the decisions you make for running your life to God/Jesus and I accept the responsibility for myself.
I don’t know that joy and (can’t remember your quote exactly) are exactly quantifiable in this way. So many other factors enter into such evaluations. No matter how deep your faith, don’t think you would be so joyful in the presence of a dying family member or if you are prone to depression or ill yourself etc.—the Lady
And all these heart-felt missives led me to do some thinking too. How different are we as Christians because we believe there is a God we can know? Does it really just amount to church attendance and time spent praying? Is this what people perceive?
I read a research report suggesting that the ‘new atheism’ is in part a protest against organized religion. It is people observing ineffective religion and opting out altogether. Could it be they have never seen authentic Christianity lived out? In Acts I see a very different story. The first followers of Christ turned the world upside down. Their faith and boldness to speak in Jesus’ name were unstoppable! Onlookers were converted in droves. These believers knew their God and really believed. They were living evidence of His unlimited power. What’s happened to us? What witness does the average person see to the power of the Gospel to transform lives?
One idea that I proposed to this group of staunch un-believers was that in denying a God, they in effect make themselves to be god. Have we as believers done the same thing? Have we forgotten our God and put ourselves in His place? For whose pleasure do I live? Whose interests do I promote? How different am I from someone who claims there is no god and lives by their own intuitions? Are the ‘christians’ these folks see virtual atheists in the way they live? Am I? How deep is my joy anyway? I don’t mean to sound overly introspective here but I’ve been rolling these questions around in my mind even as I pray the Lord will plant authentic believers in these ones’ lives and help the rest of us to be that sort of believer to those around us.
This has been a very interesting on-line community to be involved with. [Incidentally, though I have changed the user names above to protect the privacy of these real persons, they do represent a virtual community who rally together to defend their rights to think outside the box and I do appreciate their willingness to interact with me and put up with my objections and clarifications.] Having said that, I’ve had to correct some of my assumptions about ‘atheism’. I assumed that atheists would all be a gloomy lot since the logical end to their beliefs leaves no option but despair. But classic atheism is apparently a rather rare commodity nowadays.
The genuine atheist who seriously lives out the implications of his non-beliefs will always end up with despair. Nietzsche is a notable example. He came to the conclusion that “a universal madness would break out when the truth of what mankind had done in killing God (i.e. denying his existence, saying ‘God is dead’) dawned on us.” (Zacharias, The End of Reason, p.27) Incidentally Nietzsche spent the last thirteen years of his own life in insanity being watched over by his godly mother.
Other notorious atheists have come to their senses and escaped this snare. Jean Paul Sartre, to the embarrassment of the intellectual elite atheist, recanted on his deathbed, acknowledging himself to be the product of a Creator God. And more recently Anthony Flew authored his own story: There is a God: how the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (2007)
When pursued to its legitimate ends an atheistic worldview is un-liveable, and yet here is this community of people, living quite contentedly it would seem. The ‘new atheist’ wants his morality, in fact exalts it above God’s moral standards– (after all, look at the suffering God allows!). He toots his own self-righteous horn all the while denying the Source of moral absolutes. He’s inconsistent—talking one way, living another—not really living up to the label he has chosen. How does that work? But should this discovery have come as a surprise? Am I not also human and often inconsistent? In fact this scenario of not living up to one’s labels sounds all too familiar. How did Paul put it? “…having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” (II Tim.3:5)
Where else might this apply?
It dawned on me one day this week that we who believe there is an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, personal God who is intimately acquainted with all our ways and promises to work in every detail for our best good…we above all people, should be filled chock-full and overflowing with contagious JOY, not to mentions unfathomable peace and boundless hope. The atheist has every excuse for despair. We have none whatsoever. We believe in what we do not see. We hope in situations beyond hope. We live and are renewed when death is imminent. We are confident of a destiny that reaches beyond our physical lives. To the atheist, ‘destiny’ is “no more than a popular name for girls.” They have no expectation beyond the grave. To us it is the hope that lights our present lives, the lighthouse we can see through the storms, the sight on which we fix our eyes. And as we live with a sense of our destiny we will be brilliant lights for people stuck in uncertain aimless lives.
On the other hand, if my joy is not evident… if my kids don’t see it leaking out on my face… If my peace is riddled through with the worries of this life, how is what I believe different than ‘the Lady’? I don’t wish to be a practical atheist. I want to fulfill the calling to which I have been called, to live what I say I believe, to walk by faith in a power beyond my own.
I was challenged by an excellent commentary called “Stretch out in the Spirit” by T.Moore from the Colson Center. (http://www.colsoncenter.org/the-center/columns/viewpoint/16248-stretch-out-in-the-spirit ) He says,
“…But if the Spirit of God lives in us, and if He is, indeed, able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, should we not expect more of ourselves than merely what we’ve ever known or endeavored in the past? Shall we be limited by our experience when an exceeding abundant power is at work within us?”
So, for perhaps the first time I am looking at ‘holes’ that need to be filled and wondering if God could possibly prepare me to be able to fill them… I don’t see the details yet but I’m daring to pray that He will make a way for His Kingdom to be advanced in these spots by my ‘living sacrifice’. It’s a start in making a difference… He’s invited us to ask and He will give the nations as our inheritance (Ps.2)… to ask and He will do through us greater works than He Himself did while on the earth (Jn.14:12-14)…To dare to ask, is a starting place.
And yes, there will be a noticeable difference, not because of who we are, but because of WHOSE we are.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. AMEN!”
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…”