A young friend recently posted on-line about a crisis in her family. In asking for help, however, she did not ask for others’ prayers, nor did she want to be encouraged to pray. She is an atheist, she says.
I like my friend very much. And I admire her for many of her qualities. She’s a good person. In her taking responsibility for the welfare of others, she is particularly to be admired. But somehow, I am not so surprised at her denial of faith.
There are many ways to decide that there is no god to believe in. Some people arrive there from a rationalist mind-set. They cannot believe in something they cannot prove by ordinary means of inquiry. But others arrive there in an irrational way. They started out believing in something, but everything they tried to believe in disappointed them. Not that it left them in the lurch, but it just wasn’t what they were looking for. Given the spirit of our age, I’m surprised there aren’t more of these folks. Maybe there are, and they just haven’t announced themselves.
But my young friend was always one for “pushing the boundaries,” “blurring distinctions,” being edgy and transgressive. It sounds so brave and attractive, so unconstrained, so liberating. But when you have run out of rules to break, changes to proclaim, standards to overthrow — all in the name of liberation from some form of oppression — there is nothing left to revolt against. Atheism is, for some people, just another name for a kind of personal nihilism, a confession of rage and despair that there are things other than you, things which you cannot bend to your will.
My young friend is at least honest about her denial of faith. But I know far too many clergy who bravely call for transformation and liberation, while denying the witness of the Bible, the content of the Creeds, and the rules of their Church. Oh, they use all the right words when speaking from the pulpit; the Scripture is read every Sunday in their services. But I cannot discern anything they really believe in, other than the wrongness of everything that is old, familiar, established. Which includes God, Christ, the Bible, tradition — even science, when it tells them a fact they don’t like.
One upon a time, my young friend professed her faith in Christ. I was there, I can testify to it. And once upon a time, all those who stand in the pulpit preaching sermons that might as well be called after Weird Al’s song, “Everything You Know is Wrong,” professed their faith, too. My hope for all those who have abandoned their faith is that, when they have broken every taboo, stepped over every line in the dirt, said every unsayable thing, they will realize there is nothing left. Except Christ, who is greater than the Nothing that some people come to embrace.
For this is the good news: God believes in us far more than we can ever believe in him. He will not forget us or forsake us. He who broke open the doors of hell is the true Liberator. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).
Not the darkness of sin. Not the darkness of error. Not even the darkness of despair. Shine on, Lord Jesus!