WORDS FROM W.W. May 26, 2010
“Atheist” (n.)- Doubter; agnostic; nonbeliever.
I’ve been reading Craig Groeschel’s book The Christian Atheist. The title leaned me in the direction of the bookshelf that displayed it. The “half-price for three days only” got me to pick it up. The gift card convinced me to buy it. The book sleeve’s sub-heading is “Believing in God but living as if He doesn’t exist.”
Unfortunately I have to get through the first 11 chapters before coming to the final chapter entitled “When You Believe In God, But Not in His Church.” (I’m too compliant to jump to the last chapter first. Somewhere in my life- probably first grade- it was hammered into me that “good little boys” didn’t do that!)
Atheist is one of those names that we’ve black-listed, but an atheist is a doubter. That means that at one time Thomas qualified. Even at the end of Matthew, one verse that continues to confound me, talks about the disciples worshipping Jesus, “but some doubted.” Everyone of us doubts in some way. That doesn’t mean that that on Sunday I’m going to say something like “You may have come here this morning with a lot of atheism. You’re atheistic about the possibility of healing happening in your life. You’re an atheist that hope could come into your life. But,let me assure you, that you don’t have to leave here today still an atheist. Jesus is big enough to handle your atheist-infected mind.”
The word has history that usually conjures up pictures of Madalyn Murray O’Hair ranting and raving about prayer in the public schools. O’Hair was named by Life magazine as “the most hated woman in America” in 1964. If you remember her at all you may remember that she didn’t really convey having “a warm personality.”
So “atheism” has history in Christian circles.
But it’s also very close to home in an uncomfortable way! We do doubt! We do live in ways that say we’re believers, but not committed to it. When we talk about commitment it too often is defined by how many church activities and study groups we’re a part of. The confusing thing is that there are believers who aren’t committed to anyway. Being committed to a group, or a study, or being in a worship service each week would be a welcome sign that they are still alive, let alone following Jesus.
My “atheism” shows in my too frequent doubting that people can change. I become cynical that God can mold and shape clay into something extraordinary. History is more often than not a good indication of what will happen in the future, but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob also has a history of writing the impossible made possible.
Could it be that the “atheism” of the church keeps pulling us back to what we’re used to and what we’ve always experienced? Could it be that a more intimate relationship with God is just outside of our reach because we’ve doubted that he can extend himself just a little more in our direction?
That takes me to the end of this column, but also the beginning of chapter seven in Groeschel’s book. It’s entitled “When You Believe in God, But Don’t Think You Can Change.”
I’m hesitant to read it.