A couple years ago Ricky Gervais wrote an article at Christmas on “Why I Am an Atheist.” Recently a similar article was written in which the author lists seven reasons “Why I Raise My Children Without God.” These articles draw a LOT of readers (I think both of them set records for page views), so we can expect to see more of them. And at least part of the reason they are so popular is that many people feel like finally someone is giving voice to what they believe as well.
As one who chooses to still have faith in God, what are we to make of this? I’d suggest we actually see it as a gift, but before explaining why I’d like make one more observation.
Everyone has a faith choice. One may choose to have faith in God, or one may choose to have faith God does not exist. But both choices take faith, and neither is strictly a matter of rationality or reason. In other words, evidence doesn’t take either position the whole way to where we want to go, and so at some point folks must make a reasonable judgment based upon it. That “reasonable judgment” is what religious people refer to as faith.
Two quick examples. Do I know anyone will read this? No. But it seems a reasonable judgment based on available evidence that a fair number of people will. I have faith.
Do I know the sun will rise tomorrow? No. I think it is highly likely. If I were to assign odds that the sun will rise tomorrow, it would be something like I’m 99.9999999>% sure that the sun will rise. But there is still that slim possibility that it won’t. Maybe an alien race will arrive tonight and blow it up. Not at all likely, but not impossible either. And so, based on the fact that the sun has risen every day since who knows when, I have faith it will rise again tomorrow. But it is faith, and not absolute certainty.
Now when it comes to belief in God, it seems to me that there are very smart people on both sides of the fence when it comes to the most reasonable interpretation of the evidence. I think Christians should acknowledge that. I think we should admit right up front that that there are some pretty compelling reason to choose to have faith that God does not exist. Now, I believe there are better and more compelling reasons to believe that he does, but that does not mean I don’t appreciate the strength of arguments to the contrary or feel their force.
Rather than getting defensive, I think we ought to be gracious. Being nasty, engaging in attacks, or even just allowing such articles to make us anxious or afraid do not seem to me, at least, to be particularly helpful responses. Rather than writing scathing internet comments, or saying what bad people others are when we gather in our own “faith ghettos” (whether Christian or atheist or whatever our faith may be) we might look for a chance to talk in the most winsome ways possible with the people around us. Having faith in others means giving them the benefit of the doubt.
And then we will be in a position to receive the gift that atheists have to offer us. But, having gone long enough today, that will just have to wait for tomorrow.
I think we generally expect truth to be easy and accessible, and maybe the most important truths in life are. But if we start to think about the more detailed truths which make up various areas of study, we immediately begin to see this is a rather unrealistic expectation. A scientist or mathematician working at the very highest level of his field will probably not be easily accessible to the general population (me!), and may not be accessible at all.
I'd suggest the same thing is true of theological truth, and it is probably a mistake of the modern mind to think such truth can be simply and fully grasped. Take, for instance, the following paragraph. You may have to read it at least a couple times to really get it, and even think about it a bit more beyond that. I know I did.
But if you do... well, it just may there is a truth here that is worth working to grasp.
The role of physical discipline in religious life has probably never been less significant than in the modern Western world (how many people actually kneel in churches now?), but it is at the very least a statement that what is encountered in religious life is, as we noted earlier, no less a matter of negotiating our way around the bare thereness of something than the techniques of mapping our path through a world of material objects.
--Williams, Rowan (2012-09-13). Faith in the Public Square (Kindle Locations 6122-6125). Bloomsbury UK. Kindle Edition.
Since Loudoun schools got the day off due to ice, Linda and I were able to have lunch together. We went to our favorite local Mexican restaurant, a place where we know most of the staff by name.
As we sat down, one of the waitresses came over to ask how we were.
We asked her if she had any trouble getting into work this morning. This proved to be a rather tricky question, because there were several English words that gave her trouble. She was trying to say that her husband had “brought” her to work, but she didn’t know what word to use and was confused by its relationship to “bring”.
Linda took out a piece of paper and wrote the words down and explained the words to her, and then had the waitress practice them in sentences (“I brought you the chips. I will bring you more tea.”) All this took a couple minutes at the most. But at the end of this exchange the waitress said with great emotion, “Thank you guys.” And then, “I love you!”
It struck me once again how many people around us could use a little help in so many ways; how easy it is to give such help; and how incredibly rewarding it is.
As we left, Linda set up a time with the waitress where they could meet at a nearby Starbucks and simply talk, giving her a chance to further practice her English.
At 3AM in the morning, our house is dark and cold; the thermostat allows the temperature to drop to 58 degrees. Buried under several layers of covers, snuggled up next to my wife, the last thing I want to do is leave the warmth and comfort of the bed. But when inspiration calls, a preacher has to answer.
When I went to bed last night, I still had several possible sermons running through my brain. I had actually started three different sermons at three different points, with over a dozen pages alreay written out. But I didn't quite feel like I'd stuck my finger in a socket yet.
Then, at 3AM, I did.
Then, it all started to come clear. The energy started to flow. "Please," I said to myself, "Can't I sleep just a little longer?" But it was not use. My mind was already running a mile a minute.
As evening fell, Linda and I had a chance to walk back down to the river. Since the water level is still up, it has enough flow to resist freezing despite some of the coldest weather we've had in quite a few years. Big mats of snow are floating along the surface, however, bringing things closer to locking up. Still, with temperatures expected to go above freezing tomorrow, it does not look like that will quite get a chance to happen.
These swirls of suspended snow formed some pretty cool patterns. This one was pretty creepy, sort of like a ghostly woman in a long dress swimming under the water.
Here’s another reason I love preaching: writing sermons is sort of like doing sudokus. And that makes it loads of fun.
For me, at least, a sermon is like a big puzzle. It starts with all the possibilities of what one could preach. Going with our sudoku theme, on any given Sunday there might be nine different sermons percolating in my brain. Chances are, I’ll be excited about all of them.
This week, for instance, there’s a killer sermon in there along the lines of “how to make your life count.” Life’s short. Jesus’ life was shorter than most. Yet he arguably had more impact than anyone ever has before or since. How did he do it?
The question I’m trying to get at here is the question of “What does the Bible passage we are reading actually mean?” What does it say? How does it apply today?
That raises a host of other questions as well.
There’s the question of “What is the single most helpful thing a person in church could hear this week?" By being in church, people are saying “I want to live the best life possible.” There are lots of other things they could be doing on a Sunday morning, and frankly that’s what most people will be doing. But living well is so important to the folks in church that they’ll make the extra effort to build this extra step into their lives. What will they get in return? Believe me, that’s a question that keeps me up at night. Preaching is a sacred trust. It must be discharged honorably.
Then there’s the question of what the world needs us to hear. For the Christian, a sermon can never just be about “us”. It can’t be a mere matter of what is right for me, my family, my life. The vision has got be bigger than that. It has to extend to the way that the world's wrongs can be “righted”.
And, of course, there is also the question of what God is calling me to preach. This is the most important question of all, but often the hardest to get at it. Usually the answer involves some combination of all the above and a few other questions as well that I don’t have time to go into here.
I know I’ve hit it when I feel like I’ve touched a live wire. The “zap!!!” really lights me up. With all this energy coursing through my veins, Sunday morning seems so far away that it hardly seems possible to wait…
Linda and I had the chance to make quick walk down the Potomac just before dark yesterday. As you can see, it is still flowing free and hasn't even started to freeze over. Linda did, however, finally get a chance to wear a winter coat...
...They did not know the difference between the Vision in their hearts and the illusion of the American Dream. In pursuing the lie of illusion, they made it impossible to experience the truth of their Vision. As a result everything of value was lost."