Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Three hurdles

‘Look at all the trouble and all the suffering in the world. There is no god. How could a god allow this to happen? Despite all your pie-in-the-sky and wishful thinking, when the worst suddenly happens, you’re no better able to deal with it than anyone else. Face facts. There is no god,’ says the atheist.

The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ There was a written notice above him, which read: ‘This is the King of the Jews’. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ Luke 23:35-39

Here we have it. Both the atheist and those who believe in God or in ‘the gods’ have the same attitude. When the worst suddenly happens, both are at a loss. Irreligious or religious, there’s no help for us. Looking at the universe in the bare nakedness of our souls, we see both the beauty, and the terror, of it. ‘Why have they left me alone here without a pass key?’

Those who believe in no supernatural power sneer at faith. To them, faith is just a blind belief in spite of what really happens in the world. To many who believe in a supernatural power, whether or not they are religious, their belief is a vague mental consent to a proposition they don’t fully grasp.

Between the atheist and this kind of theist there is little difference. The apostle writes, ‘You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder’ (James 2:19).

If God were in fact the kind of god that the atheist rejects, then I too am an atheist. That is the first hurdle, to see that you don’t believe in a god you have made up in your mind, a god who is too small.

The second hurdle is to realize that to believe there is a God is not a mental exercise or a convenient way to integrate into society. This is belief in a god who is too big. If there were ever a case for atheism, it would be to leap these two hurdles.

Can we leap the third hurdle without knocking it, and ourselves, over? without tripping over it? This is the hurdle of faith, not belief, of trust, not mental assent, of honesty, not evasion, of clarity, not unfocused vision. Can we really have faith in the God who is, just as He is, in the goodness of His will for us in the face of all that happens?

This is not a god too small or too big, but the only God there is, who though infinite became finite, who though alive became dead, who faced the irreligious and the religious with the same unblinking eyes, who came answering questions we didn’t even think of asking.

Unbeliever or believer, go back and read the gospels with the same unblinking eyes, unafraid to face the facts, the reality of the world in which we find ourselves, unafraid of all questionings, by others or ourselves.

What He calls us to is not religious belief, but to enter into friendship, even into partnership, with Him. His story is not just another tale. When you read it, forget everything you ever heard or were told about it.

Start fresh, as though reading a book you’d never seen or heard of before. I’m not talking about the bible, that religious book. I’m talking about the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Read them with a mind that sees through unblinking eyes, and see what you make of them, and of Him. This is not mere history. It is His story. See what happens to your unbelief or your belief. Leap over the third hurdle, and see where your feet take you.

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