Greetings to all who enter.
I read a disheartening article recently, having already had my fill of heartening ones. The article told the story of a former pastor who decided to try a year as an atheist in order to get his feet wet and then weigh in on the decision one year later. As you might have noticed, your old hardcopy calendar has made you a day early for all your appointments and is woefully inaccurate in its moon cycles, meaning that this new year is already upon us and our friend the pastor has reached his decision. Hold onto your keyboards, folks, for he has chosen atheism.
I’m sure that by now you’re reading on a newly purchased smart phone or computer, having thrown your old one across the room in absolute shock at the statement. A person can give up faith for a year and then not be immediately redrawn to it once the ball has dropped? It is a true and sincere decision, and I mean him no disrespect for I am willing to grant that it was through much soul-searching and trial that his conclusion was reached (though, to be honest, soul-searching might not be the most accurate term for a new atheist. Mind-crunching? Oh, well). I understand his decision and I pray for true repentance, but at the same time this was hardly a curve ball to someone who understands our role in the great cosmic caper of salvation. I hope to show that this man’s ultimate decision was not made on January 1st, 2014 and that it was all but set in stone on January 1st, 2013, the year before he entered into his transformation cocoon (I’m really trying to supplant soul-searching with a more secular frame of reference. Not there yet.).
I want to lay out a road map first for where I’m going to be getting my terms, just to make sure we end up in the same theater together. The largest swatch of articles that you find online that cover this story are going to be painting tones in the secular view (we can say atheist in the truest sense of the word). That’s not an indictment, it’s just a matter of fact. When you write a story while intently trying not to take a side, then you have in reality taken a side that is at odds with someone. There’s more than one color to paint a room, and a wholly Christian understanding of a story must take into account Christian beliefs and preferences, thus painting the room a different color. Yes, Christians have bias and a methodological framework just like anyone telling a story, and we need to be honest about it. If we don’t understand the sides we play for then we will be like the fisherman and the gardner- always looking for worms but always with different intent. I’m looking for the Christian worms.
Christianity, unlike a host of material and immaterial philosophies, is inherently personal and is in every way framed with God as the provocateur of the relationship. That’s not to say it’s so simplistic as the “relationship, not religion” way of thinking, which is unfortunately catching the snitch but missing quite a few quaffles (Look it up). What it is to say is that you must have more than an intellectual assent to or against Christianity. You can’t pick it up and drop it with ease, not if you know what you’re handling. Epistemology in and of itself doesn’t bid you come and rest. Daoism cannot know our innermost being, even if it attempts to prescribe antidotes to our existence. Nihilism has never offered anyone a drink, though many who drink are nihilists. Naturalism cannot accurately tell us why we are empty.
There is a personal Godhead at the center of Christianity, one who can control the entire universe and who knows every human to their core and back out again. He feels both our pain and his own whenever we run. He desires no one to turn and no one to perish. He is from the beginning of our existence until the end working things through and weaving a grand story. The catch to all of this, however, is one that any lover can plainly see. To love much is often to be spurned all the more. He is a fire, and he can both burn and warm.
The Bible uses a few different analogies in describing the relationship between God and believers. Some of the more prominent usages show him as loving father, caring after a wounded and abandoned child. Others show a shepherd tending to and sacrificing for his sheep. More still depict God as a lover, wooing his betrothed and courting her. One of the chief depictions of God to New Testament Christians, though, is that of the spouse awaiting his Bride.
This is unmistakably emotive and evocative language; there are multiple parties involved here and neutrality isn’t an option. God has asked you to the dance. To any young man who has voice-cracked his way through a dance invitation to his prima ballerina, there is no such thing as a neutral response. You get to be elated or devastated. An “undecided” or a “no thanks” is still a rejection. Oh well, this lip isn’t going to overbite itself.
In Christianity, you can either reject the offer put forth or you can humbly accept it while all the while understanding that you weren’t ever worthy of it. If you accept it, the more you get to see that the invitation was unprovoked, unexpected, and leads to a dance far more spectacular than you imagined. If you feign acceptance, and then kindly circle “no thanks,” and walk away, then you didn’t know who was asking you. There are no other choices.
We can conclude with our friend the ex pastor, and I mean “friend” with all sincerity, since I can no longer in good conscience use the term “brother.” When a “Christian” begins to feel the need to stretch their metaphysical legs and check who else is available, this is not so much a warning sign as a “base jumping without a parachute- be back in one hour,” sign. The only proper Christian response is to point the fellow back to the one courting him, to remind him of exactly how great this dance will be, and to reinforce that the other girls smell a lot worse than they look from this distance. A believer can have doubts aplenty, they can even wander lost for stretches, but in the end you have to look your lover in the eye and tell her whether or not you want to go to the dance- and not that you’ll get back to her in a year. Pray that you do not forget who is asking you.