A few days ago I stumbled upon the blog of a former pastor who says he is “trying on atheism” after becoming disillusioned with American Christianity. I was intrigued and saddened at the same time; after all, how does a man go from being a follower of Jesus Christ to questioning the existence of God at all?
In one post, he wonders if God truly makes a difference in people’s lives and concludes, based on his experience, that He doesn’t. Though I immediately disagreed with his conclusion, I couldn’t find the words to express my disagreement. As I read through his post, however, I came to the answer I had been looking for, in his own words:
“First, it demonstrates something that I have suspected about myself and other Christians I know—many of us have for a long time been functional atheists. We may confess an intellectual assent to belief in a divine being and have a well thought out theology but very few of us live as though this God exists and is an active agent in the world.”
What’s heartbreaking is that this man effectively answered his own question about the difference God makes in our lives, yet failed to grasp the truth he had written. He admitted that in his own life, he was living functionally as an atheist. Though he grasped the theology of the gospel on an intellectual level, he lived his life with the gospel completely locked out of his heart. I’m afraid he is right to suggest that many Christians function in the same way: professing Christ with their mouths but living like atheists in their actions.
Last week, studying 1 Timothy 2 with our small group, I noted that God ” desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (v.4) Why did Paul separate these two things which appear to go hand in hand? I concluded it is because God wants EVERYONE to come to the knowledge of the truth, but at the same time, He knows that because of the free will given to mankind, not all will be saved. But the point is that it is possible for a person to “come to the knowledge of the truth” and yet ultimately reject the message of the gospel. And that is exactly what this ex-pastor is doing and how many others who call themselves Christian by name are living out their lives.
I agree with this man; that is, if you live your life like a functional atheist, then God will make no difference in your life, because you never allowed Him near enough to your heart to make a difference in the first place. But if you consciously and sacrificially give your life to God, or as Jesus told us, “take up your cross daily and follow me”, you will experience what it means to have God in your life. It is simultaneously invigorating and frightening, like learning to ride a bicycle for the first time and feeling like you might fall at any time, but also sensing the loving arms of your Father nearby to catch you if you do.
Practically, what does living with God look like? Helping others, even when it costs you. Being vulnerable to friends and foes. Doing what the world says is absolutely the wrong thing to do because the Bible says it’s the right thing to do. Worshiping God all the time, over our careers, sports teams, money, even family. Atheists might call this folly. But then again, atheists will never experience a joy like the joy of living with God.
Does God make a difference in your life? He should. He can. But God doesn’t come into people’s lives uninvited like a cousin-in-law from Boston appearing on your doorstep (sorry if you’re from Boston and find that offensive). You have to want Him in your life.
Really want Him.
More than the life you have today.