Saturday, November 05, 2011

It's Harder to Believe Than Not To (Reflections of a Former Atheist)

I've been an atheist. Since 1976, I've been a Christian.

I can tell you that living a life of faith in a God of total love and absolute power while continuing to live in a fallen world in which bad, senseless things happen to faithful people is far more difficult than going through this life as an atheist.

As an atheist, I had no expectations of God’s deliverance, ascribed no meaning to existence, and was not offended, except insofar as they created nuisances for me, when bad things came my way. In an uncreated world in which there is no good Creator or need for redemption, there is no reason to get riled up over what seems unfair or wrong. There are fewer things to explain and fewer unanswered questions when you're an atheist. It's a far simpler, even simplistic, way of life.

As musician, filmmaker, and satirist Steve Taylor once observed, "It's harder to believe than not to."

But whatever difficulties belief in the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ may present, I would rather live and die with Christ than live or die without Him.

Like the apostle Peter, after Jesus had asked him and his fellow disciples if, like others, they would like to abandon him, I have to say, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that You are the Holy One of God" (John 6:68).

My life has been interesting lately.

I had a heart attack that destroyed 40% of my heart in June, 2010. A stent was implanted shortly thereafter.

Just before I received a pacemaker and defibrillator on October 13, less than a month ago, a small mole was removed from my leg which turned out to contain melanoma cancer cells. The dermatologist is confident that he removed all of the cancer, but I'll undergo an outpatient procedure to remove tissue from the surrounding area in December.

These experiences are mere bumps in the road compared to what many people experience in life. I have no complaints.

But I can tell you that I have been sustained by Jesus Christ and by the prayers of other believers in the past year or so.

I have become even more convinced of the love and power--and the ultimate lordship over all things in heaven and on earth--of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Christ is with me and I am promised that when I die, as a repentant believer in Jesus, I will be with Christ for all eternity.

How could I be anything but hopeful when I know those things to be true, even when life gets tough?

I pray that every day, God will help me to make the prayer of Saint Paul, who suffered so much not in spite of, but precisely because, he followed Jesus, my very own:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18)
It is harder to believe than not to.

But those who believe in Jesus are blessed with a certainty about their futures that gives us the freedom to love our neighbors, to choose the path of joyful service, to shake off unkindness from others, to work for justice, and to walk humbly with our God. You really can't deter or bring ultimate discouragement to people who know they're going to live forever.

I have found that, in spite of everything, while it may be better, it's still better to believe than not to.

1 comment:

Spencer Troxell said...

I have been a christian, and now I am an atheist. I agree--in some sense--that it's harder to believe than not to believe. It took a lot of work (especially at the end) to sustain my faith. The twists and turns I had to make in my mind to justify and support a failing belief was hard work. But I had that confidence you talk about at the end of your piece about being safe in Christ, which was comforting.

The only real quibble I have with your personal reflection is that I don't think being an atheist necessarily entails a life with no meaning ascribed to it. I have meaning in my life. I would say that since I have given up religion, I feel that meaning a lot more intensely, since I realize that this is my only shot at life. I feel compelled to be kind where I can, and reach out to others where I can. I'm perfect by no means, but my life does have meaning.

I appreciate people who can discover meaning in their lives, and are able to use that meaning to contribute positively to the lives of others. I'm glad that you think so deeply and so often about your life, and what it means.