Thursday, January 22, 2015

Vacation from God?

A few weeks ago I read an article about a pastor in Southern California who decided to spend 12 months as an atheist and at the end of that year concluded, “I don’t think that God exists… the intellectual and emotional energy it takes to figure out how God fits into everything is far greater than dealing with reality as it presents itself to us.”

Vacations are nice, but a 1-year vacation
from an important relationship?
Very interesting, isn’t it? A “man of the cloth” who decided to take an extended vacation from God and at the end concluded He wasn’t there anyway. For some this can seem disconcerting. If a professional clergyman, someone who was “paid to be good,” concluded God does not exist, what does that say for those who don’t have theological training, pastoral experience, and who for all intents and purposes are “good for nothing,” as someone once quipped?

What it says, in my view, is not a thing. Yes, it’s hard to “figure out how God fits into everything.” But just because we can’t fully comprehend something, does that mean we must reject it? I really don’t understand how my computer works, but I’m not going to stop using it until my non-technological mind gets it figured out.

The greater issue is why, if you truly have a relationship that is meaningful, why would you want to turn your back on it, even temporarily? If you have a happy, loving marriage, would you elect to sever all ties with your spouse for an entire year to see what that’s like? Not just time apart, but no phone calls, texts, Facebook messages, or even handwritten notes? If the relationship is healthy and important, of course not.

Or a strong friendship – if you value it, if time with that person is fun and worthwhile, you’d no more want to deny yourself from being with that individual for 12 full months than you would elect to go a year without your right hand (or the left, if you’re left-handed).

I don’t know this former pastor. Until recently I’d never heard of him. I don't mention his name because that’s not important. What matters is the principle: If you have a genuine, growing relationship with someone, why would you want to end it, even for a brief time?

There’s a very strident atheist I’ve had some interactions with over the past couple of years who takes pride in claiming he has personally convinced more than a dozen “Christians” to give up their faith and join him in conscious non-belief. Recently, he was making another overture to debunk what the Bible says and dissuade me from trust in Jesus Christ. I responded he would have more success seeking to persuade me to crawl back into my mother’s womb than for me to renounce my faith in Jesus.

Because true biblical faith isn’t something you turn on or turn off whenever it’s convenient. When Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3), He wasn’t using a euphemism or metaphor. He elaborated, declaring, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised by my saying, ‘You must be born again.’... So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8).

What He was saying is “born again” isn’t some religious cliché, casually used as an adjective for a certain theological point of view. It’s a literal, spiritual transaction in which the life of Christ comes into anyone who receives the gift He offers of eternal life: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

For the first 30 years of my life, although I participated in religious meetings and activities, I was no more a disciple of Christ than I was a gold medal Olympic sprinter. Because it’s not about doing, but being. Could you persuade a dog to cease being a dog, and become a cat instead? Or can a horse be talked into becoming a fish? In a similar, yet far more profound way, true followers of Jesus – ones that have been born again by His Spirit – could no more renounce their faith than snatch the moon from its orbit.

So while I don’t judge this West Coast pastor, I’m convinced the reason he could so easily discard his belief in God is that he has never experienced real faith in the first place. The Bible says, “even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror” (James 2:19). We must believe with our heads, but true faith is a matter of the heart.

Sadly, many people are 18 inches from the joy and peace of truly knowing Jesus Christ. So near, and yet so far.   

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