A Lesson From Atheists
July 30, 2010 Everyone needs a super-villain. Traditionally among us evangelicals, atheists have tended to fit the bill. What better fall guys than the folks who don’t even acknowledge that there is a God! I know this is true because, if a preacher really wants to give a shocking conversion story from the pulpit, he might tell of an atheist he once knew that became a Christian. The ultimate non-Christian coming to Christ is always sure to wow a crowd. Yep, for all intensive purposes we Christians have come to think of the atheistic community is our nemesis; the Vader to our Skywalker, the Longshanks to our Braveheart, and for those who can appreciate the reference, the Skeletor to our He-Man.
But I got to thinking one day and realized something. Though we disagree on virtually all things spiritual, I have come to appreciate one particular aspect of their position: They have one.
What do I mean? Well, two months ago I found myself standing on top of Mount Carmel in the Middle East. Kelly and I took a 12 day tour of Israel together. So amazing. One of our first stops was at this very historic site. As a brief refresher, atop Mt. Carmel is where the famous God vs. Baal showdown happened in 1 Kings 18. The nation of Israel was acting ridiculous as usual. King Ahab had the whole Jewish nation worshipping idols like Baal and Asherah as well as worshipping the Lord. God’s prophet, Elijah, was sent to rebuke the king and his people. He told the king to summon the whole nation of Israel and all of their prophets. They were to build an altar of sacrifice to their god and Elijah was to build one to the Lord. Whoever’s God came down in fire and consumed the sacrifice, he was God. Before the showdown (of which God dominated) Elijah had just one thing to say to the nation of Israel. “And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him.”
Seems like the folks in Elijah’s day aren’t so different from our generation. I don’t know about you but I’m growing tired of a lot of the “limping about” I see running rampant in our Christian culture. Not many Christians have the guts to pick a team and stick with it. I wonder sometimes if God isn’t calling out from heaven, “How long will you go limping between two opinions?” I see it in myself sometimes as well. Our hearts have such a propensity toward the middle ground, toward serving God and our idols. We might not make little statues like old-school sinners did, but we’ve got our own gods, and their much more portable. Work, fame, money, school, family, our spouses, our stuff, food, friends, and my personal favorite, ourselves. Seems many of us limp between serving God and the world.
My brother was a “limping Christian” for a while. He had a salvation experience in early high school but like a hot shower when you’re already sweaty, it didn’t take. It was church on Sundays, jerk on Mondays. He was crude, crass and Christian. One day I sat him down at my house and said something a bit unorthodox. “David,” I said, “Could you do me a favor? Just one small favor for you older brother. Could you admit you hate Jesus?” He looked shocked. “If you could just do me that favor it would make my day.” “Why?” he asked, stunned. “Because if you’d finally admit that you hate Jesus then you won’t have to bother with faking it for one day a week just so you can sin all you want the other 6 days. It really works out good for everybody. You wouldn’t have to lie so much when you tell people you’re saved, and you won’t make God look so bad either. The downside is you’ll go to hell when you die but hey, at least you’ll have been honest.”
His eyes grew wide. Then they began to fill with water. But they were not the tears of a kid with his feelings hurt. They were tears of repentance. For the first time in his life something clicked. He learned a simple truth that changed him forever: It is infinitely inconsistent for us to say we love the God of heaven, and live like hell. David picked a team that day. And can I tell you something? You have never seen a more deeply committed teenage believer in your life. For hours everyday he would sit with God’s Word in his bedroom and let it soak into his bones. He started treating my parents with respect. He began sharing the gospel with his friends, buying them Bibles and going through all the Old Testament Messianic passages with a highlighter to show them that Jesus was in fact the Christ. It was a beautiful transformation. No longer was he limping between two opinions. His soul was settled in the house of God.
So I got a question: Who in the end receives the harsher judgment? Which of the two do you suppose more deeply offends the heart of God? The committed atheist or the half-hearted, half-affectionate, half-loving pseudo Christian who could never make up their mind who they wanted to serve? I’m going to let that question echo out without answer. If you feel unsettled, it’s okay. Sometimes it’s good to be unsettled.
So this one goes out to all the Ahabs out there limping between two positions: Take a lesson from your atheist “enemies”. Pick a team. I pray you side with the one true God, Jesus Christ. There is no sweeter place I know than to be hidden with Christ in God. But even if you don’t, you might still be doing something a lot more God-honoring than what you’re doing now. (no hate-mail please. I don’t have time to read it. : p)
As a side, but deeply important note: If you’ve tended to think of atheists (or any group of people) as your enemy, or the “bad guys” or have looked to them as the scapegoat for your anger at the problems with the world, please stop! The real issue is not with them. It’s never been with them. Crack the good book and take a look at what Paul has to say about it. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12). Our battle isn’t with people, it’s with the powers we can’t see. Please don’t let people be your super-villain. The only person that gets to be your super villain is yourself. I know, cause I’m my own worst enemy most of the time. Let’s love them with a Christ-like love, and pray that God would open their eyes, that they would escape the snare of the devil, being held captive by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26)
(I would love for this blog to be a jumping off place for conversations and comments. Please feel free to comment any thoughts, questions, confessions etc. that you’d like. My only caution is to steer away from gossip or boasting or anything not life giving. Let’s honor God with our dialogue, folks.)