Everyone is on a journey of faith, even atheists.
We all start the faith journey by asking the fundamental question: Does God exist? How we answer this question influences our basic views about living in this world. Those who answer “No” and those who answer “Yes” have different conceptions of reality and different pathways in life. This does not mean that we cannot be kind and tolerant with one another. We can even work together on important issues. But there will be vital differences between the two groups.
Those who answer the fundamental faith question by believing that God does not exist are immediately faced with a second question: How do I live when life has no real meaning? Despite suggestions to the contrary, atheism leads to a philosophical position known as nihilism. Nihilism says that there is no real significance in life. Whatever one accomplishes will eventually be erased and forgotten. Our very universe will someday either tear itself apart from relentless expansion or crush itself in a Big Crunch. There is nobody in eternity to remember anything or anybody for good or ill – supposedly.
For those who follow nihilism to its logical conclusion the ultimate question is this: How should I commit suicide? Why? Because life in this world inevitably brings pain, sometimes intolerable pain. Since the atheist has embraced the (incorrect) notion that life is accidental and meaningless, then the most reasonable thing to do is avoid the pain and choose one’s method of death as soon as possible.
This is extreme, however, and so atheists rightly avoid such nonsense. Instead they often end up adopting some version of the position promoted by a dead philosopher named Nietzsche. This ‘enlightened’ humanistic thinker envisioned a sort of ‘superman’ who knows that life has no real meaning yet lives defiantly, pretending that life is meaningful. Is that honest? It sure doesn’t sound very ‘scientific.’
Penn Jillette, a magician, comedian, musician, (and perhaps several others –‘ian’s) is a well-known atheist. He is assertive about his atheism. He actively promotes his idea that God is myth. He works to convert us all to his way of thinking.
Surprisingly, Jillette recently decided that atheists should pray. He apparently recognizes some kind of personal therapeutic value in prayer and does not believe that atheists should be denied the benefits of prayer.
But how can you pray if there is nobody to address (unless you redefine prayer)? When people pretend to converse with someone, when there is no one, we usually take that as a sign that something is not quite right. . . .
So atheists believe life has no meaning but wish it did and they believe that God isn’t listening but wish he were (or someone?). All this time atheists have accused theists of pretense but it turns out that they are the ones who are pretending, pretending that life has purpose when they supposedly know that it doesn’t and pretending that ‘prayers’ to nobody have value.
Now for those of us who answer the first faith question with “Yes, God does exist,” we also face a second question: “Who is God? What is he like? What is he doing?” (Sounds like a lot of questions but they are related!)
As the atheist spends the rest of life trying to find meaning from meaninglessness, the theist spends life discovering the meaning and purpose that flows from the character and attributes of God. When we learn about God’s character we also learn about his mission and purpose. When we understand God’s mission and purpose we are challenged to join him.
Penn Jillette is right about this: prayer is beneficial. But the benefit of prayer is not some kind of personal therapy. The benefit of prayer is that it provides us with a personal connection to the invisible Living God who made us and who gives us purpose in this life and hope for the life to come.
The Bible is our primary document for answering questions about God. It is God’s word to us about who he is and what he is doing. The Bible helps us discover how we fit into God’s kingdom plan and experience meaning and purpose in life now.
God’s purpose for each of us cannot be taken away even in the midst of suffering and pain, issues that atheists regularly use to justify unbelief. But we need not despair even in the most painful of circumstances because God insures that our struggles are purposeful.
Theistic faith provides an answer for the question of why we instinctively believe that life should have meaning and purpose. God made us with an innate sense that our lives matter – because they do. We need not pretend that life matters, as atheists are forced to do. Believing faith enables us to live with confidence.
So each of us must choose to have faith in an accidental universe which can provide no meaning now and no hope for the future, or faith in a loving God who created us and promises us hope for eternity. I choose God.
Brother Richard Foster