Saturday, June 8, 2013



I recently spent a pleasant five minutes chatting with a college professor who identified himself as an atheist. While pleasant, the discussion was also a bit unsatisfactory because he immediately turned the conversation toward ethics and behavior. He pointed out the undeniable fact that tons of people who believe in God still act horribly toward their fellow humans, while tons of atheists go through life acting kindly and helpfully toward their neighbor. We parted amicably, mostly because I decided that finding points of disagreement wouldn’t serve any purpose.

It wasn’t until days later that I realized what it is that makes me glad I’m not an atheist:

The notion that my life is part of a larger story that started long before I was born and that will continue long after I’m buried.

An atheist undoubtedly looks on us benighted believers and shakes his head in disbelief at all of our “made-up” stories (basically centering on the Bible) for which there is no rational evidence. And to him or her I can, by definition, offer no rational proof. End of story. There is no story, says the atheist, you guys are just making it up to make you feel better!

But I'm still an atheist, thank God!
In the course of my brief discussion with that atheist he pointed out that while he doesn’t believe in God and has no over-arching meaning to his life beyond the grave, he does try to be kind, gentle and generous because, well, it’s the right thing to do. I pointed out to him that I could take him on a short walk around the neighborhood and introduce him to scores of fellow atheists who, like him, see no over-arching meaning to their lives, but their way of putting meaning into their lives is to rob, kill, get high and so on. He was not impressed by my comparison. But all atheists, it seems to me, whether humanitarians or criminals, “make up a story,” writing the narrative of their own life, with no more rational “proof” to back it up than I can offer for my Biblical Story. Personally I think we’re even on that score.
For me as a believer my life takes its direction and meaning from the larger story that I share with the rest of humanity, the Story of God’s having created the world, and created us in God’s image, and then sending the Son to set things right when things got screwed up. The Son’s redeeming work is already done, but it’s not yet complete, so we are living in the in-between time before the coming of the fullness of redemption.

Everything I do, everything that happens to me, is seen against the background of that Story. The Story is sometimes full of tragedy and turmoil and evil as well as love and heroism, and often it’s way too big for my puny human intelligence to grasp. But it makes sense to God, and for the moment that will have to be enough. 

If I don't like that arrangement, then I'm always free to try my hand at making up my own story.


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