Practical Atheist

December 23, 2005

Atheists Hate God's WordAbout a month ago I started to get — depressed is not the right word — put out. I took the gang to Soliton, we got fired up, I started to think I might see change… and then I hit a wall. There’s nothing going on. God? What God? I was living, as some say, as a practical atheist. That is, I believed in God, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by observing how I lived.

For some time Mike Todd has been prodding my thinking about faith. Is it about what you “believe,” or what you do? Isn’t action the truest expression of faith? And then I thought of Robert and became ashamed: Here is an atheist who is an active force in their faith community. He is serious about following Jesus, and he doesn’t even believe in God! While the rest of us gorge ourselves on the godless accumulation of Stuff, Robert’s community is practicing a gift tithe to the poor for Christmas.

And then I remembered Keith Green’s song about the sheep and the goats. You oldies remember it. It’s the one where he is improvising a piano ditty and retelling Jesus’ story of the judgement of the sheep and the goats. The goats are those who profess faith in Christ yet have not cared for “the least of these.” And I can still hear Keith Green at the end saying, “And my friends, the only difference between the sheep and the goats, is what they did — and didn’t — do!

Remember the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia, when the kings and queens encounter the faithful servant of Tash who was welcomed by Aslan? I remember hearing conservative evangelicals in college, who normally adore C.S. Lewis, saying that Lewis messed up on that one character. I say, what a crock. Because on that last day, I can see Jesus welcoming Robert with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And Robert will answer, “But I didn’t even believe in you, how can you welcome me?” And the Lord will answer, “I’m telling you the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me — you did it to me.”

I shared this with Kay as we were grocery shopping. Somehow I kept back my tears as I said, “But calling myself a ‘practical atheist’ is an insult to this atheist. He’s a better Christ-follower than I am!”

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

9 responses to Practical Atheist

  1. Jon,
    Your life and expression of the father’s heart is one that has led me from a distance for three years now. I share and relate to your seasonal disposition, but know how much you’ve inspired me from a distance. And I have a pretty strong feeling Im not alone.
    I share with you in your sobered heart. And I love you and your family. Have a merry christmas my friend.

  2. Jared, thank you. More to come…

  3. As I have said a million times before, Jon, you are the best Christian I know. You *do* express your faith in everything you do.
    You are kind, and gentle, and funny, and life loving. You have never seen a friend in pain and turned your back. You are a good human. In this athiest’s mind, that is the entire point of being a good Christian. You live a truely *good* life. You even impact me on a daily basis, even though I only see you every couple of months.
    The people around you feel it in you even if you don’t. Don’t doubt yourself so much, your soul is very strong. It is your kung fu.

  4. Jon, I always remember that Keith Green song, and remember the ‘WHAT THEY DID AND DIDN’T DO!’ line as well. I actually found that interpretation a bit harsh.
    The greatest commandment Jesus gave was to love God and love oneanother. Yes, love isn’t love without deeds, but I truly believe that God looks at our hearts more than our deeds, despite what that song and the sheep and the goats parable say.
    What if you are ill and in bed all day? What good work can you do? It is by grace we are saved, through faith, NOT by works so that no one should boast.
    You are doing a good work by being faithful to your wife, and raising children to know Jesus, by being a stable person in a sometimes crazy world. You help people as they come into your life, and have been a blessing to many.
    I think you are being a little hard on yourself. His grace is sufficient for you. Peace, brother.

  5. Hey man, you’re being pretty harsh on yourself. You have given up your good Christian ways and followed Christ, as the man said. 🙂
    Love thy neighbor as thyself? I think you’ve got that one covered. Do unto others, etc. Check. You’re raising good kids and you have a loving relationship with your wife. You are increasing the love and caring in the universe. But as a wise man once told me, following God was not about some playbook that you follow to spiritual victory, but more along the lines of following the teachings as best you could understand them. I think the big man would approve.*
    Anyway, I hope you had a great Christmas and you cheer up a little. 😀
    * – As one of The Unaffiliated, I may not be in a position to speak for the man upstairs, but I’m accepting for the moment the axiom that he does exist in the fashion I have been led to believe in all these years and working from there.

  6. Thank you for your encouragement, I love you guys. But I’m not depressed, really! I’m not beating myself up, just wrestling with God, which is always a good thing. Let me unload various random thoughts from my brain:

    • We Christians have a strong tendency to apply Jesus’ harsh sayings to people other than ourselves. For so long we have been told about “those bad Pharisees,” which besides being unfair to the Pharisees is missing the point. Jesus was hard on the people of his day who were very serious about religion. That would be us.
    • This is not about whether one is saved by faith or by works. That is so centuries-ago. Even the word “salvation” may not be helpful anymore, because it makes people ask what it takes to get to heaven, or avoid hell. Which also misses the point.
    • What is the message of Jesus? What does it mean to follow Christ?
    • I think it is about a Person who has incredible Dreams.
  7. “You have given up your good Christian ways and followed Christ, as the man said.”

    Man Jon… that is good. I’m sorry this has been painful for you, but I’m also jumping for joy. I think you know what I’m talking about.
    Peace Bro.

  8. PS. Don’t get too worked up over Robert. As I’ve told him before, he is the world’s worst atheist…