I belong to a group of men, the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, most of whom are of the Anglican tradition, who meet weekly to discuss Christianity, and to share a meal as well as Eucharist or Morning Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. Yesterday was my turn to do the scripture lesson, to present my ideas and interpretation of four readings, two from the Old Testament, and two from the New Testament. I discussed Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy.
During the course of the discussion, one man asked how an older person should respond to a young person who has embraced atheism. The following was my answer:
Atheism is a philosophy that is a figment of the imagination. It derives from a lack of satisfaction, from unhappiness, from feeling unfulfilled, from fear of the many tragedies that befall humans. How can God allow, if he exists, the many disasters that we read about, experience, on a daily basis? How can God allow the random deaths of children, cancer coming to a person who is apparently healthy and happy, tornadoes that sweep through neighborhoods, terrorist attacks, random murders of the innocent, civil wars, fires sweeping through apartment buildings, the attacks of 9/11, and so on, and so on? There are too many disasters and tragedies and chance occurrences that kill and dismember to list them all. Think of the hunger that exists, the poverty, the disease, the drug abuse, the crime. One wonders: where is God in all of this? God, why have you forsaken us?
These questions have been asked for thousands of years by thoughtful and despairing people who question God even as they realize He exists. God is so much a part of our existence that to deny Him is to deny Self, to subject oneself to never-ending anxiety about what was, what is, and what will be. Jesus on the Cross quoted Psalm 22, God why have you forsaken me?, rhetorically, for he knew that God, Self, never forsakes.
We live in times of terror, disaster, crime, racial conflict, economic woes—but of course all times are alike, never has there been a time of peace, happiness, love, plenty, unending fair skies and full stomachs. So, because each moment has sufficient cause for worry, humans, indeed all animals, fear.
Fear, timidity, cowardice, one could say, is the natural state of humankind. For how can we confront each moment of uncertainty with certain courage and faith? It is quite impossible, because the next moment of uncertainty comes, followed by the next, and the next, and the next. It doesn’t end until death. The anxiety of each passing moment convinces some people that there is absolute uncertainty in the world, that is, there is no God.
In Paul of Tarsus’s s second letter to his friend Timothy, Paul, in one sentence, summed the human dilemma, summed Christianity, and summed why atheism is a philosophy that is based on fantasy. He told Timothy that God asks us to be fearless: fearlessness derives from power, love, and self-control. The Greek word for power, dynamis, is the same word used in the Gospels to describe Jesus’s power in healing others. It is the power of love. And a person can only use this power of love by means of self-control, that is, self-awareness, to realize that love is found in oneself. And this love is God, for as John truly said, God is Love.
Love is a universal, a constant throughout time and place, found wherever there is hate, despair, tragedy, suffering. Love is the universal, the transcendent, the eternal, the infinite. The atheist proclaims there is no God, then proclaims that love exists, not realizing the inherent contradiction.
To discipline oneself, to channel love toward others, is a work of great power. It is the means by which love combats hate.
There is much noise in our society: television, movies, videos, cell, tablets, pc, iphones, speakers, headphones—the list goes on and on. Humans are constantly talking and listening, though rarely is the communication relevant. If a person retreats to his or her own room, there he or she might find God. A wonderful example of this is the song by Thousand Foot Krutch, “In My Room,” the lyrics for which can be found at this link: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/thousandfootkrutch/inmyroom.html