I made the decision yesterday to live by the UK tax year spiritually. I mean I made the choice to begin my year in April, in the spring, in the season of new life and of Easter and to end it as new life and Easter are breaking forth again. I have decided that I won’t live from January to December, from the darkness of winter to the darkness being around once more, though being a Scot I will still say, “Happy New Year,” on January the 1st and celebrate!
What drove me to that decision was feeling a quite unexpected and unsought deep sorrow for those who have no faith in God. When I was younger in spiritual terms I remember Psalm 14 verse 1 being referred to quite a lot: “The fool says in his heart there is no God.” The word fool, it was explained, was someone in whom something was lacking morally not intellectually. In other words atheism was a moral not an intellectual choice and therefore liable to justifiable judgement. No genuineness was ever conceded to those who claimed they were agnostic or atheist on other grounds.
I still believe what the psalm says, that there are those who know God is real but who are fools, speaking against what they know for moral/immoral reasons rather than intellectual or any other type of reason. Indeed I believe that the world is full of those who want to shut God out and will continue to do so no matter how loving and compassionate the witness of Christians or the church to them may be. But today I am asking that you pray for those who may want to believe, who are not angrily fighting against faith but find they do have more honest barriers to believing.
I am thinking for example of the many people I have met over the course of my ministry for whom believing in a good and caring God is not easy because their experience of life at very best has been chaotic and at worst completely destructive of their well being or their happiness through no fault of their own other than being born into a certain place and time and into a certain family or indeed into either a non-family or into no family. I am thinking too of sensitive and caring people open to reality, who may have a real love for people and for living things who look out on a world of suffering and though they may see what is good and beautiful and may indeed feel awe and wonder, they cannot get the sum to add up that at the centre of everything is a God who cares.
What prompted this blog was a memory of being in a certain city a while back and seeing a world famous apologist for the Christian Faith walking in the city centre. I recently watched two clips of this person in action. It seemed to me that there was a certain ridicule being poured on unbelief, as though all unbelief came about for reasons that could and should be judged as nonsense. It seemed to me as well, that the apologetics being presented would only sound convincing to those already in the camp of belief , and probably would not convince many non believers if any.
But it was the tone of ridicule and lack of respect and compassion that bothered me most. How different from what I was reading yesterday in poetry by Kenneth Steven. I am putting a couple of his poems together in my mind as I write. He talks about the results of a society growing more and more away from a belief in God to not believing in God. He says this: there is no one to say a final prayer to at night before turning off the light. There is such pathos in that thought and sentence. It causes to rise within me the same sadness that I feel when someone has lost their spouse of decades, or their very best friend when they tell me that the hardest thing is having no one to share things with at night any more. Furthermore I realised through reading these poems that the atheist or agnostic may be able to admire beauty in the world, but ultimately has the feeling it has no eternal meaning. He or she can look at the universe and think that its beauty is like the beauty of a soapy bubble. It is indeed beautiful, full of colour, but it ultimately bursts. Its beauty does not last , nor could it, nor was it ever meant to. It has no ultimate meaning nor is it meant to have. It is as though everything leads to December and to extinction rather than everything leading to spring and to life. This strikes me as being something other than that which is morally culpable. It strikes me as sad that someone should carry this belief, that ultimately winter is the verdict over all things rather than spring or summer.
Not everyone who says there is no god falls into the category of the fool in Psalm 14. If you think that psalm does cover all unbelief then come with me round Wester Hailes for a while and hear some life stories such as I have heard. Is there any compassion in the heart of the church, in your heart and mine for those who find faith difficult? Perhaps I am just asking us as believers, do we love non believers the way that the God who sent forth His only Son did when he did precisely that?