A Dutch Protestant pastor recently published a book, Believing in a God that Does not Exist. When called before a church tribunal, this pastor stated that he believed in the idea of God but not in His actual existence. God, in his view, was a good placebo, a nice myth to help people cope with life and its stresses and problems. The only thing that exceeded the “crime” was the verdict passed by the tribunal. He was allowed to keep his position since his belief was similar to most liberal pastors in the Netherlands!
Our society has, for the last two decades, slowly marginalized God to relative insignificance. Now it has banished Him into the collection of myths which cultures cherish but secretly know are not true, an anthology of old tribal traditions.
While every believer recoils at the blasphemous idea of God as merely a “good idea” to help cope, can we be guilty at times of the opposite? The opposite of believing in a non-existent God to help cope, is to act as though God does not exist even though we know He does. “Functional atheism” is living as though there were no God. It is facing problems, decision making, goal setting – all as though there were no higher priority than self. We function as if we did not believe in God even though we give lip-service to His transcendence.
There is no need, nor is there space, to discuss the inherent paradox, not to speak of insanity, of living as though God existed while believing that He does not. The resurrection of the Living Word and the survival of the written Word all attest to a living God Who reigns and Who is involved in our world today.
But what of our lives? David could speak of the “God of my life” (Psa 42:8). All the distress which marked that Psalm was answered by an awareness of a God Who controlled every aspect of His life. What of our priorities? Do we, in every decision, “seek … first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt 6:33)? Is our goal setting in any way similar to Paul’s when he wrote, “the excellency … of Christ Jesus my Lord … that I might know Him” (Phil 3:8, 10)?
Is He the God of your life, controlling every aspect, preeminent in every decision, transcendent in every sphere? Have we not, to our own loss, descended into a self-centered existence, an existence where God is there to meet our needs, be our friend, help us when needed, but not to impose any great demands on us? Life is all about me. If self is the center of my world, my universe, then I am guilty of “functional atheism.”
God is not merely a good idea. He is reality, the only reality, and the ultimate reality. He is worthy of my life.