To Believe or Not to Believe

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.

They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord?

There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the company of the righteous.

You would confound the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge.

O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” That’s how our scripture passage for today begins.  “There is no God.” I have a hard time standing in this pulpit and even reading those words. Have you ever heard someone utter that phrase?  There is no God.  This is a classic expression of those who consider themselves atheists, who assert that God doesn’t exist.

The following are quotations from a few religious skeptics –

A classic from Woody Allen:  “To you, I’m an atheist. To God, I’m the loyal opposition.”

The writer and philosopher Robert Pirsig said, “When one person suffers from a delusion, it’s called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it’s called religion.”

And a riff from the comedian George Carlin:

“Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man – living in the sky – who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time!  But He loves you.  He loves you. ”

Our scripture reading says that those who say there is no God are fools.

The Renaissance philosopher Sir Francis Bacon wrote that “Atheism is [more] in the lip than in the heart.”  In other words, atheism reflects what we think rather than what our heart feels.

I’m reminded of the phrase from a French philosopher:  “The heart has reasons that reason does not understand.”

The head and the heart.  Our belief in God is both intellectual and experiential.  Belief flows from both reason and emotion.  Often our minds are the more skeptical element.  Our heads look at cause-and-effect.  Our heads focus on what’s logical, on what’s verifiable.  But our hearts have reasons that our heads don’t understand.

When we examine our beliefs more fully – not just with our heads, but from the bottom of our hearts – we gain a fuller view of God’s existence.  The Bible tells us to believe with all our hearts AND minds.  Unfortunately that belief isn’t always easy.

In today’s lesson, the Psalmist bemoans the corruption of those who say “there is no God,” those who don’t call upon the Lord.  The psalm writer cries out for their deliverance, and expresses words of hope for those who have gone astray.  Haven’t we all strayed from our belief in God at some point?  Have you ever doubted God’s existence?  In the face of tragedy or evil, don’t we all ask, Where’s God?  Our lives are often marked by periods of questioning and doubt.  We pray and we’re answered by silence.  So there are times when we don’t pray, because we feel we can’t pray.

And yet even our acknowledgement of prayer and of God, even a God who we feel isn’t listening, is still implicitly an admission that someone, something, God, does exist.  We’re like the person who says, “Thank God, I’m an atheist.”  Even in the depths of doubt or disbelief, there’s a seed of faith.  We continue to think of God in terms that still assume God’s existence.  To doubt God’s existence is to presume that God is there.

Someone once said that “An atheist’s most embarrassing moment is when he feels profoundly thankful for something, but can’t think of anybody to thank for it.”  Personally, I find it very difficult, if not impossible, to imagine how anyone could live life, or face death, without belief in God. How does anyone find meaning in life, or give thanks, without belief in God?

Perhaps the greatest Biblical story challenging atheism is the book of Job.  Job is a good man, but his cattle are stolen, his servants are killed, and his family dies.  As his troubles continue to pile up, Job curses the day he was born.  Although he never quite curses God, he comes close.  He asks some tough questions, which could be summed up, “Why DO bad things happen to good people?”  Job’s friends have all sorts of impressive theological explanations, but God doesn’t offer one.  God doesn’t explain.  God doesn’t lay out a plausible explanation about why this-led-to-this.  Instead, God speaks with power and passion.  God lets loose and roars with words that are among the greatest poetry in the Bible:  God says, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?…On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the children of God shouted for joy? … Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?”

These words are poetic, magnificent, and they speak to our hearts.

God doesn’t reveal an explanation or a reason for God.  What God reveals is God.  God doesn’t show why things are as they are.  God shows God’s face.  God is God.  And THERE we find meaning.

God reveals God’s face in “God sightings.”  A few weeks ago, Gary shared an explanation of God sightings during Children’s Time.  He explained that a God sighting is a recognition of God’s presence, through a God-focused view and a grateful heart.  Through God sightings, we discover God in things like scripture and people, nature and everyday events.

During Vacation Bible School this summer, Gary encouraged the children to look for God and to share what they found.  Here are a few of those children’s God sightings:

“I see God in the universe.”

“[I saw God] when I looked out at the beautiful purple and yellow flowers and all the nature, and I thought God did a wonderful job.”

“I see God in this church.”

“I see God in everyone.”

“God helped my pet guinea pig recover from sickness twice and today he is perfectly healthy.”

“[I saw God] when Gary asked me to pray with him.”

God can be seen everywhere, and I encourage you to share your God sightings and add them to the bulletin board downstairs.

My own God sightings?  This summer there were a lot.  July was a very difficult month for our church.  Within a matter of days – in less than one week – Mary Ann Hanna passed away after a brief illness, Cindy Ewing’s husband Bill was diagnosed with lymphoma, and Phil Swenson died very suddenly.  My feelings of grief and loss, worry and anxiety, were enormous.  I asked why Mary Ann was happy and healthy one month, and was gone the next.  How did Bill go from his vital and active self to someone afflicted by a dreadful disease seemingly overnight?  And how did I see Phil in church on Sunday talking about his great vacation, got an e-mail from him on Wednesday because he was concerned about Bill’s illness and asking what he could do to help – and on Thursday he was gone?

In the face of loss, tragedy, death, it’s easy to ask “Where is God?  Does God exist?”

But during those days in July, I saw God.  I saw God in the love and support that surrounded Bob Hanna and his family.  I saw God in the prayers and offers of help that the Ewings received.  I saw God in the shared tears and the flood of recollections of all that Phil meant to us, his family.  I saw God in the incredible love and dedication of our church staff as they juggled the myriad challenges thrown at them.  In the following days and weeks I saw God as my son described his experiences as part of our high school mission trip, and as I watched so many children come forward for Children’s Time on a Sunday morning in the middle of SUMMER.  And ALL of these sightings happened even BEFORE I went on vacation and was blessed to see God in the peaks of the Canadian Rockies and the glacial lakes of the Cascade mountain range.

The theologian C.S. Lewis once wrote:   “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”   I believe in Christianity… because by it I see everything else.

The psalmist says: “The Lord looks down from heaven… to see if there are any…who seek after God.”  When we look for meaning, when we seek for God, God IS there.  Whether our belief in God comes from our head or our heart, whether we come to understand God as our Creator, as our Redeemer, or as the Holy Spirit powerfully working in the world and in our lives, we will find meaning, and we will say, “Yes, there IS God.”  Amen.