Today we think about one of the oddest actions in the world. No, it isn’t when people who don’t believe in God act like they don’t believe in Him. It isn’t when people who are iffy about God act like they don’t believe in Him. No, the oddest action to me is when those who say they believe in Him act as if He is irrelevant in their life or choices.
6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.Hebrews 11:6
About ten years ago I came across a book by Craig Groeschel called, The Christian Atheist, Believing in God but Living As If He Doesn’t Exist. In the book, Mr. Groeschel points out the odd contradiction in many of those who claim to follow Jesus faithfully: we seem to ignore what He says whenever it suits us. In essence, we act, sometimes, as if he doesn’t exist.
Consider this example: Johnny is hurt by someone. He hears God’s Word telling him to forgive that other person. He says, “I can’t forgive them – it’s hopeless.” Do you hear what our man Johnny is saying? He is saying, “Forgive? Forgiveness isn’t possible because there is nothing in the world that can make this situation any better.” Do you hear the inherent disbelief in such thoughts? He may sing the words on Sunday. He may nod or amen when the pastor talks about it. However, when it comes to believing it for his own life, it is as if what God has said isn’t even there. It’s as if what God has said doesn’t count. This is essentially atheism at the relationship level. We do not believe that God is at work in our painful relationships, so we lose heart. We give up. We refuse to forgive.
Do you ever find yourself in such a situation? Paul wrote to a man like that: Philemon. Philemon had experienced betrayal. He knew pain. His former servant, Onesismus, had betrayed him. He had been betrayed and then Onesimus had run from him. That same Onesimus was now returning with a letter from Paul. That letter is our book of Philemon. It is full of hope for Onesimus and Philemon. Paul believed that restoration was possible. He believed a new relationship that would be rich and rewarding was in their future.
If then you count me as a partner, receive him [Onesimus] as you would me.Philemon 1:17
Paul asks Philemon to so forgive Onesimus that Philemon would begin to see Philemon in the same way that he sees Paul: a friend, a brother, forgiven. Philemon faced a tough choice: believe his that his experience with Onesimus should tell him how to act OR let Paul’s encouragement from Jesus tell him how to act. Which should he choose?
Here’s the choice – do we see Paul as a starry-eyed idealist or a man who understood pain and had a real answer for it? Was Paul speaking from an ivory tower or from real world wisdom? An even bigger choice – do we hear just another person speaking (Paul) or do we hear Jesus speaking through him? How we answer these questions tells us whether we are relationship atheists are not. I know, we couch our response so well in words that excuse our atheism. We say, “It takes two.” We say, “I can’t make them like me.” We even say, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” These statements can all be true. Yet, they have nothing to do with forgiveness. They have nothing to do with whether we can believe that God will work a miracle. Isn’t that what miracles are all about?
The real test of our Christianity is not saying we believe in miracles. The real test is when we need a miracle and we act like one may come. That is when we really believe. When we act in faith, that is when faith is real.
Something to think about,