I hear people talk about atheism a lot. There are lots of people like Richard Dawkins & Christopher Hitchens, amongst others, who love to talk about a world without God, of God as a hallucination, God as a fantasy – they set themselves up as leaders of this religion – which is what it is – and whether it is knowingly or unknowingly they have set themselves up as a god of this religion.
But the more I thought about this, certainly from the context of a follower of Jesus, suddenly it hit me. If we take aetheism a belief in an absence of God, that God doesn’t exist at all, then then in actual fact the only person who has really experienced aetheism and the only person who can make a valid claim to the truth of aetheism, who has experienced atheism at its fullest degree – is Jesus.
If there was anybody qualified to understand what true atheism feels like and results in, and what it feels to be totally and utterly alone, it was Jesus.
He is the only one who has experienced the true absence of God.
From the perspective of a Jesus follower, whether we believe in God or not, God is present in the world we live in, both by His spirit, in His people, in creation and in anything where we get a glimpse of God – whether that person believes or not. We can’t escape from Him even if we don’t believe in Him. He is in us and with us and at work in us even if we don’t realise it.
There is only one moment since creation, and one person in history, who has truly experienced a total and complete absence of God, and where we have seen the world without God.
Jesus on the cross.
At that moment was totally separated from God, in every possible way, God could not be around sin and Jesus had taken on all pain, sin and evil of the entire universe, from the entirity of history, on Himself.
So God was not there anymore.
Death, darkness, hope seems to disappear, even during our day, the darkness of the sin of the world overwhelms it, a world without God is a dark, dead place. Darkness overwhelms the power of the sun. Hope is gone, death is everywhere.
Jesus becomes an ‘exsotential aethist’ on the cross. That is, he experiences a total absence of God.
In many ways when you look at the world today, and the violence, the oppression, the poverty, the abuse, the natural disasters, the number of innocent people who suffer pain and injustice, the evil present in the world, its easy to get down.
Its easy to lose hope.
Its easy to believe that there isn’t a God, and if there is then he has a funny way of showing He loves us.
When my mother died, it was one of the most painful experiences of my life. I was on autopilot for two weeks. I closed off. I expressed no emotion and just got on with dealing with the practicalities of preparing for her funeral. My way of dealing with the pain was to shut it off. I knew in my mind that God had a plan, that God was with me, and that my mother was with God. But I didn’t want to acknowledge it. I thought the Christian thing to do was to bottle up the pain and almost pretend like I was okay, and serve everyone else and do the Christian thing.
I could deal with it later.
10 days after she died we were preparing the funeral and the music for the funeral, and music is always something which moves me very deeply, and at that time I didn’t know that. We put on one of mums’s favourite songs, and without warning I broke down. My defences went. I cried and didn’t stop for a long time. I felt guilty but I didn’t have to. The pain was real, the pain was in my heart and finally it was coming out. My anger at my mum for dying on me, and God for letting her go, came out, and it was okay to feel that. I eventually saw a counsellor and got prayer ministry and it allowed me to talk all this through, and recieve prayer and healing for these issues. To this day I would always recommend someone who has experienced what I did to see someone and talk these things through. Its much better to get them out than bury them inside.
In the time since I have come to realise that God was the one who kept me strong in that time. He allowed me to be a rock for other people, and He was being my rock. He was carrying me all along, and He used what happened to help me grow, to bring me closer to Him. Something positive, which may never have happened otherwise, was brought into life out of that suffering.
My mum didn’t come back. She is still not here anymore. No miracle occurred. It didn’t end happily like Hollywood or some cheesy Christian healing story.
Does that experience really mean God isn’t real?
Does it invalidate God?
Does that really mean God doesn’t care?
We all experience times of pain and suffering and at those times its easy to lose hope. We don’t always understand why these things happen.
We may never understand fully.
But no matter what we have been through, we have never experienced an absence of God. Just after my mum died it would have been easy to think there wasn’t a God. It would have been easy to believe that lie. I had every reason to reject and leave God behind.
But what I realised is that that was a time when God was carrying me, He was changing me, He was there for me. He didn’t abandon me, He got me through the pain.
In comparison, in his darkest hour Jesus experienced something we never will. A total absence of the presence of God. He experienced atheism wholly and completely, a life totally without God, in order to reconnect us with God.
It was dark, it was painful, it was lonely, it was lifeless, it was hopeless.
And it opened up the door between us and God, it tore down the temple curtain, and allowed us to be in the continual presence of God – no matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, no matter what our history, background, circumstances, habits, hungups, fears and insecurties.
Through the cross Jesus invites us back home, He doesn’t force us to love Him but He acts in love and invites us back to Him.
Jesus is the only one who can truly say He is an atheist – and a world truly without God is a dark, dead, hopeless place to be. Thanks to Him it never has to be that way ever again, and we can work alongside Him in the great restoration of the world.
Have you ever felt alone?
What reasons have you used to justify ignoring God?
Do you know that God is always with you?
How can you become more aware of the reality of the presence of God in your life?
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