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A Devotional Minute for Atheists and Sick People Everywhere

“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” GK Chesterton

This post is inspired by some discussions about sin and the nature of God that are going on on my forum but also by my own introspection this Lenten season.

The question put to my atheist friend was “Are you claiming to be perfect?”  Of course he denied it and embraced the notion that he was far from perfect.  He seems to have a problem demanding with God demanding perfection and associating that demand with any kind of consequence.  What I wanted to know is how he knew he wasn’t perfect if he didn’t have some notion, however foggy, of a standard of perfection.  That gives you the gist of the conversation.

I was thinking to myself how hard it is to be ‘good’ and how easy it is to be ‘bad.’  For the introspective nonChristian, especially in today’s day and age where great pains are expended to eliminate both concepts, that nagging voice of conscience is still quite audible.   Have you ever actually tried to follow through on everything your own conscience demands?  Never mind the words of an old book or the collective pronouncements of a bunch of religious wingnuts, what about your own conscience?  Try to be entirely good, even by your own standards, for just a day.  I think you will discover that it is extraordinarily difficult.  But not living up to your standard is easy.  So easy.  Doesn’t this require an explanation that covers all the facts?

I think about my own situation.  I know that I shouldn’t be impatient with my kids and wife.  I know that I shouldn’t make promises I won’t or can’t keep.  I know that I should tell the truth without the hint of exaggeration.  I know I shouldn’t be snarky with strangers on the street (even the one who almost hit me with his car yesterday while I was walking through the lot).  I know that when I’m tired or hungry it requires a huge amount of effort to do what I believe is right and usually I lose the battle… my wife says, “Go take a nap.”  I say, “That’s a good idea.”  But even when everything is fine and perfect, when I’m well rested and well watered, I find that it is still sooooooo much easier to do the things I know I shouldn’t do then to do the things I know I should.

Why is this?

Am I the only one?  Are skeptics, atheists, and secular humanists immune from such realities?  I don’t think so.  I might be wrong.  If you are immune, if you are perfect, then by all means don’t give Christianity a second thought.  If however on a clear self-evaluation you determine that you are emphatically not perfect and beyond that whenever you actually make an attempt you still fail miserably, I submit you give Christianity another shot.

Why?

For one thing, Christianity provides you with an explanation that covers the facts.  It is a fact you aren’t perfect and a fact that you have some idea of what perfection is.  That’s hard to square if moral relativism is true.  Christianity is predictive:  it says no matter how hard you try you’ll fail, and this applies to all humans everywhere at all times, so study human nature (yours and others) with this in mind and see what you come up with.

Most importantly Christianity, and Christianity alone, offers any kind of hope for a resolution.  You can try to tell yourself that you are a mostly good person but 5 minutes in honest thought will reveal otherwise.  In short, you know that you are sick, Christianity says you are sick, gives the diagnosis and then follows up with the cure…

This Easter season remember that Christianity is not about tidying up all the moral loose ends in humanity and trying to create a moral society but rather an acknowlegement that in spite of all our efforts we are not moral, not even by our own standards.  In the face of this God steps in with the only medicine that can do the trick, and that is forgiveness bought by the only one who could pay for it- God himself.

One can, of course, refuse to swallow the medicine.   But that is no argument that the medicine doesn’t exist, nor that there is no sickness to remedy.  Deny the medicine if you like, but you know in your heart that you cannot deny the sickness.   Come to terms with that and know that the medicine is still there, patiently extended to you, whether you are hungry and tired, or well rested or watered.

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2 comments

    • Matthew Ackerman on March 14, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    I’m reminded (very faintly) of something C. S. Lewis said about the doctrines that seem the harshest at first glance really being some of the most merciful. Personally, I have often heard the claim that we are all sinners characterized as cruel.

    I take even a mild reproof exceptionally poorly, usually become irate at the person who has been so uncharitable as to bring my own wrongs against them to my attention.

    However, it would be nihilistic to think of myself as ‘a good person.’ Since if there is basically nothing wrong with me, then there is no hope for improvement, and I am totally miserable living with myself the way I am. So, in reality, I want to be told I am sick, since that gives me hope for a cure.

    I don’t want to be told everything is wonderful. Everything is not wonderful.

    But….

    • Anthony on March 14, 2009 at 10:34 pm
      Author

    Hi Matthew,

    Thanks for your comment. I remember something of the Lewis quote you are referring to. I was also thinking of something from Lewis when I wrote this post where he says something along the lines of it being very difficult to be virtuous even for a day. I can’t recall where that is now.

    I hear you about the pronouncement “You are sick.” It’s something I feel in my gut. Like the person afflicted with a disease that cannot be diagnosed I appreciate it when a Doctor can at last step in and say, “I can tell you what you have and I can tell you how to cure it.”

    Even if the cure requires a massive operation that is better than stewing in my awareness that something is wrong but not knowing what it is.

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