July 31, 2016—The Tenth Sunday after Trinity
If there was an award for the book with the best title ever it would go to a book of Christian apologetics by Norman Geisler entitled, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. I love that title because it catches the reader by surprise. We all know that Christians have faith. We think of atheists as being people who have no faith. But that analysis is a little too simplistic. Christian faith in Jesus Christ is based on the evidence for God deduced from natural theology and philosophical reasoning, Biblical revelation, especially the resurrection of Christ, the witness of countless miracles and answered prayers that are central to the history of the Holy Spirit guiding the Church, and modern scientific research into the beginning of the universe and the origin of life itself. Christian faith is based on a studied analysis of the evidence. It is reasoned faith.
Atheists to have their beliefs to, but their belief that God does not exist is a blind faith. It is faith that adheres to what atheists want to be true despite the overwhelming evidence against it; which is why professor Geisler says that he has not enough faith to be an atheist. He means that the case for God’s existence and for Jesus Christ being the incarnation of that God is too strong to deny. And deny it is all atheists can do, they cannot actually refute the evidence. In the end, they just refuse to accept it. Atheism isn’t really a faith at all, it’s a rebellion.
I know that many atheists will take offense at what I just said. I have read many debates between Christians and atheists and the atheists in those debates are very intelligent people who make very sophisticated arguments. I don’t mean to insult my opponent’s intelligence. But I would point to something obvious that exposes the atheists view as reasonably indefensible and that is the absence in atheism of a doctrine of the soul. Once you deny the existence of God you are forced into denying the existence of souls, because immaterial transcendent souls cannot exist apart from the deity who makes them. This denial of the soul exposes atheism as the blind faith that it is.
It’s one thing to deny the existence of God whom we cannot see, who is invisible to us, whose existence we deduce from the effects of his grace upon us and the order of the world around us. But it is another thing entirely to deny the soul, which by looking inward we can all readily perceive. Every human being knows himself or herself to be more than the sum of his or her parts. We look within and see within us an infinite horizon of dreams, values and ideals, of conscience and of mind, of goodness and desire, of meaning and truth. There is no one who looks into himself and thinks I’m just a collocation of atoms and nothing more. People occasionally do that and when they do we recognize that they are clinically depressed and we help them out of it. But everyone in a healthy state of mind knows that he or she is not just a congeries of randomly assorted chemicals but he or she is a person, a unique being unlike any other with inalienable rights and duties and relationships that only a person could have. A person is not a thing; a person is an embodied soul; a living being someone who not only has a brain but has a mind of her own. A mind that is to the brain as electricity is to a light bulb. Every light bulb in the world could break and disappear but electricity will forever be. Likewise, bodies are born and die but souls are immortal.
Christian faith is rational it is a reasonable inference based on the evidence that God exists and that Jesus Christ really is Lord. But atheism is irrational. It is absurd for a creature who knows himself to be a living soul to deny the existence of God, without whom souls could not exist. That is why the author said it takes more faith than a rational person has to be an atheist. To be an atheist you essentially have to deny what you are: a living soul; and believe that you are nothing more than the sum of your chemical parts; that there is no transcendent dimension to the human experience; no higher purpose to life than physical survival, no higher universal values to pursue beyond one’s own immediate temporal needs, no higher meaning that defines us other than material existence. Who really believes that life has no higher meaning? What could be more insane than that? It takes reasoned faith to be a Christian but it takes absolute blind faith to be an atheist. If the American Psychological Association were not entirely dominated by atheists, the DSM IV would list atheism as a psycho-pathology, a form of abnormal psychology called the 'Pontius Pilate Syndrome': a deranged state of acute narcissism in which a person cannot see the truth even when looking straight at it.
Some of you are wondering, I’m sure, what is this sermon about? This sermon is about the most important debate in the modern age: is Western Civilization, the nations that used to comprise Christendom, going to fully embrace the soulless psychology of atheism or will we be true to Christ? The rich man in the parable that Jesus told today is an atheist. He didn’t care about God, nor did he care about his immortal soul. He lived only for himself in the here and now. His motto was “eat, drink and be merry”, as if that is all that matters. The man in the parable is blind to the higher transcendent reality of life in God’s universe. He does not understand that he has an immortal soul and that God has given us the soul for a purpose: to love and serve him who is our Maker and to love and serve others who like us are made in his sacred image. Jesus essentially makes fun of the atheist in the parable who thinks he’s so smart but he’s really a fool. He thinks that he has a good plan for his life, but he is actually clueless to the higher purpose of life. If there is one parable in the Bible that addresses the situation in America and Europe today this is it. When Moslems are beheading priests during mass and grown men defecate on the door of the church, you know that time is running out, the end is near.
So many people today doubt that God exists that if you are a devout believer you may feel like an outsider. Don’t be intimidated by this increasingly anti-Christian society we now live in. Atheism is absurd and dangerous and there is no scientific reason or good philosophical reason to embrace it. Those who embrace atheism do so for emotional reasons of their own. God exists, God is the creator of all else that exists; nothing would exist were it not for God and nothing can exist apart from God. And I can make that case by one simple reason; a reason that proceeds from the heart of Jesus’ teaching. A human being is body and soul. It’s the immortal soul that defines the human being as a creature of God.
How do we save civilization and turn this tragic situation around? The hope for our salvation is in one word: love. Our need for love and our ability to give and receive love should be enough to tell us that God is not imaginary. Love is not imaginary. Love is universal. Everyone wants it and everyone knows what it is. Everyone knows that we need more of it. How do we know this? We know it because every human being has a soul. A soul is not chemical or biological but is spiritual in nature. A soul is transcendent spirit. We receive our physical bodies from our parents who like us are made from the dust of the earth but the soul is a gift of God, it is immortal. That’s what it means to be created in God’s image. God is love (1John4.8) and God has made us like himself, he has equipped us with a transcendent soul able to give and receive love. This is the thing that is most important about us and makes us uniquely human. We love.
Love includes awareness that we need others. As the poet said, no man is an island. But as we love others and are loved in family and in community we become aware of something else. Our love is incomplete and less than perfect. When it comes to love, the best of us are like children learning to walk. We walk but then we fall. We get up. We fall again. We are encouraged by love but then we are disappointed; disappointed in ourselves for not loving others in the way they need us to love them and disappointed in others who do not love us fully either. And so we soon learn something else about ourselves: we are made for love but we don’t know entirely how to do it. Love requires a lot of learning. Migrating animals know by instinct how to migrate, where to go and how to get there. But love is not an instinct. Love is a skill. Like any skill, love aims at perfection. God is perfect love. God alone loves perfectly. God alone does everything in love. This means that if we are going to fulfill our deepest need for love, we must become one with God. God alone is the answer to what plagues this world because God alone can teach us to love perfectly.
Faith is the humble awareness that we are inadequate to the task of love and that we will never be perfect in love unless God by his grace enables us. When we confess that we are sinners in God’s sight, we mean that we know ourselves to be imperfect and inadequate to the task of love and that we have no hope of loving perfectly unless God enables us to do it. In other words we will never be perfectly happy until we are one with God, because perfect happiness is the result of perfect love and there is only one source of perfect love: God, the Holy Spirit.
This is what Saint Augustine meant by his confession: “O Lord, you have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” He meant that he had searched for meaning and happiness in many places in sexual conquests, in power, in fame, in wealth. None of that satisfied him because he realized what he had so long denied: that the human heart is made for unconditional love; therefore, only God, the perfect love, can fulfill a human soul.
This is why everyone in this world needs Jesus Christ. Jesus is not just one more religious leader among many. Jesus is the incarnation of God’s perfect love. Jesus is the perfect love of God among us; teaching us to love by example and completing our imperfect love by divine grace. “All that the father has is mine” he said. This means that God’s perfect love flows to the souls of the world through Him. That is what John meant when he said of Jesus, “He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.” He meant that Jesus will pour into our hearts the love that will make us both holy in the sight of God and fully able to love others unconditionally as he loves us. Jesus came into the world to change the world forever by giving us direct access to the one thing we most need, the love of God. Whenever we receive communion, God is literally pouring his love into our souls, healing all that is broken and imperfect with us.
The goal of a every Christian who really is a Christian is to become like Jesus Christ in showing unconditional love for all people, always. And Christ established the church for this purpose: to train an army of saints who follow Him in the way of love. Every church that really is a church should be a school for learning unconditional love; learning not only from sermons and Sunday school lessons but from each other. A church is true to its purpose only in so far as its members show each other and the larger community around them unconditional love. “By this all men will know you are my disciples,” Jesus said, “ by the love you have for one another.” In the kingdom of God, love is the standard by which we are known and judged.
That’s what prayer is for. Ask God to fill you today and everyday with the Holy Spirit, and prepare your soul to receive the fullness of his love. And keep your commitment to receive the body and blood of Christ each Sunday and more often than that if you can, for his body and blood is the very love of God poured into our souls. It is thru union with Him who is eternally one with God that we too will become perfect in love.