The following is part of a series of thoughts on atheism and faith.
An atheist relative of mine likes to belittle belief in miracles and God. More annoyingly, he slips his “guffaws” into our conversations from time to time, knowing I am a person of faith. Which is to say… some atheists are as annoying as some Christians about their beliefs!
To be sure, atheists have it happen to them all the time… the “loud version” of Christianity loves to tell non-believers that they are “going to hell.” But I’ve never said that, and don’t believe it either. It’s frustrating to be lumped in with that brand of belief.
But what about miracles?
I think many atheists make the same mistake that many Christians do about miracles, namelly, mis-understanding what a miracle is.
“Miracle” is an amazing experience that leads you to deeper meanings and hopefully appreciation.
-The birth of a baby is certainly amazing.
-But so is death* and many amazing things in-between.
Miracles are beyond “how” (science) and more about “why?” and “who?” and “what about me?” (which are the questions of meaning and faith).
(*“Death is a lesson invented by God to teach the living.” –I’ve often quoted this as “from anonymous,” but let me put it into writing this one time: I created that quote for a funeral sermon I once wrote, and it has become one of my core beliefs.)
Being open to miracles can open you to the possibility of God or the deeper questions of life, -but they do not produce faith. One only has to read the stories of Jesus to realize this. Lots of people witnessed his miracles and did not follow him. Miracles can point but do not prove. Faith is not the result of being a deep person. Many atheists are deep, though sadly, in my experience, many atheists are cynical. The best evidence of a person’s faith is their grace.
I find it interesting that many atheists share certain things in common with religious zealots, and Christians Pharisees:
- an unwavering belief in their own opinion,
- a blindness to what might be right in front of them,
- and a compunction to tell you what’s wrong with your belief.*
For example, take the religious people talking to Jesus when the crippled man was let down through the roof in Mark Chapter 2. Jesus tells the man to get up and walk, and he does, …but there were people in the room who immediately oppose what they had just seen. Is it any wonder Jesus sometimes said “don’t tell anyone” after he performed a miracle? SEEING IS NOT BELIEVING for the atheist or the religious. Not everyone who looks at the stars wonders “who am I?” (Psalm 8).
(*I hope this series about atheism and faith doesn’t come across as belittling. As mentioned in several posts, many atheists I know are loving and moral people. These posts seek to capture my thoughts and spur your own.)
Even meeting Jesus face-to-face apparently isn’t enough.
Think about those walking by Jesus’ cross on Good Friday. Some called for him to, “come down, save yourself.” But some mocked him saying, “he saved others, he can’t save himself! (must be a fraud).” By hoping for a miracle, or seeing a lack of one, they missed the deeper point being made up there. The miracle was in the significance, and our response to it.
The $64,000 Question
On occasion, does God make the lame actually walk or cure someone’s cancer?
Yes. If you believe in God, then God can do whatever God wants to do, including bringing a body back to life, or calling the universe into being from nothingness, or healing a bone. But these things happen naturally too. The body can sometimes unexpectedly overcome tremendous odds by sheer luck, or processes we don’t fully understand.
An atheist might describe that as sheer luck. A person of faith sees the hope-against-all-odds outcomes as a sign to all of us, hope coded into biology. A seed cracking concreted, a cancerous tumor disappearing. Keep hoping, keep trying.
The problem I have with miracles is when people think they can coerce God through prayer into acting just for them or for a loved one. But I have no problem with God occasionally and unexpectedly RATTLING OUR CAGES with unexplained and undeserved acts of hope.
I believe that many of the problems people have with believing in God, are due to the lousy theology and actions of those who say they believe.
So, rather than trying to “save them” -or belittle them, I believe we should simply love them, and share our wonder and insights about the deep questions of life, without pretending to hold all the answers. Then act like we believe there is a force at work in the universe within us, and within them who one day will embrace us all.
“For now we see dimly, but then, face to face.” -1 Cor 13