Are we “practicing atheists”? When Dallas Willard used that term in his book Hearing God, it really got my attention. After all, we’re fully aware of the gap that often exists between theory and practice, right? Sure, in theory, we’re devout followers of Jesus. We believe the claims of the ancient creeds and text of Scripture. But what do our attitudes reflect? What do our decisions reveal? Our attitudes and decisions are a reflection of what we ultimately – and sometimes, unfortunately – believe.
What we believe about our future has a tremendous impact on what we do in our present. Here’s what I’m getting at: we can so easily miss the potential in the present by anticipating failure in the future! The future could be next month or 15 years from now. How much emotional and mental effort is spent in either straight-up worry or some sort of dismissive fatalism? I wonder if either one of those could be evidence that we’re “practicing atheists”…
If we truly believed that God “in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession” (2 Corinthians 2.14), or that his plans for us give us “a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29.11), we would have an unshakably positive view of our future, wouldn’t we? And by our “future” I am not simply referring to circumstances. Far too often we have been eager to reduce statements like Romans 8.28 (i.e. all things working together for good) to mean that the circumstances in my future will improve, as opposed to embracing the possibility that God means to use those difficulties to bring us into the likeness of Christ.
Does this mean our situations won’t improve? No! And neither am I suggesting that we resign ourselves over to the idea of a bleak future. I am suggesting that God’s love and sovereignty requires that we be people who live in confident expectation of the “good” and at the same time, understand that God’s definition of “good” is foreign to our culture (see Isaiah 55.8-9). I am suggesting that we have been made the people of God in order to express the Kingdom of God in our present-tense realities, regardless of the circumstances. That is not only our potential, it is our mandate! Let’s not miss it by letting our attitudes (fear or fate) on the future (near or distant) distract us.
Do you ever find yourself thinking thoughts such as “I’ll never get married” or “I’m going to lose my job” or “My kid is gonna grow up to hate me”? Chances are you really don’t believe what God has said about you, AND you’re not bringing Jesus into the reality of the moment. The writer of Hebrews offers us a practical yet powerful remedy: “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12.2)