A Forgiven Atheist? (part 2)

“Forgiveness starts with recognizing that we hurt someone and taking responsibility for it.”
“Reconciliation requires that both parties agree to go forward with the relationship.”
Forgiveness, posted on 1-28-15

We have all been forgiven.  We have all been reconciled.  That’s the good news.  Literally, that’s God’s Good News: the Gospel.  But what if I don’t believe in God?  Or what if I believe He exists, but I don’t see that I’ve done anything to hurt Him?  What would I be taking responsibility for?  Or what if I believe that He is not a person, but an unseen force?  How would I have a relationship with an unseen force?

I was an atheist for the first 22 years of my life.  I didn’t believe God existed.  Heaven, Hell, billions of dead people somewhere up in the clouds, none of that made any sense to me.  I thought reincarnation made a lot more sense.

And isn’t that the problem?  We grab onto what makes sense to us.   As I said in the last post, “we want to be right, we want to be in control and we want to do what we want to do.”  I believe that, at our core, we are selfish, greedy and prideful and we don’t want anyone telling us what to do.  Just look at a 2 year old.  No one had to teach them how to say, “Mine!” or “I do it myself!”  That’s inborn.

And selfishness doesn’t go away as we grow up.  We learn ways to disguise it so it doesn’t look so bad.  The most talented can even make it look like we’re doing good things, when we’re really just serving ourselves.  Manipulation is such a creative tool.  We don’t think we’re hurting anyone, but our pride, greed and selfishness, by their very nature, hurt other people.  And they hurt God too.  

Now, I am not a pastor.  I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology.  I don’t have a Masters of Divinity.  I have 21 years of following Jesus, working through Bible studies, listening to sermons, living life, hurting other people and asking for forgiveness.  I’d like to think that I’ve learned something in those 21 years, but I certainly don’t have it all figured out.

CS Lewis didn’t have it all figured out either, the brilliant man that he was.  But he had an awful lot of wisdom to share, and thank goodness he shared it.  I love what he said in the chapter “The Perfect Penitent” from “Mere Christianity“:

“The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start.  Theories as to how it did this are another matter.  A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work…. Theories about Christ’s death are not Christianity: they are explanations about how it works….I think they would probably admit that no explanation will ever be quite adequate to the reality…. Indeed, if we found that we could fully understand it, that very fact would show it was not what it professes to be — the inconceivable, the uncreated, the thing from beyond nature, striking down into nature like lightning.”

Lewis goes on to give his theory of why Christ died.  And he encourages us to remember that his explanation is only one picture, one viewpoint.  If it helps, keep it.  If it doesn’t help, drop it.  I will say the same thing here.  I have an explanation to share, a theory, but it is only one picture.  If it helps, keep it.  If it doesn’t help, drop it.

Romans 14:23 says that “whatever is not from faith is sin”.  It’s one or the other – faith or sin.  I believe that in every moment of our lives, we have two choices, two postures.  We are either:
1) turned toward God (faith) or
2) turned away from God (sin)
Using that terminology, here is my basic “theology”:

1) “Sin” is when we “turn away” from God , so a “sinner” is someone who turns away – that’s all of us
2) Jesus took on and paid for our “turning away” on the cross
3) “Repent” means “to change one’s mind” and “to turn around” – to turn back to God

I wrote about this in 2014.  Feel free to read more in these two posts:
Two “churchy” words and
The Face of Grace

Jesus was the only one who never turned away from God.  He was the only one who could do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.  Romans 5:8 says “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

That word, “sinner”, has gotten a bad rap, but it’s simply a description of our posture.  As an atheist, I was a “sinner” – one who lived her life turned away from God.  I still am a “sinner”.  I still turn away from God.  I’m human – it’s part of our nature.

But in 1994, when I came to realize that God existed, that He was real and personal and He wanted a relationship with me, I could step away from trying to make sense of it all.  I could recognize and take responsibility for the hurt I had inflicted by turning away from God for so many years.  I could ask His forgiveness and accept the reconciliation that only Jesus could make possible.

“For, there is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.”  I Timothy 2:5 (NLT)

“Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.”  Colossians 1:22 (NLT)

Click here for Part 3

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