I don't believe in atheists. I do not merely mean that I reject what they espouse; (although that is obvious since I am a Christian pastor) I do not believe they actually exist. Now there are lots of people who confess some sort of atheism. What I am saying would anger them and they would protest that they do exist (not that they would listen to me anyway). I would counter that they are not really people without gods; people who call themselves atheists do have gods. They just do not recognize the fact that is what they are.
The first commandment is “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) When Martin Luther taught student pastors these words, he also used the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:21) to explain how hard the first commandment is to keep. So he revealed the truth, “Where your heart is, there you will find your god.” Twentieth century theologian Paul Tillich would further elaborate on these words and say that our personal god is that which is our “ultimate concern.” Therefore, if you start from this preposition, atheism is impossible. They are just people worshiping the wrong god, not people without one. All of us place our hearts somewhere; everybody has an ultimate concern. As Bob Dylan said, “you gotta serve somebody.”
Where is your heart?
In this letter I am actually asking you to examine where (or with whom) your heart is. What (or who) is your “ultimate concern”? Not everyone who confesses that he or she is Christian places their heart in the hands of Jesus Christ. For many of us our ultimate concern may not be God; it might be something else. Therefore, I am asking you to examine your life critically and honestly to look where you are actually giving your time, your resources, and attention. Use the tools of prayer, scripture, reflection, and trusted conversation to find out in what way are you actually living out your life.Where you are putting those things of value in your life will tell you the object of your ultimate trust. So a prayerful look at your planning calendar, checkbook, and the topics of your daily conversation might help you discover where it is you are actually placing your faith.
Some false gods
Common to contemporary American life is to spend time, treasure, and effort in self-improvement. We live in a DIY (do it yourself) culture. Books, classes, video courses, and motivational speakers all teach the American gospel of self-improvement and make billions of dollars doing so. According to the preposition above, the self or ego of the person functions as a person’s god in this case. Likewise, if you spend lots of your time obsessing about the state of the country and hoping for the next political savior to get it back on track again, maybe your god is somewhere in our political system (oh perish the thought!). Indeed, if you let the fact that your favorite sports team has just been eliminated from the playoffs ruin your day so much that you make your family miserable, maybe that sports franchise serves as your god (Think I’m joking, just listen closely to how much religious language sportscasters, athletes, coaches and fans use). These are just some of the places where we place our hearts and concerns; we have not even begun to speak about money, sex or power.
The faith question
The question is not whether or not you have a god, but which god do you have? Moreover, there are lots of false gods out there. Some of us may even be putting our hearts into more than one at a time. These false gods are incapable of leading anywhere but death. The truth is that the God revealed to us in the Bible is the only one who leads to true life. This is why worship is so important, it is a time to remember to put the only true and real God first. It is a time to connect with others who are trying to live out the first commandment and learn that in order to do so we must all care for each other along our journey. As a church, we work with each other to answer the question of how to put God first, so that our lives are in the hands of the one with the power over all eternity and not something that is not even alive. Jesus invites you to come and live. I invite you to come this Sunday and learn how you just might find out where a real and blessed life might lie so you can place your heart there with Him.
Keep the Faith,