Sunday, December 27, 2015

Why I Could Never Be an Atheist!

            “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”  (Psalm 14:1)

             “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”  (Romans 1:20)

            I have gone through some hard times recently.  Long, dry spiritual times, the kind that could leave you wondering if you only convinced yourself all along that there is a God.  He has been so silent, so distant.  My soul has ached for more than what He is giving right now.  I cry out but hear nothing.  I pray and pray about certain things.  And . . . nothing happens.  I want to feel like I matter to Him, and I guess maybe I expect Him to do what I am asking as a way to show me that He cares, that I matter.  But it doesn’t happen.
            In so many ways, I feel like I have had to get used to that feeling.  And I don’t like it.  It’s like this under-construction house we live in.  It was “move-in” ready when we bought it.  And then one wall after another had to come off.  Pipes underground needed to get fixed.  We’ve found rotten wood behind poorly-built windows.  It’s been one big problem after another.  And they’re still not fixed.  And I have been unable to make it a home. 
            When we bought it, a relative told us that he could help us fix it up.  And he did a lot of work.  More work than any relative should have to do for free.  (Having anyone do anything for me is too much.  It makes me uncomfortable.) 
            But there is one very sore spot.  The week after we bought the house, we went on vacation.  (The vacation plans were made before we had a closing date.)  And so one week after buying our first home – one week after finally feeling like I became an adult woman who could turn our living space into a home, instead of just existing in someone else’s dump – we handed the keys off to this relative and went on vacation.  He was going to do a little work for us while we were gone, one job being changing out the sink in the main-floor bathroom. 
            On the way home, we called to see how things were going.
            “Hi, Harry, we are almost home.  Just calling to see how things went.  Did you get the sink switched?”
            “Umm, yeah, about that:  When I took the old sink out, I noticed a pipe leaking behind the wall.  So I decided to just rip out the whole bathroom to the studs and make a completely new bathroom.”
            That was over five years ago.  The bathroom is still ripped out to the studs.  It is a gaping hole right next to the kitchen.  Yes, he did a lot of repairs to this house, more than he bargained for when he offered to help.  And I am thankful.  But who rips out someone else’s bathroom without asking and then never comes back to fix it?  (To be fair, he was waiting on my husband to get something done before he came back to fix it.  And my husband did not get around to doing it for a long time.  So we share part of the blame.)  But we don’t have the money to fix it.  Not with pipes that need to be dug up and replaced, and with windows and rotten walls that need to be torn off and redone, and with having four kids on one income.  It’s way beyond our ability.
            The thing is, he moved away a couple years ago.  And I do not want to ask him to make a special trip up here to fix it.  For the longest time we waited on him, sure that he would come back anytime.  But then, when we realized he wasn’t coming, I decided that I would not remind him about the bathroom.  I cannot ask him to come up here and do this free work, not when he’s done plenty all ready.  Not when it now involves a plane ticket and him having to make special plans to get here.  I don’t want to ask anyone to care that much about me or my situation.  And so I decided to get a stiff upper lip and say, “Fine, I can take it.  I will live with the bathroom like this because I will not ask him to go out of his way for me.  I’d rather suffer.”
            Well, this is kind of where I am with God right now, too.  Many prayers have not been answered - prayers for things to be healed, house problems to be fixed, friends to call me back, etc.  I don’t even really want the particular answers as much as I want evidence that God is listening and cares.  Just answer something clearly and obviously so that I can know You are there! 
            And yet, the silence has been loud and long.  The problems keep piling up.  And I am finding myself wanting to retreat from God.  I don’t know how to pray anymore.  I prayed and prayed that my relative would come back and fix what he tore out, but it’s been over five years and it’s still not fixed.  I prayed and prayed that my friend would call me back (the one whose friendship I really needed and who I talked to once a week), but now we talk only about three times a year.  I’ve prayed and prayed that God would help us get this house in order, but now the wall is wearing away and the pipes need to be dug up and replaced. 
            And after I gave up caring about the house and my friend and other things that were just not happening, I decided to funnel my energy and passion to the garden. 
            “At least I’ve still got the garden.  I can invest myself in that.  And it’s such a blessing because it’s where I seem to interact with God the most.” 
            And I prayed that God would bless it and protect it. 
            And then two years ago, the neighbor’s moldy garage (which is right next to my garden) made me give up gardening for the year and it kept us all inside the whole summer and fall.  And then this past year, the neighbor’s dead tree fell across my garden and ruined it.  It crushed my heart and it destroyed my desire to hope for anything or to invest myself in anything anymore.  Anything except my husband and children.   
            How can I pray anymore?  I just don’t know how.  I don’t know how to care about anything anymore, to want anything.  It feels like if I care about anything, it’s bound to get ruined somehow.  I’m teetering on the edge of losing my . . . well . . . I don’t know.  Losing my heart?  My desire to enjoy life?  My faith?  I don’t know how to try anymore.  To approach God anymore, to ask for things, to share what’s really going on in my heart.  It all sounds so ungrateful and whiney and insignificant.  Who am I to think that I should be able to enjoy my life?  To have anything more than the bare necessities?  And I can’t seem to dig myself out of this melancholy that I’ve been in.  I don’t know what to expect from life anymore, from God. 
            I’ve never been good at asking people to care about me or my problems.  And yes, I know that there are many prayers that God has answered.  My family always makes it home safely after driving anywhere.  My husband has a job.  We have enough food on the table and a roof over our heads.  Our health is quite good.  I have always prayed for these things, and God has always been good.  So it’s hard to feel like I can even ask for more, for the “extras.”  And I feel like when I have asked, it’s been “no” too many times.  I have had to let go of many dreams and wants.  (Yes, it’s been “yes” a lot, too.  More than I realize, I’m sure.  But it’s so easy to get fixated on the “no” times.  And that’s my fault.  Focusing on the wrong things.) 
            And I am trying really hard to be content deep down with the “no” answers.  I don’t want to be grateful and “have faith” only when I am getting what I want.  That’s just not right.  And the truth is, I really feel like God has blessed us in the ways that matter most.  I have a great husband and kids, we are healthy, we have enough food and a roof over our heads, and we really like being with each other.  So I am richly blessed.  I know that. 
            I just don’t know how to pray or how to enjoy life anymore.  I have more questions and doubts than answers and assurances.  These past several years have completely shaken me to my core.  I used to be so confident.  The smart one with all the answers.  The strong one who could “do it all.”  The happy one who spread sunshine, who had big dreams, who looked forward to the future, and who was enjoyable to be around.  (Or so I thought.) 
            But the years and the trials have crushed my self-esteem so badly that I am a shell of what I used to be.  I feel like a joke.  A tiny, insignificant joke.  And I don’t want people to care about me.  I don’t want to get close to anyone.  I don’t want to have any dreams or hopes or goals for myself beyond simply making it through today.  Life has become something to just “get through,” instead of something to enjoy.  And I find myself also wanting to pull back from God and to say, “Fine, God, I can handle it.  I don’t want anyone – even You – to care about me.  I can accept it.  I am used to it.  I’m strong enough.”
            But the thing is, I’m not.  I’m cracking under the pressure.  I’m not strong enough.  And I don’t know what to do anymore except wait on God for . . . well . . . for I-don’t-know-what.  I don’t know what I am waiting for.  I don’t know what to expect, what to wait for, what to hope for.  I just want to stop dreaming, stop asking for things in prayer, stop crying out, stop wanting to matter to anyone, even God.  I’ve been retreating into a protective shell where I won’t let people touch me or hurt me or care about me.  And I know it’s not good, but I don’t know any other way right now.  I’m more broken than I’ve ever been.  And I don’t know how to fix it.
            Wow, do I sound like a horrible, ungrateful Christian or what!?!  But this is where I am at right now, where I have been for a couple years.  And all I can do is be honest.  And writing it helps me get it out of my head. 
            And I am sharing all of this as a way to say that I can totally understand how people who are going through hard times and who feel a huge void where God should be might think, “There is no God.”  They have my sincere sympathy.  It is really hard to cling to faith when God seems so very far away and prayers don’t “work.”  When you feel like life has been too much to handle and like you are cracking under the pressure and like God just doesn’t care.  And so you want to go, “Fine!  Then I don’t care either.”    

            I was thinking of all this the other day.  And I asked myself, “Why could I never be an atheist?  What is helping me keep my faith in this long, dry spiritual desert?  In these spirit-crushing trials?” 

            [I am interrupting this post to share something that has happened while I was in the middle of typing this.  I wrote the above stuff this morning (Dec. 26, 2015, adding new stuff to this “Why I Could Never be an Atheist” post that I wrote earlier) and then we went to my husband’s sister’s house for our Christmas get-together.  When I got home, I found a slurred, sobbing message on our answering machine from my mother.  All I could understand were the words “brain surgery.”  I tried to call her back but she didn’t pick up.  So I called my step-father and asked what was going on.  Apparently, my 3-month-old nephew was dropped by his 10-year-old sister.  And he was rushed to hospital for brain surgery.  They don’t know if he is going to make it.  And my brother, in a fit of rage, said he was going to go home and “beat the crap” out of his daughter for dropping him.  And I think he is capable of doing it. 
            I live many states away.  I feel helpless to help.  I wish I were there to sit with them in the hospital, to bring them food when they are hungry.  I wish I could go right over there and pick up my 10-year-old niece and take her home with me for a few days.  To think what my brother might do to her when she is already in a ton of emotional pain breaks my heart.  To think of him even verbally beating her up when she already has a huge cross to bear is tearing me up inside.  There is nothing I can do to help but pray. 
            And you already know how I feel about prayer right now.  I am at a loss.  I don’t know how to pray.  I don’t feel like God is listening to me anyway.  Who am I to feel like I have anything to offer in that area?  Who am I to know what God should do or what I should ask for?  Does asking for the same thing over and over again make God do it, as opposed to asking just a couple times?  I never understood the whole “persistent prayer” thing.  If it was God’s Will to do something and if He does His Will when we pray for it, does it mean we have to pray so many times for it before it will happen or will He do it after we ask once?  Does there have to be lots of tears involved for Him to really listen?  What if you are not an emotional-type person who cries buckets of tears?  And does He listen more when there are more people praying, instead of just one, solitary voice asking Him for a miracle?  Why is it that He is in the midst of “where two or three are gathered in His name”?  Does this mean if it’s only you – if you have no one else to gather and pray with, no one else to lean on – then He is not really there in your midst and that you have less “praying power”?  And where does humility fit in?  Is He more likely to respond to the prayers of one humbled heart or to the prayers of many believers who ask over and over again but who may not be so humbled?
            The trials and pain just keep piling up.  And I wonder sometimes if I am misunderstanding the whole prayer thing, if I am somehow “out of luck” because I don’t have others to really lean on.  And yet, I pray anyway.  I know God is listening.  I just don’t know what He will do.  All I can do is ask.  I don’t know how to ask – the “right way” to ask - but I have to ask.  And I have to be willing to accept His answers.  His silence even. 
            But since a little baby’s life may be at stake and since I feel so ineffective lately when it comes to prayer, I sent a quick email to some church members to ask for their prayers.  Maybe they can pick up the slack for me.  This is far bigger than me and my doubts.  And while there is not much help I can offer, the only thing I can do – the best thing I can do – is get my family some prayer support.  God, help them!  God, help that little baby!  God, help me! 
            I will share what happens when I know more.  I am waiting for my mom’s phone call when she gets to the hospital. 
            This was supposed to be our relaxing, renewing Christmas break.  A chance for me to shake off some of the stress and discouragement that has been building for years. 
            But I tell ya, these are the kinds of stories that shake me out of my self-pity, that make me say, “As bad as I think I have it, it can always be worse.”  We really have nothing to complain about.  Not when others would gladly trade their problems for ours.  Our house might be “disintegrating” but we aren’t sleeping in the cold streets.  I might not have many friends but I’ve got a husband and children who love me and who I love dearly.  We might not have much money to fix our place up but we have our health. 
            We’ve got to count our blessings, especially the everyday ones that we take for granted.  The ones that we would ache for if they were taken from us.  If we did this regularly – if we thanked God for health, for working arms and legs, for eyes that see, for the safety He gave us while we drove to and from home, for those who are near and dear to us, for the relatively safe town that we live in where people generally mind their own business instead of blowing us up or opening fire on us with machine guns, for every boring and uneventful day that goes by when a tragedy doesn’t happen - we would realize how richly blessed we are, even when there are so many trials that we wish weren’t there. 
            No matter what trial we face, there are many, many blessings to be found.  We just have to look for them.  I bet we have no idea how much God does provide for us and how much heartache He does spare us from.  If, in heaven, we are able to look back on our lives and see all the care that He provided and all the answers to prayers that He gave, we might be humbled.  Especially when we realize how much we grumbled and complained against Him.  How much I grumbled and complained against Him!  Forgive me, Lord!  Forgive me!]  

            Anyway, back to the post.  Once again, I was thinking of all this the other day.  And I asked myself, “Why could I never be an atheist?  What is helping me keep my faith in this long, dry spiritual desert?  In these spirit-crushing trials?” 

            For one thing, I need God.  No matter how quiet He is and how things don’t happen my way, there is a deep ache in my soul that cries out for Him.  And I think we all have that ache.  Just look at what happens during any tragedy in the world.  We automatically cry out to Him.  We ask Him, “Why?”  We join together in prayer.  We wonder where He was and why He let it happen.  Even city officials get on camera and ask us to pray, and no one scolds them.  We might raise our fists at Him or we might fall down on our knees before Him, but the point is that we turn to Him.  Every tragedy turns our thoughts to God. 
            Deep down in all of us is a built-in need for Him, for Someone bigger than us who is watching out for us and holds all things in His hands.  And while many people explain it away or soothe the ache with other things, we all know it’s there.  And tragedies bring our need for God to the surface.  Despite the fact that He is so quiet and that I wish I could give up on prayer sometimes, my soul still cries out for Him.  It’s always reaching for Him.  Because deep down, I know He’s real.  And I need Him.  I know that we are not alone, that we were not accidents, and that He is always close to us, always listening, and that He does care and does answer many prayers, even if life is hard and the trials are many and we get more “no” answers than we like.
            And I am much more willing to believe that there is a God and that He is choosing to not do things my way, not answer as I want Him to, than to believe that there is no God just because things aren’t going my way.  I mean, look at this world.  The order.  The delicate balance.  The miracle of life, of the human body, of the eyeball and the brain.  It is much more reasonable to believe in God than to not.  Atheists have much more to explain when it comes to the intricate order and balance of this world than I do.  It takes much more “faith” to believe all this is accidental than to believe in a Creator. 
            And it is narrow-minded, self-centered pride to think that God should always answer my prayers the way I want Him to, and it is foolish to decide that there must not be a God just because life isn’t going my way.  There is far too much evidence for a Creator in this world to simply base my belief in Him on what He does or doesn’t do in my own little life.  While I might doubt and wonder about how and why God does what He does, I do not doubt His existence. 
            And one major reason I don’t doubt is this:
            I have had some supernatural experiences which clearly show me that this physical world is not all there is.  I can vividly recall the five months of spiritual, demonic harassment I went through about five years ago (in the post, Supernatural Stuff and the Armor of God).  It is as fresh to me today as it was then, although it is not scary anymore.  In fact, I think of it basically every day.  It has radically changed my life and my faith. 
            And although it was terrifying at the time, I thank God for that experience.  Because that alone (along with the “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board” game really worked when I was an adolescent) would be enough to convince me that there is indeed a supernatural world out there.  I do not doubt at all the existence of angels and demons, heaven and hell, God and Satan.  So when these long, dry spiritual deserts come, I can still rest assured that I never “made up” God in my head, just to satisfy some need to have a god.  He is real.  And I know it.  And I will cling to Him because I have had a small taste of what evil beings are like, and I didn’t like it at all.  I choose God!
            Anyway, that is a very personal reason for me, one that many people cannot relate to or won’t understand.  But there are other reasons why I could never be an atheist, why I could never completely lose my faith.  And another one is the fact that I once decided (in college) that I needed to study all the other major religions, to see if they had any real answers or hope or truth.  What if I was wrong all along and one of them was right?  And I will admit that I was a little afraid to start that research.  What if I did learn that I didn’t have real reasons to believe in the  Bible, to put my faith in Jesus?  What if I realized that I had built my faith on shifting sand?  But I knew that I had to do this research, that I had to go into it with an open mind that really wanted to know the truth. 
            And I did!  And I was relieved and delighted to come through it only more convinced that the Bible was truth and that Jesus is the Savior.  None of the other religions offered the kind of hope and answers that I found in the Bible, in Jesus.  And I was able to close the book on that research, on wondering if some other religion had it right instead of Christianity.  For me, there is no other choice.  If Jesus isn’t the answer and isn’t the way, then there is no other option in any other religion.  It’s either Jesus or nothing!  And so in that way, I guess maybe atheism would be the only other option for me.  Yet, as I said, atheism isn’t the answer for me, either.  So it’s really only Jesus!
            Another reason why atheism isn’t the answer for me is because of what they stand for:  nothing!  Atheists spend their days, their lives, fighting for a future full of nothingness, for the idea that people don’t really matter eternally, that we have no real lasting value, no real purpose, and no real hope of things ever being better.  What a hopeless and discouraging view! 
            And the funny thing is, the vocal atheists spend their days actively fighting against the idea of God, who they believe doesn’t exist.  So basically, looking at it from their perspective, they spend their days fighting against nothing and for nothing.  So nonsensical!  So sad!
            Why would anyone waste so much time and energy trying to convince people that they don’t really ultimately matter?  That no one is looking out for them?  That what happens here on earth doesn’t really matter in the long run?  Why would they want to believe it themselves?
            I think that atheists in general use a lot of words and fancy arguments to cover up for the fact that - deep down - they know there is a God.  (Or at least they don’t want to seriously consider it because that would mean major changes in their lives.)  They don’t want to have to bend a knee to God.  They don’t want to be accountable to God.  They want to be their own gods.  But with that comes a life and eternity away from the real God, away from the Creator who loves us and sustains us, who gives our lives meaning and purpose, and who will right all things in the end and dish out ultimate justice.
            Can you imagine telling a child who is dying early of a disease, “Sorry, that’s a tough break.  But don’t worry, you won’t remember any of this later because you are going to simply disappear.  And it won’t really matter that you suffered.  It won’t really matter what happened in your life, except to those who knew you.”
            [Or telling my brother or niece, “Don’t worry, it doesn’t really matter if your 3-month-old lives or dies.  We all end up in the same place eventually: in nothingness!”] 
            Or how about telling a person who has been viciously abused by someone who never got punished for it, “Well, I’m sorry that it happened but it doesn’t really matter.  Nothing really matters in the end for any of us.  It doesn’t ultimately matter if you were the abused or if you were the abuser.  We all go to the same place and have the same ending: nothingness.  And I am sorry that there is no real justice for you in the end, no consequences for the person who abused you.  But they will end up in the same place you do.  And it will be like they never did anything bad and like nothing bad ever happened to you.  So it really is just a tough break that this is what your life has been like.  I wish I could say that things will be better for you one day, that justice will be served, but I can’t.  So sorry!” 
            Do we say that kind of stuff when bad things happen?  (Of course, not even an atheist would say this because it is so insensitive, but it is essentially the gist of their beliefs if they were honest, if they cut through all the fancy words they would use to cover it up.) 
            No, we don’t say this.  We say, “It’s not fair.”  It’s not fair that a child dies of cancer.  It’s not fair that a family member dies in a natural disaster.  It’s not fair that war ruins lives and families.  It’s not fair that diseases ravage people’s bodies.
            And why do we say, “It’s not fair”? 
            Because we know – deep down – that we were made for something more, something better.  You can’t say “It’s not fair” unless you have something to compare “fair” against.  In a world without God and without eternity, it really would not matter what happens.  We would all end up in the same place and it would not matter ultimately if we lived long, healthy, kind, gentle lives or if we suffered tremendously or made others suffer or died early of a disease.  “Fair” would never enter the picture because there would be nothing to measure the quality of our lives or our choices against.
            But deep down, we know.  We all know that we were made for more and better.  We know that when a child dies, their life was snuffed out too early, that it wasn’t fair because they had a lot more living to do.  We know that they mattered tremendously and that their value goes much deeper than what they could contribute to society.  They mattered because they were human, and there’s something about being human that gives us incredible value.  And deep down, we all know that our value isn’t determined by society but by something that transcends our frail, tiny, human standards and values.   
            And Christians know that it’s because God made us in His image, that He loved us enough to send Jesus to die for our sins so that we could live, and that our souls will live after the body dies.  We matter because God made us and loves us.  And our lives on earth matter because death isn’t the end of us.  Our lives will greatly affect our eternities. 
            Can you imagine a world where every good thing about the people you love simply disappeared, ceased to exist?  I think we all know that there is more to a person than just the physical body that turns to dust.  We know that when they die, they don’t disappear completely or for good.  There is something in us, in those we love, that transcends the dust, that bodies can’t contain.  A spirit.  A soul that lives on.  There is far too much life and personality and immaterial substance in a person to reduce us all to dust.  When we interact with people, we are interacting with more than just a collection of physical molecules.  When we love someone, we love more than just a bag of dust and DNA.  We love the intangible qualities that make them who they are, different from any other bag of dust walking around out there. 
            And we know that when a person is abused, it is wrong and unfair.  We know that they should have had a better life than that.  We know that the abuser was in the wrong, that there is a standard that we all should be – will be - held to.  Not just a human standard of what is socially-acceptable behavior, but a real, deep, abiding, binding standard of right and wrong ways to live and treat people.  And so, we want to see justice done.  And we are outraged when it is not done on earth.  But deep down, we know – or at least want to believe – that someday all wrongs will be made right, all things will be straightened out, and justice will be done. 
            Atheism is a great excuse for living any way you want, with no regard for how it affects other people.  Because in the end – if we all simply disappear – it won’t matter how any of us lived, will it?  It wouldn’t ultimately matter if you were a Hitler or a Mother Teresa.  “Have as much fun on earth while you can because this is all there is, right?”  And who’s to say that one person’s idea of “fun” (using others for their pleasure, abusing others, taking advantage of others to get ahead) is wrong?  If there is not an ultimate, supreme, objective standard for right and wrong then there is no real right and wrong.
            The thing is, atheists want to be their own gods, but get upset when other people decide to be their own god in a violent, “unfair” way.  But if there is no over-arching system of “right and wrong” that supersedes mankind – if “right and wrong” is up to mankind to define – then no one can really say whose way of living is “right” and whose way is “wrong.”
            People who say that it’s silly to believe in a God who punishes disobedience and who say that we may as well live life the way we want because there is no God also want to see violent people rightly punished for their actions, their sins.  But you can’t have it both ways.  You can’t deny that there is an absolute system of “right and wrong” and then fairly hold violent offenders to some sort of man-made system of justice.  How could you decide that their way of living was wrong and your way was right?  Just because it hurt someone else?  Why should hurting someone else be considered wrong?  Just because we, at this time, in our society, say it is?  If we were in a primitive, lawless society would violence all of a sudden be considered okay, just because we allow it? 
            If there is no absolute system of “right and wrong” that supersedes man then our idea of justice is just a made-up, meaningless, whatever-suits-the-moment-and-current-society collection of laws that has no real basis in anything.  In this case, there is no real reason for declaring that the Nazi or KKK way of living is “wrong” and that other ways are “right.”
            Yet, the very fact that we decide that certain ways of treating people are wrong and that certain ways are right shows that we have some sort of built-in idea of how things are supposed to be. 
            And where did this “supposed to be” come from?  From mankind?  From our ancestors?  What gave them the right to decide what was right and what was wrong to begin with?
            The thing is, we know in the core of our being that abusing someone else, that stealing, that cheating, etc., is wrong.  Which also means that there is a “right.”  Everyone who has been abused or cheated on or who had something stolen from them knows that it was wrong, no matter how many fancy arguments they hear about there being no God and no God-made rules and values and morals, no “right” and no “wrong.”
               I think if most people were honest with themselves, if they listened to the deep down parts of themselves, getting past all the fancy atheistic arguments which are meant to confuse and convince, they would hear a voice that says, “You matter eternally.  There is a right and a wrong.  A ‘fair’ and an ‘unfair.’  And you were made for more than this.  More than the tragedies and diseases of this life.  More than the abuses and trials and heartaches.  More than a meaningless existence that doesn’t matter in the end to anyone but your family.  You are more than a pile of breathing, walking dust.  And you are not alone on this planet.  I am watching over you.  I gave you life.  I am calling to you.  I want you to let Me love you.  And I will right all wrongs in the end.  What happens to you matters.  How you live matters!”
            Don’t we all feel this, deep down underneath the fancy arguments that let us play god in our own lives for awhile?  Don’t we all know deep down that this isn’t what life is supposed to be?  That things are supposed to be different?  That there is a real “right and wrong”? 
            Have you ever taken a walk on a warm spring day, a cool breeze on your cheek while you turn your head to the sun, listening to the birds singing in the trees?  You can feel it.  You can feel how limiting your body is, the skin tightly binding around you, containing something much bigger inside than your organs.  You can feel your soul wanting to burst through your skin, spread its huge strong wings and soar up into the sky.  You know you are more than your body and that someday you will be free of the dust-bag that your soul inhabits. 
            We are not cosmic accidents heading to nothingness, with no lasting meaning or value, only to become a wisp of a memory to those we love when we are gone.  Can you think of anything more discouraging than that?  What kind of good can spreading that message do, other than allowing people to do whatever they want in life without feeling like they have to be accountable to anyone?  But is that really good anyway?  Because what kinds of things do people do when they are not afraid of consequences, when they are not accountable to anyone?  History is littered with tragedies of this kind.  Yet, if there is no over-arching system of justice, no standard of right and wrong that supersedes current societal standards, then there is no real reason for why people can’t just do whatever they want.  There will be no real penalty in the end anyway.  No real reason for treating people well and living by the rules, instead of treating people poorly and doing whatever you want to do.  

            Think a moment about the big questions of life: Why are we here?  Where are we headed?  Do we really matter?
            What answers can atheism give to these?
            “Why are we here?”  We are accidents.  All this amazing order and complexity and the delicate balance of life developed over billions of years by accident.  If any one thing had been different, none of this would be here.
            “Where are we headed?”  Well, if we are cosmic accidents then we have no soul and no part of us will live on after we die.  We are headed to nothingness.
            “Do we really matter?”  If we are accidents with temporary bodies and no souls then there is no ultimate lasting value to us, no real purpose or meaning.  We matter only to those who know us for the brief time we are here and it doesn’t really ultimately matter how we live or what happened in our lives.
            Compare that to the answers we find in the Bible, in Jesus:
            “Why are we here?”  Because God is a relational Being.  And He wanted to have a relationship with people, with those who choose to love Him.  Any of us who date or get married can relate to that desire.  God made people because He wanted people to love and people to love Him back.
            “Where are we headed?”  God created us with souls.  He created us to be a part of His eternal family, to live with Him in eternity, if we choose it.  And this lifetime is our chance to decide if we want to live with Him or apart from Him.  And in eternity, we will get what we wanted.  We will either spend eternity with Him in heaven or apart from Him in hell.  We do not simply cease to exist, fading into nothingness.  We have a soul that will live on.  And this is either comforting or terrifying, depending on where you are headed.
            “Do we really matter?”  Yes!  We really matter to the One who created us.  He loves us because He created us.  We don’t have to do anything to deserve or earn that love.  He loves us just because we are His creation.  Because He wants us.  And He loved us and wanted us enough to send Jesus to die for us, to pay the price for mankind’s sin, to bridge the gap between us and Him that was created when mankind rebelled against Him in the Garden of Eden.  To Him, we are worth the price of Jesus’ life.  That is some major value!  Some real hope!  To know that we matter eternally to the One who made us and that He made a way for us to once again have a relationship with Him.  If we choose to allow Jesus’ death to pay the price for our sins.  And if not, we choose to pay it ourselves, we choose to live with eternal separation from God.  The choice is ours!

            I could never be an atheist because there is no real hope in it.  No real meaning or value or justice or purpose or answers or anything.  So what if you get to live life the way you want, without having to follow the rules of some dusty, ancient Bible!  So what if you get to pursue whatever you want and be sexually free for awhile!  (And isn’t that really what draws a lot of people to atheism, the love of money and success and pleasure.  They get to buy what they want, focus on themselves, and have sex when they want and with whom they want, without anyone telling them that what they are doing is wrong?) 
            Rather than having that kind of so-called “freedom,” I would rather have the hope that things will someday be better than the pathetic-ness of this life, that people really do matter, that we don’t just cease to exist when we die, that all wrongs will be made right, and that God is watching over me and I am not left here on earth alone to navigate it all myself.  To me, that is comforting and freeing, not restricting. 
            Atheists might think they are having more fun in this lifetime than Christians.  But Christians have a strong Father to lean on, more hope of true and lasting rewards, and the joy of knowing that God cares for us and that the best is yet to come.  And that is a wonderful trade-off for being willing to bend a knee and let God be God.

            “. . . He has also set eternity in the hearts of men . . .”  (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

            “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”  (Romans 1:20) 

            For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already . . .” (John 3:16-18)

            “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6)  

            “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. . . . ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”  (Romans 10:9-10, 13)  

             “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  (Joshua 24:15)

            [An update on my nephew:  Apparently he never needed brain surgery.  He had bleeding in two places of his brain, and they had a team of doctors ready to drill into his skull if he needed it.  But the bleeding stopped and the pressure went away on its own.  So they watched him for a day and then sent him home, confident that there would be no lasting damage.  And my brother never laid a hand on his daughter, but did verbally shame and scold her.  So that’s sad.  But thank God, at least it all looks like it will be okay.]