Recently, I found out that someone I know and love has decided that they are an atheist. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised, and I’m not at all upset by their decision. In fact, it was a relief that they made it known, because most of us who’ve known them for a long time suspected this was the case, but no one had the guts to talk about it.
I have a friend and mentor who made that same decision several years ago. He had been a pastor and a chaplain for a number of years, and when he retired he decided he was done with all that, and became an atheist, or as he would put it, he finally admitted to himself and everyone else what he’d always felt–that he didn’t believe in the God that his family, the Church, and society had taught him about. He now lives a very happy life as a non-theist, every bit as gracious as he ever was. He’s convinced that someday, maybe when I retire, that I’ll join him in his philosophical stance, but I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen.
I say that because I know myself, and I know that I am a believer. I believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe in miracles. I believe in the supernatural. I believe that God is present to us through prayer and meditation. I believe. I just believe. And I think I always have. Sure, there have been times when I’ve doubted. One of my favorite quotations from Paul Tillich is that “doubt is the beginning of belief.” I’m enough of an existentialist and a realist to understand that all of us naturally have times when our cored beliefs are shaken. In spite of that, I would say I’ve always been a believer. My earliest memory is of God being very real and very present to me in the sanctuary of my childhood church. I haven’t faced a lot of major challenges in life, but the times when I have been challenged, I’ve never (for long at least) given up on my faith in God. And I guess it’s because I’ve always seen faith or belief in terms of a relationship with God–like a relationship with any person, there are times when I’m absolutely sure and rock-solid in my relationship with God, and there are times when I feel more like I’m on the sinking sands of doubt and despair. But I’ve always believed, and I’ve always had faith. That relationship has always been there.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve only recently come to understand that one of the gifts I’ve been given in life is the gift of faith. I never wanted that gift–whenever we would do spiritual gifts inventories in church, I would shy away from “faith,” because I thought of it as being too simplistic, too uncool for the likes of me. I wanted the flashy gifts, like prophecy or discernment of spirits–and I’ve experienced those in my life, too. But now I also see that faith has always been one of my gifts. I’ve just always had faith that God Is.
So it makes me a little sad when someone I know and love doesn’t have that same gift–or at least not at the point in their life. Perhaps some day that gift will come to them. In the meantime, I wonder–could I have done more to help them have faith? How can I have the gift of faith and not be able to influence others to share in that gift? It’s a mystery upon which I intend to ponder, because I just don’t have the answer right now. And I guess that’s o.k., because with the gift of faith I don’t always need the answers, even if it frustrates me from time to time.
Like the other gifts of the Spirit, I guess the world would be a boring place if everyone had the same gifts as me. I just pray that those who struggle with their faith in God might see in me some spark of what faith might look like. I know I’m not perfect, and I shouldn’t rely solely on my example to preach the good news, but for now that’s what I’ve got. I hope it can mean something to someone along the way, even if it doesn’t right now.
So for those of you who don’t have the gift of faith, or don’t have it yet, or you had it and then lost it, know this–I’m keeping the faith with you, and if you’d like, I’ll keep the faith for you, as long as you need me to do so. And I’ll pray that whatever gift God has given you will be activated in a way that you’ll be able to help carry my load as well. I look forward to seeing what that looks like–I have faith that it will be a spectacular show of God’s grace and love.