There’s a Place At the Table for the “Faithless”

Originally published to Armchair Theologian.

​I am not God. That’s an ultimate reality. But only because it contains so much in so few words. “I am not God,” means that God exists, almost certainly. I could reason my way into an explanation for the universe that does not require a creator, sure, but that isn’t the point. If something like the Classical Theism we half-read about in our Western Civ classes is true, then God is present, in a way, in the statements, “God does not exist,” and “There is no God.” I happen to think that’s true, and so you can commune with God, live with Him and love Him with the best of yourself if you struggle and even fail to believe with your head and your gut that He is real.

For all of its strange incarnations, Christianity recognizes the contradictions in man. And God, if He’s this God, promises rest to people who need it, so He invites one and all to His table to join Him in His rest. And he knows the contradictions in man, and it is right for the one who struggles and fails to accept even His existence – who cannot with her conscious mental faculties sign off on the proposition, “there is a God,” to join in worship, in the ordinances, and in the whole life of the Church community, because despite her limitations God has accepted her.

Her place at the table is not a special place amongst other specially marked places  for  those whose faith is, like hers, intentional rather than intellectual. The place marked out for the one who cannot believe in God but will not let go of Christ is among all of her brothers and sisters in the faith. It is wrong to say that she has no faith. They have the same faith, and sit at the same table in fellowship with the same God whose real presence makes them one people.

That the God incarnate on earth in Jesus of Nazareth actually exists, not only in the faith of His people but in Himself, means that the sort of belief that saves is not actually an intellectual assent to the right propositions. If anything, that would constitute a “good work” that would put certain people in God’s favor by way of an arbitrary advantage. Instead, saving belief is to entrust yourself to God through Jesus Christ, even in the midst of serious limitations in your capacity to believe.

“I am not God,” means God is distinct from me. That is “good news of great joy.” He has His own being apart from me. He is not ultimately a projection of my unconscious emotional need to believe a higher power. It is true that “in Him we live and move and have our being,” as St. Paul quoted Epimenides to the crowd of Greek philosophers in Athens, but that is not the end of the story. We exist in Him but we are not a part of Him. The quest for God is not a journey inward.

The Christian religion teaches that history is a roundabout retelling of God’s journey toward us. He has left His place to meet us, not within ourselves, but as Himself and on His own terms. It is no kind of grace if we seek God and the road brings us back round to ourselves. For the woman who needs desperately the rest of God, it is a nightmare to find that she has nowhere to run. If God is an extension of herself, then there is no help coming. She has only “the power of positive thinking” to hope in. The rest of God is an illusion.

If, however, God is His own person, then also the rest of God in which He invites us to join Him is real. He has the authority to offer it to whomever He  wants. The struggle, the anxiety of existence can be overcome and the hope to do so is real. The world is inhabited by tired people, and if God is real, and I am not Him, then He can offer rest to my tired eyes, and yours, even amidst our utter lack of faith.

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