A friend of mine recently asked me what the difference was between an agnostic and an atheist. I explained to her that “theos” is Greek for God, so “a-theist” literally means “against God”—one who does not believe in the existence of God. “Gnosis” means knowledge, so “a-gnostic” literally means “against knowledge” — in this case, knowledge of God. An agnostic is one who doesn’t know if there is a God.
As we talked, I had a dawning realization: though I am a committed Christian, I am also, quite often, an atheist and an agnostic. At this point you may be asking: “Then what the heck are you doing as our church’s Youth Minister?” Fair point. But hear me out. Yes, I read the Bible regularly, practice meditation, read two daily devotionals, attend church almost every week, pray with my family, spent 8 years of my life studying religion, learning chaplaincy, becoming ordained, and another 4 years serving a congregation as their pastor. I’m a total religion nerd, and love to read/write/talk about it. And I love the church, especially ours.
So where does the atheist and agnosticism come in? Oh lordy, several times a day.
I practice atheism every time I feel like things are all up to me. I forget to pray. I squeeze out
God with my anxiety, my over-developed sense of power, the feeling that I’m all alone.
I practice agnosticism every time I wonder if my prayers are really heard. Is anyone really listening? Does prayer really make a difference? Do I really matter in the world? I snuff out any sense of God’s call and purpose with my doubts and cynicism. I practice both when I think the problems of the world are too big to be solved; the violence too far gone to be healed; the injustice too entrenched to be undone. And there it is, faith’s opposite: not doubt, but despair.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. In fact, I would bet that some (if not all) of you reading this can see how atheism and agnosticism creep into your daily lives as well. God knows the Bible is full of atheists and agnostics, who were also some of our best prophets and disciples. I think we could all have a really fantastic discussion about that (maybe we will some time!).
Thank God for grace. And the community of believers, and the great cloud of witnesses. For weekly worship, and the Bible, and devotionals, and prayer. Thank God for courageous truth-telling and acts of justice, grounded in love despite all evidence to the contrary. For art, and music, and poetry, and the bread and the cup — all ways that show us the way home. Oh, how grateful I am that God is eternally patient with us. As much joy as we might feel rediscovering God in our lives, how much more God rejoices in welcoming us home, every day, several times a day.