I was attending a women’s retreat a few years ago. While we popped M&M’s and Hershey’s Kisses, women from our church spoke on various topics, and one of my (now) dearest friends spoke on the topic of “practical atheism”. I had never heard the term before, and it intrigued me.
I had heard of atheism before, of course. But practical atheism? Did they all save for rainy days and carry handkerchiefs in case, No One forbid, something happened or someone had a cold? I had no idea what practical atheism could mean. The actual definition made me stop and examine my own life, with more than a little fear.
You see, a practical atheist doesn’t go by the label “atheist”. They actually would identify as Christian. Doubtless, practical atheism occurs religion-wide, but for today I’ll stick with what I know.
A practical atheist accepts God in theory but rejects him in..you guessed it..practice.
This is the church-goer who screws people over in day to day business dealings without a smidgen of remorse.
This is the woman blasting Gospel music on her way to meet her married boyfriend.
This is the person who asks God to bless them but never invites God into any other area of their life.
The practical atheist would say they believe in the God of the Bible. However, if they ever read the Bible, they would see that God actually expects us to submit ourselves to him and live within the boundaries he has created for our protection.
Most people have heard of the ten commandments, and the fact that God isn’t a big fan of sin. That’s why Jesus came to die . For our sin. But not so that we could get a free ticket to heaven and go on living any way we choose. He wants us to let go of sin and live in a way that makes the world a more beautiful place. He wants us to reflect his good, holy, loving character.
God knows the difference between his real children and those who have missed the boat.
“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.”-John 14:21
“If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.” -1 John 1:6
Christians understand that God is real and therefore, try to live in a way that is pleasing to God. They also pray, and have faith that God is with them through the good and the bad, so they don’t have to resort to sin to find happiness, help, or meaning. If they do fall into sin, their conscience won’t let them stay there long.
Practical atheists say God is real but live as though he is not. The may love a good sermon or song, but reject God’s direction in their journey. Their lives don’t look different from their unbelieving friends.
Let me put it another way. Anyone who has encountered the living God comes away from that experience a different person.
If you were hit by a Mack Truck, people would be able to see the evidence. If you claimed to be hit by a Mack Truck, but your car was fine and you didn’t have a scratch on you, people might have a hard time believing you’d really been in an accident.
So it is with God. There will be a difference between those who truly know him and those who do not.
What you call yourself is only a name. How you respond to the reality of God is quite a different matter. It is crucial to examine your heart and your life to see which side you fall on.
So, back to the conference. This dear friend said she’d been a “Christian” for a long time, but a few years ago, looking back, she’d never really seen the evidence of it in her life. This scared her, and she knew something needed to change. So, she asked God’s forgiveness, and set out to actually live in relationship and obedience to Jesus, and found at last the peace and joy she’d been missing.
That is the good news of Christ. No matter how badly you’ve screwed it up, God’s grace is bigger. Practical atheists (and actual atheists, for that matter), God loves you so very much. While you are still breathing, you can turn to him and ask for a legit relationship, for forgiveness, and salvation. He doesn’t hold grudges and he will help you walk through what it means to actually follow him.
**Edited** Because of some pushback, I would like to emphatically state that I do not use the term “athiest” as synonymous for bad or immoral, only as one who operates in the mindset of unbelief in God.