Pessimism as Practical Atheism

Many people live as practical atheists. Though they say that they believe in God, or a god of some sort, they live as though the existence or lack of existence of a deity is irrelevant to their lives. They expect that no difference will be made in the world in which they live by the divine being they claim to worship.

But this should not be a true thought for Christians. We, of all people, should believe that the Lord acts. We should know that the Lord moves to change things. The Lord moves nations. The Lord moves kings and kingdoms. The Lord gives victories. And the Lord brings judgment.

Consider the call of Gideon in judges 6. At the time of Gideon’s call, he was hiding in a winepress threshing grain. That, by the way, is exactly the wrong way to thresh grain. When you thresh, you are supposed to do it on top of a hillside in the breeze. But Gideon was hiding in a hole in the ground so as not to be seen by the oppressive Midianites.

When God sends his angel to speak to Gideon, the Lord promises that he will deliver Israel through the leadership of Gideon. But look at how Gideon responds.

Judges 6:14-16 – 14 And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” 15 And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” 16 And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”

Gideon cannot believe that his life and his actions can effect change. Gideon says that he is the weakest man in his weak little clan in a weak half-tribe in Israel. Gideon knows he cannot be used of God to make a difference. Gideon is too small. Social and political issues in Israel have gone too far to be changed.

But God’s words to Gideon in two places ought to get our attention. These words are the ones that ought to ring in our ears. The Lord says, “Do not I send you,” and “But I will be with you.” Those are the words that prove that the work of Gideon, this weak little man from a weak little clan, will make a difference in the world around him. Gideon’s life will matter. This is not because Gideon is special. Rather, it is because the God of the universe has sent him and will be with him.

We, as Christians, find ourselves in a world that looks unchangeable. It is so easy to become so pessimistic about our culture. It looks like the culture wars have long since been lost. It looks like the slide of political power could well lead to oppression and even persecution of Christians.

But remember, if the Lord so chooses, he can turn our culture. God moved a nation and threw off oppression by using a wimpy man who he met hiding in a hole in the ground. This was not because Gideon was strong. It was not because the Midianites were weak. It was because God said he was going to take action, he was sending Gideon, and he was going with Gideon. The presence of the Lord changed the world, a world that looked impossible to change.

I have no idea what the Lord will do in our culture. We deserve the wrath of God for our repeated attacks on the Lord and his ways. But maybe the Lord will act. Maybe the Lord will change things. And if he so decides, he will succeed. No nation can stand against the Lord. God defeats nations at his whim. God changes the hearts of nations when he chooses. And we must live with the knowledge that, whatever comes, the Lord is acting and the Lord is able to accomplish all he wills.

At the end of the Great Commission, Jesus reminded us of the same thing that the Lord said to Gideon. Jesus said to us that he will be with us always, to the very end of the age. God is with us. God sends us out on mission. God sends us out to see the world changed as we serve him and make disciples. May we not live as those who are only pretending to believe this. Instead, may we know that the Lord is with us and he will not leave us or forsake us. As the Lord wills to use us, he will do all he desires. Nothing in this world is too hard for God to change.