10/5/15 Diana early 20’s
“How is it that a church could have an atheist on its board of deacons?” I asked Diana, whom we reached out to in a sidewalk conversation today along with her boyfriend. We had asked about their beliefs and spiritual background and found out that as an atheist she was a deacon at a Lutheran Church nearby, so I had to ask how her atheism could have been compatible with the church’s beliefs. “Well, we both believe strongly in social justice issues…” she said, “…so we have a lot in common,”
She went on to express her disdain for people’s concern about life after death when there is so much suffering to be concerned about here and now. Like so many people, she had two assumptions about heaven. 1.) She assumed that the desire for heaven is ultimately selfish, and any good deed done for selfish reasons negates the positive impact of that good deed. But is heaven a selfish desire? What if heaven is simply the joy of being in the presence of our Heavenly Father? Isn’t it more selfish to want to be left on our own? 2.) The other assumption I think she was making is that if God does exist, then we must earn His acceptance by being good enough. For Diana, this means caring about social justice issues with no concern about the reward of heaven or the punishment of hell. She actually feels morally superior to religious people whom she believes are working their way to heaven through religious activities.
I wanted to emphasize God’s grace while not negating the value of good works, so I talked about Ephesians 2:8-10 – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” An atheist can only try to glorify their own goodness through their good deeds; but as Christians we have the awesome privilege of glorifying our heavenly Father, who gives us the ability to do good works for that very purpose.