Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Richard Bauckham on faith and atheism

But at this point I think it may be helpful if I go back behind my work to the deeper roots of my faith. I have always loved God. I hesitate to say that because I cannot recall hearing anyone else say it, but I am sure it must be true for lots of other people. I can't account for it, except (of course) by the grace of God. What I mean by saying I have always loved God is that, from whenever it was that the word "God" had genuine meaning for me, I loved God and wanted to live in a way that would be pleasing to him. The idea some people have that being a religious believer is about obeying arbitrary divine commands out of fear of punishment is quite alien to me.

Because I have always loved God and my life over the years has developed on that basis, I find life without God almost unimaginable. I can see how people may feel satisfied with life without God if they have never known life with God. But after knowing the incomparable depth and breadth of meaning that knowing and loving God give to everything else in life, losing faith and living without God would surely be unendurable. So in rare and transient moments when the possibility that there is no God has seemed to me a guinea possibility, it has felt like the opening of a bottomless abyss of nihilism. I can recall only brief glimpses of that abyss. Nietzsche is the postmodern prophet who descended open-eyed into it and did his best to celebrate it. He is a powerful antidote to the superficiality of the "new atheists" who seem able merely to wander along the edges of the abyss, blithely unaware of it.

I have been through some dark periods in my life, but they have not threatened my faith. Quite the opposite–they have made me feel more deeply my need of God. Suffering seems either to threaten or to deepen faith.

Good things are even better when they come to us as gifts of love. In thankfulness to God we learn to experience everything good in life as God's love. Having no one to thank for all the good of one's life is one of the inhuman deficients of atheism. I once heard an attempt at a non-theistic form of grace before a meal, which amounted to thanking the universe. To thank the universe, which doesn't care even whether we exist, is as nonsensical as thanking the microwave for the meal.

…I would find it more difficult to believe in God if I did not believe that God became incarnate as the man Jesus, who died and rose bodily from death and is alive eternally with God. (Here I differ profoundly from people who find it easier to believe in God than in the incarnation and the resurrection.) R. Bauckham, "A Life with the Bible," I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship (Zondervan 2015), 23-24.

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