God as Atheist

god as an atheist cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward
Want a print of this cartoon? Click on the image.

The book of Job is my favorite in the Old Testament. It is brutally honest. It provides no easy answers. It concludes, leaving us with life as unfathomable mystery and that we cannot possibly understand it. It admits that even though there may be meaning, we aren’t privy to it. This is life as I experience it.

The crucifixion illustrates this even more graphically. Looking back, Paul says that God emptied himself of himself and became a man. As a human being, God experiences the absence of God. God has forsaken himself. Jesus, not only God as a human being, but Jesus as a human being, actually a human being, experiences the apparent meaninglessness of life accompanied by the forsakenness of God. Jesus, fully God and fully man, both conjoined together experience the very real absence of God.

This is the Jesus I identify with because it is the fullest identification with and liberation of humanity.

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  • Dennis Irwin

    Very nice. Job taught me a great lesson that came in handy during the last recession. It’s not about me.

  • Carol

    Does a subjective experience of the “absence of God” confirm that God is objectively absent?

    The “dark night of the soul” seems to a more common experience among mystics than among non-mystics. Perhaps it is necessary to rid ourselves of the false theological ideas we tend to accumulate about God through our experiences over time and blind us to the Immanent Divine Reality.

    Jesus did not end his life in a feeling of forsakeness. His last words according to Luke were, “Father, into your hands I recommend my spirit.”

    I am agnostic about many things that formal ecclesiastical religion teaches as dogma; but I am not atheistic. I am also a theistic evolutionist in addition to being a theistic agnostic.

    I believe that dogmatic absolutism is the opposite of genuine faith:

    “Why is it that our popular established religions are so shaken in the face of the visible problems of our civilization: drugs, war, crime, social injustice, the breakdown of the family, the sexual revolution?
    Is it not because somewhere along the line belief took the place of faith for the majority of Jews and Christians? Faith cannot be shaken; it is the result of being shaken. And we can see in the writings of the early Fathers that the primary function of the monastic discipline was to shake man’s belief in his own powers and understanding. This was not done simply by visiting upon men situations they could not handle or which caused them pain. Such experiences by themselves are useless, and even dementing, unless they are met by an intention to profit from them in the coin of self-knowledge. Mere belief that one has already found the way and the truth is the exact opposite of such an intention and was recognized by the early Fathers as a weapon of the devil.~Jacob Needleman, The New Religions

    Since the spiritual [i.e. non-physical] world is not open to empirical verification, ISTM that being a theistic agnostic or an atheistic agnostic are the only two epistemological perspectives that are possible if we are to avoid the error of rationalism [not to be confused with the gift of reason that distinguishes our species from other sentient species].

  • LDeanneEaton

    Job does seem more real to me as well. The best “retelling” or modern view of Job I like is J.B. by Archibald MacLeish. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J.B._%28play%29 Really put it in a light that spoke to me, even more so than the “original” 🙂

  • Al Cruise

    I think it has to be this way. Our consciousness is not at the level needed to be able understand absolutes about meaning, purpose, and existence.

  • Jake Enns

    I don’t see where this idea that the father has forsaken the son comes from. I used to believe that myself. even though the crucifixion psalm that Jesus begins to quote on the cross ends with verse 24 saying the opposite of forsaken has occurred, and then in 2 Cor 5:19 again we see that the father was IN and WITH the son on the cross in the act of reconciling the world to himself.

  • Adam Julians

    Yeah i was just thinking similar. I’ve thougth about this before and the best way I can understand it form having read about it is that on the cross it feels like God has forsaken Jesus and in his humanity that is what he says because of the ovewheming nature of the suffereing. Yes,a dn Jesus said himself that “I and the Father are one”.

    Yeah and we see dimly as if through a darkened glass.


    David had me confused there for a moment with Jesus thinking he was an atheist but I kinda get where he is coming from.

  • Adam Julians

    I genuiniely am interested, and this is not a criticism, but can you explain the term “theistic agnostic” in the way your intened usage of it it?

    As I am reading it it comes across as an oxymoron.
    theist = beliegf in the existance of God or gods.

    agnostic = one who beileves it it is impossible to know if thre is a God.
    so i don’t understand the term.

  • Jake Enns

    Exactly Adam, I believe that Jesus FELT abandoned and forsaken, that would of course be a normal FEELING when being executed. But the FACT is that God was IN Christ reconciling the world to Himself. The Trinity has never experienced true separation, but Jesus knows what it is like to feel forsaken just like we often feel forsaken, but we are not. Father is FOR us, always!

  • Of course Carol will need to explain how she uses the terms.

    I use theist/atheistic to reflect personal belief concerning the existence of God/gods. I use gnostic/agnostic to mean a stance on whether specific knowledge is obtainable about such an existence. For example, a person could believe that a higher power exists but remain skeptical that the people that wrote scripture had any special knowledge about God. I would call such a person, an agnostic theist. An agnostic atheist would take the stance that although they currently don’t believe in God and don’t think there is any evidence about such an existence, they don’t completely rule out the possibility of God because they don’t think the question is fully knowable.

    The extreme stances would be the gnostic atheist who is convinced that God can’t exist and the gnostic theist that is convinced that God has to exist and knows a bunch of details about Him.

    Using this definition, most people are somewhere along the atheist/theist continuum and along the agnostic/gnostic continuum.

    I’ve communicated with some people, though, that find great offense with this definition. It will be interesting to see what Carol says.

  • klhayes

    When I first saw the cartoon, thought “hmmmm, God not believing in Himself would be interesting!”

  • Adam Julians

    Right, so that in the way you use the term agnostic theist it is to say that that it refelcts your belief about someone being skeptical about those who wrote scripture have any special knowledge of God.

    But then that doesn’t address what I mentioned about the oxymoron. Because to be a theist – one who believes in the existence of God or gods one cannot at the same time be agnostic and say it is impossible to know if there is a God.

    So I can see where some people would have a problem with the definition.

    I get what you are saying with the atheist/thieist and gnostic/agnostic terms and I think I woudn’t be in any disagreement with the ideas you are convering.

    In practical terms then what you would describe as a gnostic theist would be one who would, say have an ineerant view of scripture. Whereas the one you would describe as an agnostic theis would come to scripture with more than a degree of suspicion about the divninty of it’s contents, written as it is by humans. And those in the theist camp being somewhere along this “continuum”.

    I would be interested in Carol’s take on things too – you both don’t sound dissimilar, but perhpas coming at it from different perspectives.

  • Carol

    I am not atheistic or agnostic about the existence of God. I intuitively sense an Immanent, Benevolent Presence in my life; but, of course spiritual experience is a subjective matter dependent on many factors–temperamental tendencies that are genetically predisposed (not determined) and personal experiences, so I am not claiming my experience is any sort of empirical “proof” for the existence of God that should convince others. It is simply an explanation for why I am a theist rather than an atheist.

    One of the attractions that “God” (some people prefer to use terms like *Holy One* or *Godde* since there are so many negative beliefs about *God*) is the Mystery or Otherness of God. I am also attracted to the otherness of people. Some of us embrace diversity and others feel threatened by it. I am curious about the meaning of life, both its sweetness and its bitterness. My own experience is finite and limited, so, although I have my “aha moments” these insights have only served to deepen my sense that there is much that I do not know. I hope that explains the agnosticism.

    I believe that dogmatic absolutism causes invincible ignorance.

    “Dogma is often the corruption of someone else’s spiritual experience.
    Belief systems are often the enemy of the very spiritual truths they supposedly uphold. Most religious beliefs are not merely the foe of reason, of science. They are the enemy of God; not the man-made tyrant in the sky, but the very source of life, love, and truth. They are the enemy of spiritual understanding that would otherwise flow through us like the blood that circulates through our veins. Dogmatic presuppositions, drummed into our heads from infancy are like security blankets that shroud us in relative ignorance, and chain us to our beast-like tendencies. We are capable of much more. So much more.” – Beau Porden, Screenwriter/playwright/mystic

    “The blustering televangelists, and the atheists who rant about the evils of religion, are little more than carnival barkers. They are in show business, and those in show business know complexity does not sell.
    They trade clichés and insults like cartoon characters. They don
    masks. One wears the mask of religion, the other wears the mask of science. They banter back and forth in predictable sound bites. They promise, like all advertisers, simple and seductive dreams. This debate engages two bizarre subsets who are well suited to the television culture because of the crudeness of their arguments. One distorts the scientific theory of evolution to explain the behavior and rules for complex social, economic and political systems. The other insists that the six-day story of creation in Genesis is fact and Jesus will descend format the sky to create the kingdom of God on Earth. These antagonists each claim to have discovered an absolute truth. They trade absurdity for absurdity. They show that the danger is not religion or science. The danger is fundamentalism.” ~Chris Hedges, (I Don’t Believe in Atheists

    “Fundamentalism, I believe, appeals to people who need rigid structures and uncomplicated explanations of faith. … Essentially, then the attraction of fundamentalism is psychological, not theological.” –Fr. Joseph Breighner

  • Adam Julians

    OK then in what you say about dogmatic absolutism being the opposit of faith you are talking about the righd structures, the incomplicated faith, the mask of reilgion the mask of science and the trading of cliches and insults like cartoon characters – showbusiness.


    Yes I call that kind of thing a punch and judy show, I agree, it gets airtime, sells newspapers and books but is limited in content and it distacts from faith, the gosple and Jesus.

    I have just recently spoken to a prominient leader within the evangelical community in Scotland about such and his use of rhetoric, and misrepresentation of others and their views by straw man arguments. In turning equivalently strong rhetoric on him but without the staw man argument, he calmed down. And there was healthier discussion had as a result of that interaction.

    In that darkness we can still walk and someone gives off who they truly are in their character when they encounter most tifficulty. In christ we don’t need to be afraid, and all we have to do to eliminate the darkness is to turn on the light.

  • Carol,

    One of my hopes is that people can start to think about not only their beliefs but also about how they know what they know about their beliefs. I think one of the themes of this blog and the progressive movement in general is to stop putting things in boxes. To know something is to put it in a box. If the entity is infinite in extent, then to put it in a box limits our understanding of it. To remove the box is an act of admitting that we don’t fully know the thing. I think recognizing and becoming comfortable with not knowing represents a more mature way to view the world. I also think that once people make it to this understanding, that differences in actual beliefs will not seem to matter quite so much. For example, atheists and theists can be friends and work together as long as they both loosen their grip on what they think they know. As David drew in that recent comic, let those boxes get bigger and then disappear.