The question I wrote about here, “Where is hope?” came into stark relief later, when two family members whom I dearly love ended their struggles with debilitating illnesses (
More on that later.
For now, keep in mind I was using “atheist” because, early in my journey, I did not see that there was any alternative between “Bible-believing Christian” and “Atheist.” The responses people are sending me from this blog have opened new doors in that regard. THANK YOU.
Week 1, Day 4
“I have a question for you,” Charlie says. We’re standing in our bedroom.
“Let’s assume you’re right about all this. That this,” he sweeps his arms to include the room and the world outside the bank of windows, “is all there is.”
“Where’s the hope?”
I am dumbfounded.
“It’s here. Are you kidding me? It’s right here!”
“Here,” he repeats. Doubt fills his tone.
“The hope is in me and you and the life we have and living today, right now. You see? The hope that Christianity offers of heaven never allows for a full focus on the present. It requires that you keep one eye, one part of your heart and mind, always turned toward the next life. There’s no way to fully believe in heaven and hell and not give them attention. Scripture talks about laying up for yourself treasures in heaven, not on earth. Who wouldn’t give a heaven focus room in the everyday, then?
But that goes out the window if god doesn’t exist. That’s part of what I love about atheism! I get to focus on right here, right now, our kiddos at this very age and you and me at this very moment in our marriage. I don’t have to take my actions with an eye toward what happens after I’ve spent 80 years looking toward the next life.
The hope is in what I can do and be and learn in this life!”
Charlie stared at me for several seconds.
“Well, I can’t argue with the fact that you have been freer and happier and more present since you started this,” he finally said.
“Because I value this now. This moment, talking with you. I have huge value for it now. It’s what’s real. It’s how I’m spending the time I have and that time is precious and limited, but vast in its potential to be and do good. I don’t have this thought in the back of my head anymore that, while this is important, the stuff that comes after death is what’s really important. No. That’s not true.
How I spend present time IS the important thing – not because of how it impacts eternity, but because it impacts NOW and that’s all there is.”
Charlie huffed. It’s the sound that slips past his lips when his mind’s gate slides open, allows a guest in, and swings shut. Now, I needed to be quiet and let him have an internal chat with his new thought guest.
As I contemplated our conversation this morning, I remembered that a Jewish woman asked me the exact same question a few years ago. We’d been friends – not close, but knowing each other – for about 8 years when she turned to me one day and said,
“If Jesus was Messiah, where’s the hope?”
I’m sure she saw the confusion on my face.
“If Messiah has already come,” she patiently continued, “then for what do we hope?”
“That’s he’s coming back!” I blurted out.
She leaned away from me. “What?”
“Don’t you know? He’s returning one day to take us all to heaven!”
“That’s what Christians believe?”
She shook her head and looked off into the distance. “My, my. A returning Messiah. And we haven’t even had our first visit from him.”
I think of all that now and am saddened. She has spent her entire 70+ years on the earth hoping for Messiah to come. I’ve spent my entire life – at least all I can remember of it – focused on the day that either Jesus returns or I die and go to heaven.
How many moments, experiences, conversations, people did I not value fully?
…our cat, Claus van Cat, is inspecting the ironing board. Because he’s done it once before, I’m pretty sure he’s trying to decide if he can climb it. Secondborn, my seven-year-old, is downstairs watching television because she’s home sick with a cold and has already finished reading her chapters for the day. Firstborn, my 11-year-old, is testing out a toy gun that makes a noise so annoying I want to find its maker and strangle him with my bare hands.
This is my little patch on the planet. This is life. This is the important stuff. How I engage with it affects me now, and affects the world now.
This is hope.