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  • Jim Lovelady

Day 7: Jesus the Atheist

Updated: Feb 24, 2021

This is a man who has seen it all, who has made lots of mistakes, who knows the fragility of life. You can see it on his face as he counts the hours till his death and he realizes he is nothing but dust. This is a man who knows the grace of a God who would never forsake him. After all, "Since he didn't spare his own son but gave him for us all, how will he not also, along with him, give us everything?" This man knows wisdom.

"I also thought about the human condition—how God proves to people that they are like animals. For people and animals share the same fate—both breathe and both must die. So people have no real advantage over the animals. How meaningless! Both go to the same place—they came from dust and they return to dust. For who can prove that the human spirit goes up and the spirit of animals goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better for people than to be happy in their work. That is our lot in life. And no one can bring us back to see what happens after we die." 

Ecclesiastes 3:18–22

I think it is really easy for Christians to ignore the fact that Ecclesiastes is a book in the Bible. The character in the book, the one called, "The Teacher" or in Hebrew, "Qohelet" says some things that would make good little Christians squirm. The themes in this book are extraordinarily bleak. The poetry of Ecclesiastes doesn't get much more hopeless but in the darkest times of my life I have really appreciated that God would put this kind of stuff in his Holy Scriptures. It proves to me that the giver of life is not afraid to sojourn in the valley of the shadow of death. There is nothing that God is not willing to talk about, nowhere he won't go. Psalm 139:7-8 says it well, "Where can I go to hide from your Spirit…if I make my bed in Sheol you are there…"

So Qohelet bluntly says what any good atheist would say, "Who can prove that the human spirit goes up?…no one can bring us back to see what happens after we die." You can't be absolutely sure what happens after you die, no one can--Christian or atheist. This is the human condition that leaves a gaping hole in our certainty about things and should cause us to be humble and sober about our existence. All we are is dust...(oh great, now THAT song is in my head!).

It's actually this obvious fact--that we don't know for certain what happens when we die--that enables Christianity to thrive. Christianity thrives in the Sheols of life, in the darkest places, in the atheist moments of life, in the uncertainty, precisely because our God is not afraid to go there.

"Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani!"

My imagination runs to the moment before Jesus died on the cross, the most solitary moment of all human experience, when he cried out, "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?"

I am perplexed and enamored with the Eloi and will continually return to pondering its significance throughout these devotions. Today, I imagine the force of that moment, the unfathomable despair and confusion of being forsaken by God--the one he has relied on, the one who has been so close to him that he says that he is one with God. I imagine that richly significant moment in the context of Qohelet's words. Maybe the entire book of Ecclesiastes rushed through Jesus' mind and he cried out in hopeless resignation, "Was this all Vanity? Did I do this all in vain? Is it all truly meaningless?"

In the realm of eternal isolation and the meaninglessness of nothingness there is no promise of resurrection, no assurance of anything. All is lost. I wonder if Jesus doubted God in that moment--well, then again, if God had completely forsaken him, maybe there was no one there for Jesus to doubt. Nothing.

This is how GK Chesterton put it, "Let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist."


Pause for a second and take that in.


"But on the third day, when it was still dark" The one who went into the abyss of meaninglessness and death rose again!

Unprecedented! Remarkable! Incomparable!

In his victory Jesus can say to Qohelet with a glint in his eye, "No one? No one, you say, can bring us back to see what happens after we die? I alone have visited Death and have returned victorious. Death now belongs to me and I am liberating all those who have been ground into dust by Death's millstone. I am making all things new."

You see, only Christianity can boast in any meaningful way that a man died and came back to life to tell us about it. What Qohelet longed for is found in Jesus. The meaning that you long for is found in Jesus' death and resurrection.

I confess my frailty. I confess my tendency to wallow in life's meaninglessness. As you guide me through the abyss, give me true wisdom and a hope that you are kicking up the dust, forming me and breathing into me new life. Amen.

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Mar 14, 2019

i've always hated Ecclesiastes, because i so easily resonate with its bleakness and i hate that about myself. i was lamenting just this morning how real, how vast, how endless the desert feels, this lonely wasteland where nothing matters and all is dust and how ephemeral, how mythical, how easily forgotten Jesus alive feels, the kingdom come, the love of God. Why should it be? " order to humble you and in order to test you so that he could do good to you in the end." Deut 8

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