Just in case, this Lenten season, you want to get riled up and angry at the current status of the world, I'm going to take a critical look at this resurrected fad: "Giving up God for Lent," as typified in the website www.atheismforlent.net.
Today's week is entitled "Desire: Hole Shaped God." The introduction to Atheism for Lent posits these questions:
In what ways is our desire blinding us to ideological structures? How do our hoped for promises come to be mistaken as guarantees?After the introduction, the critique includes this phrase, attempting to diagnose humanity:
We desire certainty and absolutes; in short, we desire to be tapped into something powerful enough to guarantee the satisfaction of our desire. And when this desire becomes synonymous with “God,” we have done nothing more than fall into the rut of idolatry, worshiping the object of our desire and declaring it to be divine.Now, this is not much more than a misunderstanding of sin and depravity of mankind. Calvinists, Arminians, and Lutherans all confess a sort of irreconcilable depravity of man. Luther takes it one step further and says that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to him. Our desires are sinful, and can be nothing better than sinful. We hate our loving God. Isaiah saw the sin of Israel--the same sinfulness that brought about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans--and says (Is 64:6)"And we are all as an unclean thing, and all our just deeds are as a used menstual garment," if you'll excuse the Hebrew word picture.
Notice how Atheism for Lent here says "we desire to be tapped into something powerful enough to guarantee the satisfaction of our desire." How right he is! Like animals, as soon as we find something delightful to the flesh (lust, gluttony, etc.) we love to gorge on it! We love it so much that we may as well call it divine, as there are indeed old pagan gods and religions glorifying such sins.
Luther is careful to mention how there is no compulsion in the Bondage of the Will. The sinful human heart does "just as it wants or pleases, as if totally free." But to hear that we are under bondage of sin, that our real problem is not any of a hundred earthly problems, but is actually sin? Insulting to our nature! We hate the mirror function of the law, as in Smalcald Part III II.4-5:
But the chief office or force of the Law is that it reveal original sin with all its fruits, and show man how very low his nature has fallen, and has become fundamentally and utterly corrupted; as the Law must tell man that he has no God nor cares for God, and worships other gods, a matter which before and without the Law he would not have believed. In this way he becomes terrified, is humbled, desponds, despairs, and anxiously desires aid, but sees no escape; he begins to be enraged at God, and to murmur, etc. This is what Paul says, Rom. 4:15: The Law worketh wrath. And Rom. 5:20: Sin is increased by the Law. (emphasis added)_____________
Atheism for Lent continues:
What is it within us that isn’t satisfied short of that certitude? Why does God often plug the hole of desire? Can this be done authentically?What isn't satisfied is our Old Adam. This is why Martin Luther's first thesis of his 95 said "Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when he said 'Poenitentiam agite!' ('Do penance!'), he willed that the entire life of believers should be one of repentance." So, say that Atheism for Lent's writer objects to the life of a Christian being a constant struggle against sin, even though he is a believer, rather than God satisfying our every whim. In his Disputation on Justification, Luther writes:
We are justified daily by the unmerited forgiveness of sins and by the justification of God's mercy. Sins remains, then, perpetually in this life, until the hour of the last judgment comes and then at last we shall be made perfectly righteous. For this is not a game or delusion, that we say, "Sins are forgiven by faith and only cling to us, because that newness of life has miraculously begun." (LW 34, 367; emphasis added)
Atheism for Lent then asks why believers believe, and not question:
What is important is for each individual to take stock of their beliefs about God and religion and ask why they are important to them, aside from the facile desire for “truth.” What is at stake in the existence of God, or the knowledge of God’s existence? Do we find that we feel empty if all we have are our fellow human beings and relationships? If so, what then is blocking our ability to realize the meaning of relationships apart from an eternal reference point? The underlying current in all of these questions might be, “why aren’t we enough for one another?”To an extent I am going to agree that Christians ought to examine their own beliefs and their church's beliefs. There are baptists and evangelicals that shun and scold people who question "the almighty preacher-man." Pastor, your sermon contained two Christological heresies! How do you know such things? Have you been studying the Council of Nicaea again?
And as for why God and religion is important for us, it is because Christ solves our problem of depravity. I cannot keep the Law perfectly, and neither can you! Due to the bondage of sin, we would not feel it, but we would indeed be empty if all we had were our fellow fallen human beings. That is why Christ had to come, to do what I can't. Dr. Rod Rosenbladt hits the nail on the head in his lecture "Christianity in Five Verses" (I highly recommend you listen to it):
I need my pastor to be telling me that Jesus' blood and death have rescued me from the problem I didn't even know was my problem: and that it worked. How do I know that it worked? God helped me not by its making me somehow more moral or somehow better each day. Or happier either. Or "experiencing Jesus", whatever that means (I don't have a clue). I am to know that the cross actually did what Jesus' said it did by the fact that the Father raised him out of the grave three days after you and I, by the way, killed him on that dark Friday afternoon._____________
Now, seeking God is fallaciously compared to dating advice:
The healthiest person to find love and relationship with a significant other is precisely not the person who is looking for it. It is the person who has accepted who they are, their life, the risk of not meeting someone, who, often, is in the best position to meet someone that changes their life. The former person is looking for someone, anyone, an X to fulfill need Y. This person needs their desired satisfied at any cost. Crassly put, they have a hole and they want it filled.Again, that is why God comes to us. We don't know our real need is sin, and that's why God in his mercy steps in. Is it any wonder that it takes a genuine miracle of the Holy Spirit to break our sinful hardened hearts?
The truly meaningful relationship occurs when desire can be opened up like a wound, when it takes you rather than you take it, and retroactively, you can never imagine being without it. That is love, that is the difference berween [sic] desire and love If [sic] we are to get around to Augustine’s question of “What do I love when I love my God,” we must first ask what we desire when we desire God, what is the X that we need filled, what is the hole that we fit God into.Again, we do not and cannot desire God. That is the teaching of total depravity. But by saying “when it takes you rather than you take it,” this inadvertently supports the proper Lutheran understanding of depravity and God's grace in conversion!
Augustine fought mightily with his question in his Confessions X. But he did answer his own question (immediately after, by the way, speaking about sin's temptations and Christ's faithfulness and conversion by the Means of Grace--"You pierced my heart with your Word and I loved you."):
Where that light shines into my soul which no place can contain, and where that voice sounds which time does not take away, and where that fragrance smells which no wind scatters, and where there is that flavor which eating does not diminish, and where there is that clinging that no satiety will separate. This is what I love when I love my God.
When we identify the need to always satisfy our desire–something that is impossible–and learn that desire is valuable precisely because it is desire, we might cease in our never-ending attempt to extinguish that which makes us truly human, a desire for the impossible. Otherwise all we have is a God of our own making, the object of desire, an idol declared divine.Our human nature's desire is to sin. To satisfy that desire is, indeed, impossible. Desire to sin cannot obviously be considered valuable, but God looked down on our wretched state and deigned to save us from our sin. He is no merely created being, nor an idol, but our empathetic creator and heavenly Father. This God does not remain silent, but reveals himself--in the Bible. Therefore, we boast in our gracious God, who saved us from certain damnation and preserves his saints.
That is why God mustn't be given up for Lent.
My name is Benjamin Rusch, and I am currently a senior at Martin Luther College who plans on attending Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary this coming school year.