I’ve been thinking of writing a book. Not a novel; a theology. I remember at college of dreaming of writing an Australian Theology, as we know the liturgical calendar is completely upside down because it is a construct of the northern hemisphere. Likewise, much of the theology comes out of the northern hemisphere. I am a bit over that idea now. What I have come to understand is a theology that has developed because I have continued to ask questions. Rather than just accepting what I have been told; to ask questions of what someone says and see if it matches with my experience and with Scripture.
In this respect I would like to write a theology with the title, An Atheist for God’s Sake. I am sure I heard someone say it once, and I would like to give them credit for it. The closest I can find is George Bernard Shaw who is credited with saying, ‘I am an atheist and I thank God for it.’ It is certainly a title that would get some attention, both negative and curious, I am sure. I like it because it speaks about being a person who is willing to not believe in the God I have been told, in order that I can believe God for who God reveals himself to be.
What I find curious is many atheists seem to have the opinion that the claims that Christianity makes about God are beyond questioning. Australian comedian and song writer, Tim Michin is credited with stating, ‘Science adjusts its views based on what’s observed. Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved.’
My problem with atheists, especially the neo-atheists, is that their rejection of God is based on a very warped understanding of God. Dare I say it, it is the understanding of God we were taught in Sunday School. And for all their claims about faith denying questioning, rather than question their understanding of God, they simply reject the notion of God. There has been no room for allowing faith to grow up and it is in questioning that we learn opposed to what we are taught.
However, Oscar Wilde is credited with saying, ‘Scepticism is the beginning of faith.’ I am not sure that I am taking him out of context, but this seems to pick up something of my contentious claim that I am willing to question what others tell me about God in order that I might know God for who God is.
I think Christianity is an invitation to ask questions about our faith; all aspects of it, and not be concerned that to question is seen as a sign of doubt and unfaithfulness, but rather a growing in knowledge, where we can own faith for ourselves and be comfortable and confident in proclaiming it.
Indeed, we are to understand this as discipleship. The disciples often came to Jesus and asked him to explain what they did not understand. The greatest example of this, I think, is the question that Jesus proposed to the disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ They gave him all the answers they had heard and then he rephrased the question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Peter answers on behalf of all the disciples, but as soon as he has declared Jesus as the Messiah, been affirmed by Jesus that this has been revealed to him by God, it is clear that he does not understand what it means to be the Messiah.
Pilate’s question of Jesus is similar to that of the interaction between Jesus and his disciples. Pilate asks, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ Jesus answer is telling, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ Pilate’s initial interaction with Jesus is based on what he has heard from others. But it is clear that Pilate is exploring who Jesus actually is. Even when he comes to the conclusion that Jesus is a king, he wants to understand that kingship and, in the end, we read he has no charge against him – wants to release him – but his hands are tied.
Historically, many of the great discoveries that occurred in science were made by theologians: Copernicus, Galileo and even Darwin. This was driven by questions and, as was the case for Darwin, caused him to even question the conflict it created with the first chapter of Genesis. Theology, therefore, has been argued as the mother of all sciences.
Our faith should cause us to question. We need to question in order to grow in faith. Discipleship is working out answers to those questions, with the help of others. Only when we have confidence in what we believe will be able to comfortably share it with others.