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Functional Atheism


“13 Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” James 4:13-17 ESV


Dear Church Family,


A few Sundays ago, as a part of my sermon, I imagined that I was taking a public poll, asking people, “Do you believe in God,” and things like that. My point was that many people will say they believe in God, but there is little in their day-to-day life that is different than it would be if they really didn’t believe in God. Our passage today indicates that this is nothing new.


The Letter of James is traditionally believed to have been written by the brother of Jesus. It has a lot to say about the way rich people treat the poor, and so it may seem that verse 13 in our passage is condemning the search for “profit.” While greed is certainly condemned throughout the Bible, James is not saying that making a profit in business is necessarily evil. Rather, his focus is on an attitude of living one’s life without acknowledging the will and reality of God.


I’ve heard this attitude described as “functional atheism.” I’m sure most of you know what atheism is—the belief that there is no God. “Functional” atheism is a little different. Many people will say, and perhaps with sincerity, that they believe that God exists. Sometimes they might come to church, even with some regularity, but between Sundays, there is little in their lives to demonstrate that belief. They “function” from day-to-day as if God doesn’t exist. He is a hypothetical or theoretical reality, but he plays little or no role in their activities or plans.


Against this attitude, James 4:13-17 reminds us that, compared to God’s eternity, we are “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” We are like the morning dew; we are dust in the wind. The focus here is on our earthly lives. The point is not that I have to stick the words “if the Lord wills” before every sentence, but that I should live all of my life in recognition that my time on earth is limited, and God’s will should be considered in everything I do.


I understand that the realities of life can get in the way of coming to church on occasion, but I have seen repeatedly what happens when people try to fit God into their “spare time.” God is not a hobby, and he will not be treated as such. Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (ESV). I think people tend to find time for what is important to them. So how does your daily life testify to how important God is to you? Do you fit him into your plans, or do you shape your plans around his will? If you have trouble finding time for God, that may say something about how busy you are, but it probably says more about how important God is to you. Would most of your life function the same without God?


God bless,


Pastor Kevin

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