Pity the Poor Atheist
If you’re at the corner of Gillam and Bellevue this weekend, you may notice this week’s sermon title, “The 34th Man,” posted on the signboard. The reference is to the comment made by Chilean miner Sammy Sanchez, the youngest of “Los 33.” Just one day before his rescue, Sammy wrote his sister in reference to all the talk of “Los 33.” “There are actually 34 of us, because God has never left us down here," he said.
All the world stopped this week to celebrate the success of the San Jose Copper Mine rescue. We rejoiced at the sight of those who had been trapped a half a mile below the surface of the earth for 69 days emerging from the Phoenix rescue capsule well and in good spirits. God’s name was invoked hundreds of times by so many involved, from the president of Chile to family members and loved ones to the miners themselves.
“Thank God” and “It’s a miracle” were the most frequently heard lines, but there were also things said that reflect the reality of a deep encounter with the living God in that dark prison of 69 days. Mario Sepulveda told reporters, “I have been with God and with the devil. They fought one another and God won. I seized the hand of God, it was the best hand. I always knew God would get us out of there.”
But almost as soon as the happy news of the successful rescue began to spread, so did the sad words of bloggers and columnists with no room for God – any god, even one day of God while the rest of the world rejoices.
At Salon.com, which fancies itself as a stopping place for the well-read and sophisticated, blogger Gail Rae Hudson wrote a piece she calls “Chilean Mine Rescue: It’s (not) a Miracle.” Annoyed by too many references to a God she does not believe in, Ms Hudson writes:
…we are not a miraculous species, though, because compassion and empathy are not miracles but evolutionary modes of survival among us.
…it also seems to be an evolutionary trait that humans have a "god" sense, probably located in a particular area in the right side of the brain that we recently learned how to technically stimulate. It wouldn't surprise me if this region subsequently reveals itself to have something to do with our belief in miracles, too.
To be sure, God’s name has been used all too casually and without much thought during the past week – like every week. The credit we give God for good results must be able to withstand the test of the hard questions of God’s sovereignty when results are not good. I am thankful that Christianity is a thinking religion!
So let’s think about God’s sovereignty and wrestle with his grace and justice. But, please, do not dismiss what Sammy Sanchez, Mario Sepulveda and so many of their comrades experienced at the bottom of San Jose mine as mere chemical secretions on the right side of the brain, some survival trait won at the Darwinian roulette wheel.
That 34th man, that God who won, is the Holy Other, not one of us who became one of us that he might be with us, even in the darkest pits. As we will hear in Sunday’s preaching text, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.” (Acts 17:24) Nor is he some evolutionary feature of the right side of the brain.
In the end, atheism is simply too shallow to answer any of life’s deep questions or to deal with 69 days trapped a half a mile below the surface of the earth.
Pity the poor atheist.