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Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Pope and Good Atheists

Found in British news story:

I think this pope is a nice person. What I have read indicates that he has the sort of humility and holiness which I love best about Catholicism. I started reading Les Miserables a few weeks ago and the opening pages about the "good bishop" who sets the protaganist on the right path (godliness) are stunning in there similarity to what we read about pope Francis. At its core it contains two elements: a distinct indifference to power and wealth coupled with a gentle kindness and openness to people, especially sinful people, which is best characterized as grace. Unmerited kindness and acceptance is always scandalous.

I am clear on what the Bible says, well, what the new testament says. There is no salvation outside of Jesus. I am a pretty hard core Jesus believer and I am not friendly with any attempts to limit His centrality. So the question is, is the pope doing that? He makes clear that "everyone is redeemed by Jesus." So this is not about a lack of faith in Jesus, it is about a theological debate on what redemption is and what it means and how far it extends. I read recently the words of Paul (1 Timothy 1:15) The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners to which Paul adds (of whom I am the foremost). He goes on then (2:1-3) to demand from Christians supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for everyone...This is right and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

The pope (according to the article) is not saying we are saved by works. He is saying that Christians and non-believers can find a place of meeting in doing good works. He is saying, for example, that the Christian missionary and the humanist doctor can find much in common as they serve the destitute in some far off place. [as I made crystal clear yesterday, it is Jesus and Jesus alone who provides ultimate and essential healing. But He redeems all acts of kindness and demands that His followers engage in mercy and love.] The culture wars are not making our society a better place to live. It is easy to demonize those with whom we disagree and miss the points of common cause. For a starving mother the food is a pressing need, more pressing than theological debates or atheistic arguments. Perhaps God is met best in the act of love (sacramentally) and probably the Pope is well aware of that from his own ministry to the poor.

Doing good and being good are, of course, relative terms. No one is perfect and our goodness is always mixed with pollutants. However, it is silly to say all sin is sin and blather on about how stealing a stick of gum is the equivalent of blowing up a school bus of children. There are levels of sin just as there are levels of righteousness. The issue is not about good, it is about do you love and worship God? Obviously, an atheist has a serious dilemma there. If you do not believe God exists and are 'good' it does not reflect love or worship. It cuts God out of the picture. If you do not worship God who (or what?) is left? The prime candidates are self, satan, or some partial value (family, reputation, money, etc) blown up into a "total value." This is a lie. Can good people believe a lie. Yes. That happens regularly.

So what to think of the Pope's statement? God desires that all people are in right relationship with Him. Being good is part of the deal. If an unbeliever is good that better prepares his/her soul to encounter God. If God desires that all people be saved and if Christ came to save sinners, then it is safe to assume that in and through Jesus God will seek a way to gather in atheists. I, for one, am hopeful He is successful in this. And part of why I write this blog is the hope that it may be a tool for God's saving work to unfold in the lives of His people and those who reject Him.


  1. Good thoughts, very helpful to anyone with a desire to try and understand and find common ground with those that do not believe.

  2. thank you Bill. I appreciate your positive comments and welcome your thoughts.

  3. Of all the pressing issues in Catholicism this is not worth his attention. Besides, Jesus said, "But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven."
    Redemption is a gift that must be accepted and thus if an Atheist does he is no longer an Atheist. Atheism is at War with The Almighty God, desiring all should deny him. The Pope is off his rocker, it will get worse for Catholic Doctrinal beliefs before he is gone. Anyone can do a good deed for another person, I'm sure there were plenty of good deed being done in Sodom. It is repentance and acceptance of God's grace through Jesus Christ that leads to redemption. If repentance were not important, God would not have sent Jonah to Ninevah and Jesus would not have talked about their rising in righteous condemnation. Jesus died once for ALL who accept him.

  4. That may be the Pope's very cannot get the humanist doctor to dare enter the church, but in a good common cause he may be able to see Christ through his servant missionary co-worker. I have noticed over the years that Christians are graded in their faith by christians and non-christians alike, by the amount of Christ likeness in their lives. Often we do not set good examples but then say, this is the way.

  5. Agrange. thanks for stopping in. I really do not know how much attention the pope is giving this issue. I do not follow his speeches and homilies. I do not know the setting or audience. I do know the media jumped on it which may give us the impression he is focused here. I think it Jesus died for everyone, we can accept or reject that gift. In the end, the pope seems to be talking about working together to make the world better, believer or not. Jesus is Lord, no doubt about that and He is the savior. I appreciate Wilton's insight along those lines. Jesus says not all those who say "Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." And in the judgment on the nations what the gentiles do seems to be part of their judgment (to life or death). I am sure God can and will sort it out!