I read that phrase in an article by John Mark Reynolds, Who’s There?. The article discusses the important question asked throughout Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Mark argues that in the play “Shakespeare has no time for the comforting cowardice of atheism, the universe is too complicated for that!”
That phrase caught my attention and as I thought about it, I realized that what atheism does at its root is avoid final consequences. If there is no God, no final judgment, no grand reckoning, then the only things that you have to be responsible for in this life are what you choose to be responsible for, or what the law or circumstance forces upon you. The hidden things have a very good chance of remaining hidden, so why worry about them? Eat, drink, and be merry; tomorrow you die and no one’s the wiser. And, if by some chance they do find out, its water over the damn and you won’t care; you’re dead.
While that ties up in a nice existential bow, it would be simplistic to taint all atheists with that brush. Some are much more moral than that, with active consciences and deep concerns for what they leave behind. One such man is a good friend. However, that is a position nurtured not in their incipient atheism, but from the surrounding, but disappearing Western Christian culture in which they lived and moved and built their fundamental being. Almost by osmosis, it imparted its values to them and like the parasite, not the symbiote, atheists have drawn on that nurture and wrongly claimed it was their own, intrinsic to who they are.
Yet , in places where atheism has been given full reign, its true parasitic nature comes to the fore–Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Mao’s China, Kim’s North Korea. Those cultures do not produce the equivalent Saint Francis or Mother Teresa. In those environments life is devalued, rather than exalted, blood forms the grist that grinds the mill.
In sharp contrast to this cowardice of no consequences, is the counter-embrace of all consequences. Within the enormous agape that mounted the dark cross of Golgotha, there was an eternal willingness to take responsibility for it all. One, often neglected aspect of Christ’s sacrifice is the Godhead’s fully realized acceptance of the debt of our sin. The Eternal Son was the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). Even before we were created, the debt for what we would do was already embraced. No consequences were avoided, instead all consequences were willingly and completely taken up.
When Jesus tells his disciples that greater love does not exist than being willing to lay down your life for your friends (John 15:13), he fails to mention that he has already gone infinitely further and while we were still sinners, yeah, even before we had even sinned, the consequences that would flow from the act of creation were embraced, not avoided.
That is the fundamental nature of agape, of the faith that God calls us to. One way of noting how far you have come in your Christian life is examining what consequences you are willing to embrace. When Jesus told us to take up our crosses and follow in his footsteps, I believe he was challenging us to more than we could possibly imagine.