Decisions – Part 3

In Sermon Series by Rachel Schultz

I Don’t Need God

I . . . don’t . . . need . . . God!

Have you ever heard someone say those four words? Maybe you’ve read a book where the author painted an eloquent philosophical picture of his own independence. And every single page seemed to say, “I don’t need God.”

Just a few years ago, Sam Harris penned a frustrated volume entitled The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. He called for an end to the turmoil and anger caused by competing religious systems with their hypocrisy, their holier-than-thou militancy. He is an articulate atheist, and he’s one of many who say today: “I don’t need God. None of us do.”

Maybe you’ve seen a rock star on MTV. He’s a multizillionaire with royalties rolling in on every CD sale and concert appearance. He’s got more money than he knows what to do with; he’s swimming in a river of free drugs and free sex. Five million fans around the globe check out his latest doings on YouTube. And he looks up at the camera surrounded by 15 groupies and he says, “Listen, man, I don’t need God either.”

Well, maybe it’s a thought that’s even crept into your own mind even though you’re sitting here in church this Sabbath morning. After all, you say to yourself, you arrived here without God. One egg and one sperm cell got you introduced to this planet. Then your good grades and good looks took you a ways down the road. And for the past ten years, you’ve worked 60-hour weeks to get to the top of the heap. Your carefully chosen mutual funds survived the 2008 crash; now they’re growing every month; you’re accelerating your house payments and getting a promotion this summer. Things are really rolling, and all because of your hard work and talent. And maybe you’ve almost thought to yourself, not in so many words, but . . . “Hey, I don’t need God. Frankly, I don’t need ANYBODY.”

Is it safe to think that way? Is it smart to think that way?

Obviously, this Adventist church and this preacher standing in the pulpit aren’t going to think so. But I’ll concede one thing to you: even if God exists, which I certainly believe He does, you can choose to live your life without Him. You can live 70, 80, 90 years, with every moment of your life a gift from God, with every beat of your heart a gift from Him . . . and pay absolutely no attention to Him the whole time. You can live to be a hundred and get Willard Scott to flash your picture on NBC’s Today show on your hundredth birthday and live a good life—and ignore God for every single one of those 36,525 days of God-given life.

And then . . . what? What happens next?

Well-known Adventist pastor and author Morris Venden describes what we might agree is the biggest “gambler’s proposition” of all time. I say to you, “Listen, friend, I admit I can’t prove that God exists in heaven. I believe it; I see evidence all around me—but I can’t go into a scientific laboratory and prove that He’s up there. By the same token, you can’t prove that He doesn’t exist. I say He does; you say He doesn’t. But we’re both kind of relying on a `faith factor.'”

Then the proposition goes like this: “What if we agree that it’s a 50-50 bet? There’s a 50% chance that I’m right and that God does exist, and there’s a 50-50 chance that YOU’RE right and that we’re all by ourselves on this lonely little planet. Like John Lennon once sang, in perhaps his most famous anthem, `Imagine there’s no heaven, above us only sky.’  Maybe it’s fifty-fifty that there IS no God. We both live our lives, and after 70 or 80 years we both die and we both lie in the ground for a long time. Like forever. And I haven’t missed a thing.”

But then Venden goes on and adds this: “But what if you’re NOT right? What if one day we look up and we see a very special cloud that grows in size until it fills the whole sky, and we hear trumpets and angel choirs, and then we see our Savior, Jesus Christ, a triumphant King returning to this earth. And He’s coming to claim His trophies, to rescue those who have chosen to believe in Him. What then? If it turns out that way, then you’ve missed just about everything. You’ve missed it all.”

This entire concept is based on a fascinating proposal entitled “Pascal’s Wager,” expressed by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal. If you get the chance, go online and read through his intriguing logic.

But in a simple way, let’s ask: why do millions of people walking around on this planet choose the short side of this bet? Why put all your chips—in fact, your entire life, your eternal existence—on the 70 years . . . when you could choose God and eternity?

Well, let me suggest one clear reason. You and I have an Enemy out there who likes to make the 70 years with him look good. He makes it look like you’ll miss something big if you walk on God’s road. He makes it appear that there’s some attractive bit of neon on the devil’s highway that you can’t afford not to experience. In fact, one web site which outlined Pascal’s Wager contained a rebuttal by an atheist, who suggested that believers foolishly throw away their one life, their precious 70 years, going to church and giving offerings into a plate for a wasted cause; they live stunted, empty lives when they could be tasting all of the rich joys this secular world has to offer.

Tragically, most of the world goes for the quick burst of so-called fun, the temporary pleasure. Knowing that Satan’s carnival ends all too quickly, we still line up and buy his tickets. Seventy years and then a tombstone.

So often we choose the now instead of the forever. We figure it’s 50-50 and we grab for the momentary pleasure. Dieters think about the possibility of being thin down the road—but here’s this bowl of ice cream right in front of us now. Teenagers know that a drug-free tomorrow is really what you ought to aim for, but your best friend has got a ten-dollar pill he wants you to try now. You want to stay sexually pure for your spouse-to-be down the road, but right now, tonight, you want to be held; you want to be loved. So you choose the pleasure of now. People struggling in a hard marriage take the easy way out because that’s easier today. A girl stunned by an unexpected, unwanted EPT result from the drugstore can’t face the next nine months. But an abortion takes care of things now. And so she goes for the quick fix.

My invitation for you this Sabbath morning is this: look down the road—and choose God. Not simply for the selfish reward of being on the winning side, of living a million years. Streets of gold and a heavenly mansion and all of that. But because even now, today, you need Him. He needs you and you need Him. You need Him for today.

Deep inside of each one of us—me and you alike—is a longing, a soul hunger, that can’t be filled by anything except God. The theologian Augustine once wrote: “There is within every man a God-shaped vacuum, an emptiness that only He can fill.” You could try to fill it other ways, with other things. You can pack it full of quick and fragile little toys . . . but you wouldn’t be filled that way. Nothing but God will ever really satisfy.

C. S. Lewis describes how our stupid little human race has tried just about everything in the encyclopedia, desperately wanting to fill up that God-shaped hole. Listen to this painfully accurate diagnosis from his book Mere Christianity: “What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could `be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

Now, why hasn’t it ever worked? Why are our human endeavors so fruitless? Why do all utopian societies grind to a halt? Why are so many political systems failures after just a few years? Here’s a little bit more of that Lewis essay: “The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to be run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other.”

He then describes how every civilization, every political system in history, has run along okay for a little while . . . and then it always breaks down. “The machine conks,” Lewis says. And if you’ve ever traveled to countries behind the former Iron Curtin, where a failed Communism stands in ruins, you can see that “conking out” firsthand. You can see it on the streets: absolute agony and rage, both in governments and in the lives of brokenhearted men and women, who thought they were smart enough to be happy without God.

Mark Finley, who has traveled and spoken in Russia many times, tells stories of meetings he had with the highest rulers in government and brilliant professors in Moscow’s top-flight universities. And to a man, they admit to him that their former philosophy, the arrogant confident of an atheist state, had broken their hearts. They felt betrayed by the lies of trying to live an ordered life with no God. Oh, for a while they thought they could fill that God-shaped vacuum with power or caviar or suitcases full of rubles. But it never works. It doesn’t work over there and it never works here either. I know. I’ve seen it.

Now, even sitting here today, maybe right now you feel that emptiness—or maybe you don’t feel that emptiness. Not yet, anyway. Your fun is still going on; you’re still eating your cotton candy. The lights on your carnival ride are still flashing brightly. Your machine conking out hasn’t happened yet.

Back in the mid 1990s, there were some high-powered corporate types in the San Fernando Valley area of California who figured their good times would never end. They were making millions in the lucrative world of video pornography. Their factories were churning out X-rated thrillers by the truckful. And these guys were cleaning up! “Nobody can stop us!” they said to themselves. “Our empire can’t be touched.”

Well, their little fortress of sleaze was located in a city with a very familiar name: Northridge, California. And on January 17, 1994, at 4:31 in the morning, the walls came tumbling down. Northridge’s porn dealers, investors in the “fun” of cheap sex and momentary fulfillment, had a little foretaste of eternity when a California earthquake leveled their studios and their video duplicating warehouses. Now, I don’t stand here today and say that God sent that earthquake just to teach the porn industry a lesson. Innocent people lost their lives that morning, and many righteous followers of Jesus found their homes in ruins. But it’s never wise to claim that we can thrive in this world without God, and that our humanly crafted prosperity is invulnerable.

Maybe just one of those porn kings looked out from all the rubble later that day and said to himself, “There’s Someone out there. Someone bigger than this fragile, fragmented warehouse and this shaky planet. Maybe there IS something that extends beyond my 70th birthday and this frantic race to rip off enough people so that I can die rich.”

At this very moment, this sacred Sabbath moment, God is sending you that same signal. “I’m here,” He says. “I love you and I need you. And you need Me too.”

Are you listening?

Shall we pray?

Father, it’s easy when times are good to decide that we are fine, that we are self-sufficient. Please give us the wisdom to sense our need of you. If it takes an earthquake to wake us up, then we welcome the earthquake . . . but we ask You today to come into our lives and give us an abiding sense how You are the answer to our deepest needs. Help us not to want You just for the rewards and the mansions and the streets paved with gold, but because You created us, You love us, and You are eternally good. In Your Son’s name we pray, Amen.

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