Would it surprise you to know that it took an atheist to help me encounter God?
Albert Camus was a self-described unbeliever, yet his philosophy is profoundly apocalyptic. His writing seeks to remove the veil from our sleepy, everyday lives, exposing the unspoken anxiety that lies beneath.
Camus’ philosophy centers around the idea of the absurd – the realization that, when we really get down to it, our lives make no sense. At any given moment, everything we do is on some level ridiculous and inexplicable. We become aware of the absurd when we choose to encounter life as it truly is, not merely as we wish it to be.
For most of us, this simple act of seeing is tremendously difficult. We carry so much fear inside. It’s possible to live our entire lives without ever really dropping our psychological defenses enough to examine our visceral terror of death, the possibility that this whole life is meaningless after all. To honestly reflect on life is to sit with the emptiness of it all.
This emptiness is where real growth begins. Instead of suppressing my fear of death and meaninglessness, I can welcome it as a sign of my growing desire for truth. What once passed for happiness in my life was a pale imitation of the real thing.
True joy can be found on the other side of despair. I find peace and wholeness when I embrace life’s terrifying mystery. When I am truly honest with myself, I realize I have no ability to control, explain, or predict anything. My only choice is in how I will respond to the amazing and disturbing series of events and relationships that I am immersed in every day. In the midst of confusion and pain, I can choose hope.
Then again, what could be more absurd than the fact that Camus – an avowed and committed atheist – has helped to lead me to Christ? His apocalyptic absurdity challenges me to live a life without safety blankets, to face my own death a little bit each day. As I witness the collapse of my selfish hopes and dreams, I find God.
This is a God who doesn’t offer explanations. To all my whys and wherefores, God responds with the burning bush in the desert. He speaks to me from the whirlwind: Where were you when I created the universe? He challenges me to put a leash on Leviathan, the primordial chaos-monster that I discover in the depths of my doubt. And of course, I can’t.
The God of my experience, the God I read about in the Bible, meets me in the unknowing. This wild God takes absurdity as a starting place. His interest is not in satisfying the demands of my curiosity, my need for control, or even my petty human concepts of justice. I find him alone, forsaken in a wilderness of my own broken dreams. With all my hopes and expectations deflated, there is finally space for Christ to enter in.
In a culture that so often looks to God for certainty, I find the Holy Spirit in the midst of doubt. When all the rational explanations fail to yield a source of meaning and life beyond myself, I find peace in the absurd voice of God within me saying simply, I AM!
What’s your experience? Have you found God in unexpected places? Does God give you answers? More questions? What does it mean to trust in the absurd God of the desert?