The Little Atheist

Tommy’s a cute kid.

He didn’t seem threatening.

But today you just can’t be too cautious.

True defenders of the faith can brook no quarter to disbelief.  After all, who knows what evil lurks there?

So when little Tommy, a second-grader at an Indiana elementary school, told his classmates that he didn’t believe in God, his teacher ordered him to sit alone during lunch – for three days.  He was further instructed not to speak to any other students.

This imposed isolation was because, the teacher insisted, Tommy’s views on religion “offended them.”

Tommy’s parents filed a lawsuit.

One wonders what seven-year-old Tommy may have thought of all this. Before he was banished to solitary as an infidel by his Christian school teacher, she interrogated him on his views, his parents’ beliefs and why he didn’t go to church.

Tommy asked what he had done wrong. When he got home he cried.

When he’s a 25-year-old atheist and is asked why, Tommy will tell this story about his first impression of practical Christianity.  He’ll remember the hurt, his “offended” classmates and a cruel teacher who thought she was doing Jesus a favor.

Sadly ironic but often true, Christians help to explain a lot of atheism. We defend ourselves with the excuse that we’re “only human”. This is an unpersuasive way of saying that our faith has no real impact on how we live or treat others. We hold forth on theology, prophecy and politics but struggle with the simple Golden Rule. We practice a selective ethic that invites hypocrisy. We prioritize sin in others, ignore it in ourselves and thank God we’re not like other losers and miscreants.

Not all Christians are like this of course. Hopefully, you’re not. But I am sometimes.

Like Paul the apostle I make it my chief ambition to know Christ and realize to my shame how little I do. And like the man once named Saul, I too struggle, doing things I wish I hadn’t and failing to do those things I know I should.

“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Romans 7:18, NLT). With him, I cry in frustration, “who shall deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7: 24, KJV).

“…from this life that is dominated by sin … “(NLT).

God’s grace has saved us all. In his infinite mercy he puts up with even the best of us. Our finest moments, if and when they come, are all because of him – and nothing in ourselves. We’ve no cause to glory in the filthy rags of our self-righteousness but only in the unfathomable riches of the abounding grace that chose us when we were lost; helpless and hopeless.

We were wretched, undesirable and unworthy sinners.

You and I haven’t gotten what we deserved. We’ve received what we couldn’t earn, had no right to expect and didn’t deserve.

If we would only remember that more than we do, it would make a difference in how we see ourselves and how we look at others, especially those who are not like us.  It seems that if we would correct our theology we’d improve our attitude.

What an opportunity to show the love of Christ that teacher missed. What a lesson could have been taught to the other students. What an impact could have been made on the life of a confused and uncertain child.

Children are impressionable and sometimes those impressions – for good or for bad – are written with indelible ink. They remain in the heart and mind and on the soul. Teachers, of all people, leave lasting impressions. I still remember those who showed kindness and patience to me when I was Tommy’s age.

Don’t you?

Kindness is so powerful. One cannot read the thirteenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians or his listing of the fruits of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians without noticing the pulsating theme of kindness. Those qualities of character that Paul says define us as Christians are all variants of human kindness.  They find their root and their blossom in this simple but too often elusive virtue.

You’ll search in vain for a self-assertive trait.

Only a kind person can know love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, and faithfulness. Only someone who is genuinely kind will also be gentle and self-controlled.

It is kindness that conquerors more often than courage and conviction. Paul says you and I may exhibit all manner of heroic deeds; we may sacrifice everything and know everything but without love we are nothing.

The hymn writer and clergyman Frederick William Faber was right when he observed that “kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence or learning.”

How many have found the door of faith bolted by cruelty but opened wide by charity?

Kindness can make all the difference in the world.

Especially, perhaps, in the heart of a little atheist.

May God bless you and your family.

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Filed under Christian World View, Faith, Religion

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