Why it’s Easy to Live as if God Didn’t Exist

By Todd Daly

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17 NIV)

The alarm blares at 6 AM, the coffee pot gurgles its last few steamy gasps as the aroma of Starbucks’ Anniversary Blend wafts through the air. I click the Weather Channel icon on the laptop for hourly updates on the temperature and the likelihood of precipitation before checking a national news site or two. A hot shower precedes the climate controlled ride into the office while NPR fills me in on the events that have already transpired in Europe and Asia. I check email, read, do some writing, grab some Indian food on Green Street, revise old lectures, check email again (and again), before heading home.

This rather mundane sequence of events could easily apply to Christian and atheist alike. In other words, in our very modern era, it is not always so easy to discern what difference God makes. Put even more sharply, it’s easy to live as if God does not exist.

Theologian Craig Gay has coined the rather troubling term “practical atheists.” He asserts that the pressures of daily life, our consumer-oriented culture, and our general technical efficacy encourage us to go about our daily lives without giving God much thought.

Stated bluntly, it is the assumption that even if God exists he is largely irrelevant to the real business of life. To put this somewhat more tactfully, contemporary society and culture so emphasize human potential and human agency and the immediate practical exigencies of the here and now, that we are for the most part tempted to go about our daily business in this world without giving God much thought. Indeed, we are tempted to live as if God did not exist, or at least as if his existence did not practically matter. (The Way of the Modern World, p. 2).

We now live in a world that is increasingly succumbing to technological control and expertise. The immovable boundaries of time and space are getting blurrier. Advances in medicine have us living longer than ever, promising a future when death will come on our terms. Communication technology enables face to face chats with friends and families several time zones away. Our food choices are no longer held hostage to the seasons. Gratefulness easily degenerates into expectation as what was once viewed as a gift of the earth is now perceived as ‘the made’ and manufactured. June strawberries may be a gift from God, but only human technology can make November strawberries a reality (or, at least make them look tasty).

In short, God is really only necessary for the things that we still can’t control. We’re not exactly sure how God should fit into our lives. But this is actually the wrong question. The real question is how we should ‘fit into’ or participate in God’s life. Either way however, we are hard pressed to describe how others might know we’re a Christian by the way we live—apart perhaps from our Sunday morning activities. We are practical atheists.

In reality however, God continues as the creator and sustainer of the universe through his Son. So, here are a couple of very open-ended questions that are worth asking of ourselves:

  • What would your life look like if you began to routinely reflect on the reality of God’s provisional care?
  • How might the very sustaining of reality by Christ impact the daily activities of your life?