My Functional Atheism

I fear that regarding my health decisions, I am a functional atheist. By that I mean I make decisions no differently than a wise atheist would. For instance, I was told after a blood test for my PSA levels that 40% of those with this score test positive for prostate cancer. The urologist recommended, therefore, that I have a biopsy. For a moment I wondered if I could skip the biopsy and trust God that I was in the 60% of men for whom the test did not mean cancer. Could I ask God for that? Could I trust Him to give that?

I decided to leave God out of the decision and just have the biopsy. The biopsy revealed I had prostate cancer. It is, of course, possible that trusting God may have been the right decision even though I have cancer. Some prostate cancer is slow growing; many men die of other things before the prostate cancer has a chance to kill them.

I have no suspicion that God gave me cancer because of my unbelief. But it is possible, according to the gospels, that I have received from God what my level of faith has allowed me to receive. Jesus told two blind men, “According to your faith, be it unto you” and then healed them. I don’t want things according to my faith because, if I am honest, I don’t have much regarding healing.

I think in all the decisions Teckla and I made regarding her breast cancer, we were functional atheists. We looked at different procedures and the statistics on survival and re-occurrence rates. Teckla tried chemotherapy because it reduced the re-occurrence of cancer by 8-10% compared with doing just surgery and radiation. Perhaps we should have trusted God for that extra 8—10%. Teckla ended up reacting badly to that first (and only) dose of chemotherapy, and it may have caused some of the brain fog she is now experiencing.

I do surround my health decisions with things an atheist wouldn’t. I have prayed for and thanked God for good doctors. I have thanked God for surgeries that have gone well and thanked Him for all the people that have helped us with long drives to get radiation for Teckla. I have prayed daily for Him to shelter us. But none of this has affected my decisions regarding treatment.

I am comfortable with my functional atheism regarding health decisions, but I am not certain I should be. I am always willing for Scripture to explode my comfort. I do not feel condemned. I feel loved by God and have some peace that He will faithfully bring us safely through the cancer we have faced. But I still question whether I have simply sunk to the level of unbelief that permeates our culture—both Christian and secular. 

I have an excuse. I think I might be ready for an adventure in faith if God appeared to me in a dream, spoke to me through a prophet, sent an angel to visit me, or gave some kind of supernatural indication that it was His will to heal me and that I need not seek treatment. Even a deep assurance in my heart might be enough. I have had none of these. If you say the revelation of Jesus in Scripture should be enough, you are right. My excuse is lame.

I say all this as a believer who has and does pray for the sick. I have seen a few healings—genuine and instantaneous. Some were even people I prayed for. We are told in the gospels that Jesus healed all who came to him. Jesus commissioned his disciples to heal the sick and cast out evil spirits. He made healing central to his ministry. And few Christians have had, like Paul, such wondrous revelations in the heavens that they need a thorn in the flesh to keep them humble. If Jesus is the perfect revelation of the Father, then Jesus reveals a God who wants to heal lots of people.  I pray for the sick because Jesus did, and I want to do what He did.

I cannot reconcile these convictions with my functional atheism regarding my own healing. The answer may be that we live in a culture that is drowning in unbelief regarding healing. This has only been made worse by healers full of fakery and exaggeration. It could be that there are times and seasons when God moves miraculously and when He doesn’t. I don’t have answers.

I know I can’t grunt, groan, and strain to produce more faith than I now have. The most I can do is draw close to God, trust in His goodness, celebrate His love, and listen carefully for His Word to call me and draw me out of unbelief.

About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
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