Atheists Could Be On To Something

“Truly, you are a God who hides himself.” – Isaiah 45:15

Atheists are wrong, but they could be on to something. Maybe God is gone. Absent. Absence is not the same thing as non-existence. When someone you love dies, you encounter the presence of their absence.

If you embrace the fullness of those you love, learn their stories, memorize their scent, your bone-deep awareness of their particularity will create contours that outline their absence. That absence will have substance just as surely as its opposite did. To grieve is to seize this absence and to be seized by it. To grieve is to love an absence and to be loved by it.

If God is absent, we can still love him. Indeed, in order to know his absence, we must love him. If we don’t learn his stories well enough to outline the contours of his absence, we’ll mistake it for non-existence. And then, instead of faith we’ll have nothing but an incoherent ache.

These days it’s often that ache that brings people to church. Many of our guests don’t have faith; they have an ache that Church makes worse by insisting that God is present.

When church says God is here, but life proclaims the opposite, Christianity rings hollow. When Church says God is here, but our historical moment proclaims the opposite, Christianity becomes indistinguishable from wishful thinking. If what we have to say is shallow, we can’t blame the world for giving us an equally shallow dismissal.

Imagine a Church bold enough to risk speaking a truth millions of contemporary people feel. “Good morning! God is not with us. All we have is Her absence. Let us grab ahold of it together.”


Truly you are a God who hides herself, O God of Israel, the savior.

ddauthormattfitzgerald.jpgAbout the Author
Matt Fitzgerald is the Senior Pastor of St. Pauls United Church of Christ in Chicago. He is the host of “Preachers on Preaching,” a weekly podcast sponsored by The Christian Century.