Atheists secretly believe in God

Faith in demand: Talking about God - in conversation with questions of atheism

Talking to questions of atheism

Faith in demand: Talking about God

Dr. Rüdiger Sachau on May 2nd, 2010

Series of sermons in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin

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Reading from the Gospel according to John 3: 1-9
But there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, one of the leaders of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, Master, we know that you are a teacher, come from God; for no one can do the signs that you do unless God is with him. Jesus answered and said to him, Verily, verily, I say to you, unless a man is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus said to him: How can a person be born when he is old? Can he then go back into his mother's womb and be born? Jesus replied, "Verily, verily, I say to you, unless anyone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." What is born of the flesh is flesh; and what is born of the spirit is spirit. Do not be surprised that I told you: you must be born again. The wind blows where it wants, and you can hear its rustling; but you don't know where it's from and where it's going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said to him, How can this be done?

1. Nicodemus the Seeker
It's night and he wants to know. Nicodemus sneaks through the alleys of Jerusalem. He wants to get to know Jesus. Under cover of darkness, it hugs corners and along walls. Until he comes to the house where he thinks Jesus is. He knocks and is let in. This visit is risky for a Pharisee, it can cost him his reputation, his position on the council. After all, he is one of the leading people in Jerusalem. That's why he comes at night, maybe he's embarrassed and asks himself: What am I actually doing here? Maybe he's a little mad at himself: do you have to risk your reputation for a crazy idea? And then he stands before Jesus, the itinerant preacher from Nazareth in Galilee, the miracle worker, of whom some of the people say he is the Messiah, the Redeemer. No matter! Now there is no turning back. They start a conversation. But the conversation is bad, Jesus speaks in riddles, about rebirth and the Spirit. The last word we hear from Nicodemus is a question: how can this be done?

2. Doubting God - asking about the Spirit
Dear Congregation, our reflection on the Holy Spirit begins today with one who asked about God and received an answer about the Spirit, an answer that was difficult to understand. We have just heard this story as the gospel, the story of the Pharisee Nicodemus, who goes to Jesus at night. I wonder if there is anyone here in the church tonight, or one of us, who has also sneaked around? Going to church is kind of embarrassing and old-fashioned. And yet there is perhaps a question that is more important than the mocking looks of the friends, the alienation of the girlfriends: What do you want there?
I would like to lure you into looking for the Spirit together. I would like to look for answers with you and not throw our questions and doubts overboard, because you are right. Questions are the ticket to this conversation. Those who are seriously looking are welcome, even if the questions remain. It is no different today than it was on the night of Jerusalem. We ask with Nicodemus, what is the spirit of which Jesus speaks?
Dear Congregation, God, Jesus, ... why do we still need the Spirit? Many people already doubt God, wondering how one can believe with a reasonable mind. Many people can admire Jesus as a formidable person, but is that why he is the Son of God? There are legitimate doubts. Muslims reproach us Christians for not sticking to our belief in one God: You have three gods: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I personally believe in one God and am convinced that the one manifests itself in many ways. My hope for this service is that we will get an answer about God with the questions about the Spirit. An answer of freedom that invites precisely those who doubts and seeks.

3. An old story
“The wind blows where it wants, and you can hear its rustling; but you do not know where he comes from or where he is going. ”This answer from Jesus to Nicodemus alludes to a very old story about God, a story that both of them certainly knew and that I want to tell you briefly. There lived a prophet named Elijah in ancient Israel. He took his belief in the one god very seriously, and because the kings weren't so strict about it, because they liked to serve a few other gods, Elijah was very angry. There was real anger and rather violent arguments, and some of the competing priests of the other gods died in the process. Elijah then had to flee into the desert. He was pretty bad off with his belief in the one God. And he fled to Horeb, the mountain of God on Sinai. When Elijah arrives there, a storm breaks out, the wind rips and tugs at the mountain, causing rocks to tumble down. In these powerful forces, is that God? asks Elijah - but God is not in the power of the storm. As soon as the storm has subsided, the earth begins to rumble and shake, a powerful earthquake shakes the whole mountain. But even in this power God is not hidden. When the swaying ground has finally calmed down, does a fire break out, a volcanic eruption? Searing heat, consuming flames, but neither is God in the energy of fire. And then, after a storm, a quake and a fire, it becomes very quiet. And a breath of wind rises, just “a quiet, gentle rustle. When Elijah heard this, he covered his face with his cloak. “God is there, not overpowering, not powerful, not demonstrative but gently, he approaches in the whisper of a breath of wind, only to be perceived by those who also have a sense for it.

4. What is God like? Reminder of the unavailability of God
God is different from what we think. Sometimes it is a quiet, gentle rustle. A wind that blows where it wants. Sometimes God is surprisingly different, Heavenly Father, Creator of the world, stands by our side in Jesus, our brother. And sometimes in the spirit, which can blow among us, touches us, maybe now in this service. In conversation, Jesus reminds his interlocutor Nicodemus that we cannot grasp God in one picture. The spirit that blows where it wants, that cannot be forced and cannot be grasped, that we cannot move, but that could blow and move us, that too is God.
We do not have three gods, but because God is so great, so diverse, so incomprehensible and incomprehensible, he can be experienced in different people. Some find this strange and confusing. I think it's an invitation to get to know the different faces of God in my life. God, Jesus, ... do we still need the Holy Spirit? The spirit is the reminder of the unavailable presence of God among us. With the spirit, the image of God that we keep making ourselves is kept open. By the way, in Hebrew the spirit is female, RUACH - we should translate the spirit correctly. This annoys the habit and makes it clear: God is different from what we think and expect. Our images and ideas fail because of its diversity. That is what the spirit stands for. This opens up a space of great freedom and is an invitation for everyone who cannot cope with the fixed images of God.

5. Religious experiences - do we lack the spirit?
Time and again there are people who report extraordinary religious experiences. The Bible is full of it, including the story of Elijah on the Mount of God. It is reported of Jesus that he trusts his disciples with extraordinary gifts: They are supposed to heal the sick, drive away evil spirits and even raise the dead. Even today one sometimes hears amazing and difficult to understand stories. There are people who, contrary to all medical expectations, have been cured of serious illnesses. And who thank God and his spirit for this miracle. I myself do not have such powers. And that's a good thing, because I would probably be proud of it. Yes, I prefer storms, earthquakes and fire to the gentle, inconspicuous whisper of the wind. I would also like to make a difference, but God doesn't let his spirit be abused for that. Still, I believe that the Spirit of God is at work today too. But we can usually only see that in retrospect. After suffering from illness, we can thank God for recovery. In illness we can only hope but not have a cure. We can pray but we cannot make health. That is why I have a skepticism towards everyone who says: Here is the Spirit of God - or there!

8. Church with more spirit?
Is my reservation the typical lukewarmness of a middle-class and wealthy church in Germany? Isn't that a theology of bourgeoisie and enlightenment? On the other hand, doesn't the Bible speak of the dynamic, of the power of God? Christians from other countries complain when they come to us in Germany, our lack of courage to believe, our tiredness, they miss the enthusiasm in our churches. You miss the ghost. When I look to Africa, to Korea and China, to South America, then I would also like to see more church services that attract, where one can gain experience. I want a church that is alive and full of enthusiastic people. But what has just been said applies to us, and also to the church, we cannot do it, the spirit cannot be forced. I watch churches referring to the miracle of Pentecost when the first Christians became enthusiastic and spoke in many languages. But the miracle of Pentecost is that the others, the outsiders, can understand it. The miraculous, the experience of the first Christians, the extraordinary of the languages, these are all just accessories. I insist that the core is the great expansion of the horizon: All peoples, all people should hear the good news, in their languages, with their ears. It is here that we see the Spirit, and not in the religious experience.

9. Everything psycho?
I see our task in the persistent and thoughtful conversation with Nicodemus, with his skepticism and his questions. We must express our religious convictions under today's conditions and with appreciation and seriousness of today's knowledge. Of course we know that religion has a psychologically explainable side, which one can also talk about. Only belief does not go into psychology. Of course there are genetic connections to our ability to believe and trust. But that's a different point of view. If there were a religious gene, some researchers claim, it said nothing about God and his spirit, but only about a gene and his existence. Of course, something happens in the brain when we pray, when we hope, when we meditate or when we follow a sermon. You can make that partially visible and should also. I am looking forward to the results of the brain research over the next few years. But even that will not be proof for or against the Spirit of God. Suppose we could put the disciples from back then in the scanner, some regions would light up in the brain, that says nothing about the workings of the spirit but only about the existence of an active brain region. “Believe me, I don't exist” is what a brain researcher I'm talking to called his novel about the relationship between science and faith.

10. Believe Today
How please can we believe then? I beg your pardon, could God's Spirit also be at work in my life? First, by learning to look at things from multiple angles, not “either psychological or God”, but “both real religious experience and psychological process”. Second, by learning to forego evidence. Of course, I understand, if people want clarity, I think am I a real Christian, a real Christian? As understandable as the desire for clarity is, it wants an achievement that I cannot achieve at all. Because who asks the question: Do I have the right faith and the Holy Spirit? it must be said that there is nothing to be had here. One cannot have the belief that it is a linguistic as well as a factual aberration. One can only believe, and that in the sense of trust. And such trusting faith will always be wavering, because doubt is the twin of faith and one should not send it away because then faith becomes lonely. Because it is not about having the faith, and even less of the spirit, it is not about a psychological achievement, but about a longing. This longing has a biblical home sentence: “I believe, help my unbelief”. This one sentence of longing is sufficient. Because we are believed. This is the essence of the gospel that we do not dispose of God's love, but that it is given to us. That we do not have the spirit, but rather it blows us.

11. You should recognize them by their deeds
Paul already relativized the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Cor. 13 in the song of songs of love. Prophecy and all gifts of the Spirit are worthless without love. The gospel has only one standard: you should recognize them by their deeds. Christians and their spirit can be recognized not by their emotional outbursts and psycho-religious experiences, not by their signs and wonders, not by their teachings and convictions, but by their deeds. You don't have to understand everything to do this. To be a good Christian you don't have to show strong religious feelings. But whoever is loved by God should live and act actively in the spirit of the gospel. Interestingly, one would then not have to rule out the idea that people who do not even belong to the Christian faith could still be recognized in their actions as being shaped by God's spirit. At this point I would like to return to Nicodemus with you. At some point he left. The conversation with Jesus does not seem to have been very successful, at least nothing of it can be read in the Bible. But he had a longing in him, after all, he had set out to meet the ostracized man from Galilee at night, had risked his reputation. Was Nicodemus a follower of Jesus, one who lived in his spirit? When Jesus is in Jerusalem his arrest is discussed in leading circles. Almost everyone in the council agrees: It's not real, we have to put an end to this hustle and bustle. And in this consultation Nicodemus speaks up. “Nicodemus said to them, who had come to him earlier and who was one of them: Does our law judge a man before he has been questioned and recognized what he is doing? They answered and said to him: Are you also a Galilean? ”(John 7: 40-52) There he is again, Nicodemus, the doubter, the questioner, he stands up against the majority of his colleagues, he risks his good reputation and questions the prejudice, the straightforwardness of the judgment that was already established before it was investigated.

13. God has set you free to be free.
Christians are learners. We are not told everything, we should courageously decide for ourselves. Paul, the apostle, one who cannot be said to be lacking in courage, writes: Test everything, keep what is good. So, at the end of our thinking about the mind, have we landed back on freedom?
• Freedom of images of God
• Freedom from disposal over God
• Freedom to examine and decide
And that's it? you might ask. Isn't that typically evangelical, in the end it always comes down to grace and freedom?
You must decide for yourself what this freedom of spirit means to you. For me it is a relief from the idea of ​​a belief that dictates everything. For me it is a relief from the burden of traditional images of God. For me, this freedom is an invitation to live my life responsibly before God and for the benefit of people. And in order not to leave the impression that the matter with the spirit is indefinite and non-binding, I have to tell you one last story about Nicodemus. It appears again: At the very end, when everything seems to be over, when Jesus is dead. “Joseph from Arimathea was a disciple of Jesus, but only secretly out of fear of the Jews. He asked Pilate to be able to remove the body of Jesus, and Pilate allowed it. So he came and took the body off. Nicodemus also came, who had once visited Jesus at night. He brought a mixture of myrrh and aloe, about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with linen bandages, along with the fragrant ointments, as is the custom at Jewish burials. ”(John 19: 38-42) 100 pounds of fragrant herbs for a dead man. That was a fortune back then. And it's a commitment.Nicodemus, to whom Jesus said so much difficult to understand about the spirit in a nocturnal conversation, at the end of his practical action he shows what spirit child he is. And that is not the end, but actually the right beginning, because the spirit blows where it wants.
Amen

Published on 02/11/2014
Updated 04/04/2014

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