"Jesus said, "I tell the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live."
I went to my coworker's funeral today. As part of the service, the pastor (rector? priest? not sure) read an essay my coworker had written on the verse above. Basically, the essay expressed his great joy and slight amazement in being saved, and in believing that because he knew God and believed in His son, Jesus, he did not have to fear death, but would live eternally. This isn't exactly a new concept to me--I may be ignorant of religion, but I'm not that ignorant. I get that believe=live eternally is a basic premise of many Christian denominations. But I'd never heard it put quite so clearly before. It was basically described as an unbelievably good deal.
Which, of course, it is. All you have to do is believe in God and that Jesus died for our sins and you get an eternal reward? Pretty sweet.
Except when you can't.
I tried to believe in God. I've been trying to find Him, to find a faith, for many years now. And I'm not closer than I was when I started--if anything, I'm farther away. I've visited churches of many denominations (most of the major Christian branches as well as Quakers), and I felt nothing. I have never felt God inside me. I think, sometimes, that I do, but upon examination, my feelings always come back to me, not to an outside higher power.
Do I get points for trying? If they're right, and their God does exist, and all you have to do to live eternally is believe, do I get points for wanting to believe? I don't think so. I think I'm damned with the rest of the unbelievers.
After the service today, another co-worker, who described himself as a "fellow Atheist" (which I don't think is quite true of me, but whatever), asked what I'd thought of it. I said that I've been to enough funerals at this point where the major gist was "believe as the deceased did or you'll never see him in heaven" not be bothered by it anymore. It wasn't true, though. In truth, the idea that my lack of belief points not to a lack of anything believable, but to a failure in me, terrifies me. It's not just that I'm afraid I'm going to Hell (or just dying without an afterlife), but I'm afraid that I'm wrong and I'm missing something basic and important in this life because of it.
A while back, I was in line at a store and when I asked the clerk how she was doing she replied, "I've been saved and He is with me! I am always doin' fine." Normally, a statement like that would give me an internal snort, but that day I took pause. She seemed honestly to say that her faith made her happy all the time. Of course nobody is happy all the time, but isn't there some evidence that believers are generally happier?
More and more, I don't judge religious people. I envy them. And listening to the store of my coworker's spiritual journey today, in his own words, did, in a strange way, give me comfort. Even if I don't believe, and I am scared, his belief apparently helped him not to be scared. Even if ultimately the heaven to which he believed he was headed doesn't exist, there is definite value in living your life and facing your death believing there is something like that coming up next. I'm glad he had that. I'm glad his family, who shared his faith, have that. I just wish I did too.
*Post title with apologies to The Counting Crows