The title of this article may shock you, especially coming from a pastor. The statement, ‘I believe that God exists but would prefer him not to,’ is the obverse challenge of David Baddiel’s new book The God Desire which I have just read. It is a wonderfully honest insight into Baddiel’s journey of his attempts to rationalise the distinctly human need to make sense of life.
Baddiel’s argument against God or the existence thereof is a subtle one, hidden in the ambiguity of his own desire for a deity. It is a far more mature position than that of the ‘New Atheists’ whose arguments are so easily refuted. New Atheism, which would include people such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, advocates that religion and superstition must be challenged and the ‘rational’ argument is that God simply does not exist. In his book, Baddiel discusses the human phenomena that attempt to give meaning to reality through religion and honestly acknowledges his own failed endeavours as a Jew to find God. In doing so he raises some of the same questions that we may ask of many who call themselves Christians regarding the ‘god’ who they worship.
Who is the real God?
Despite what he thinks, Baddiel’s well-reasoned argument is not against the God of the Bible, but against the culturally misrepresented god that he tried to find for himself. This is a god that has been designed to provide buffers from a cold dark reality, a god of the gaps that can potentially explain the unexplainable, a god of comfort, a crutch or a magic genie whom we can summon in our times of need. This is the god that many who claim to be Christian worship, but it is not the God of the Bible.
Christianity rests in the claim of the incarnation, that the historical figure Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the author of creation. Being God in flesh not only goes some way to explain to the atheist the miraculous events that took place at his coming, but also brings divine truth into the forefront of reality. It is a claim that ends all superstition and emotivism.
The God of the Bible does not claim to be the god of the gaps who merely explains the unexplainable and gives meaning to our emptiness. We would be gravely wrong to present him as such. Rather, he is the God of reality – in Christ, for he has flesh like ours.
Comfort or truth?
The notion of seeking God as a comfort against the coldness of nothingness is a uniquely western concept where Christians have been spoiled into complacency. In much of the world Christians are persecuted and tortured for their faith. The UK Parliament published a paper in 2022 stating that Christians are the most persecuted people group in the world with over 360 million people suffering high levels (life threatening) cruelty. For them Christianity is far from the superficial preoccupied cry for comfort that we see in our society today.
Christianity is the essence of reality mediated through a historical person. Jesus, who was crucified, calls us simply to take up our cross and follow (Matt. 16:24). Christianity is not about comfort.
In principle, true Christianity undermines superstitious sacrifices and rituals that are ultimately of no benefit and calls us to trust in the great ‘I Am’ regardless of the inevitable suffering that comes with the demands of our conscious existence as humans. Christianity uniquely grounds all human ideologies into the reality of a person, who despite being God, suffered and died.
Our need for a story
In his book, Baddiel correctly acknowledges our societal need for story. C. S. Lewis faced this before his conversion, famously stating that ‘the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myth.’
The challenge of the Christian story is that it requires the ego to be crucified for the good of others. This is a costly duty that today’s conspiracy theories and other mythical ideologies simply do not call for. A god of the gaps does not call you to repentance; a belief in aliens gives no premise to help the poor; fantasising over the inner workings of quantum physics does not call you to help victims of oppression. These new pseudo-religious concepts are popular simply because they offer a self-defined righteousness without demand or accountability.
The God Desire is a masterclass critique of today’s cultural Christianity that is fictional, misunderstood and far removed from Jesus’ life and teaching. Baddiel’s atheism asks questions of God that those who claim to be Christian should be asking themselves. Void of any persecution, the church in the west has tragically warped Christianity into something that appears no different to Baddiel and millions of others than any other story offered by purveyors of self-help, morality and comfort. This is why the church has lost its saltiness. We need to purge the church of any phantasm conjured up to combat our mutual fear of nothingness. We need to ensure that the church preaches the God of the Bible which can sometimes be uncomfortable.
I Am who I Am
Let’s go back to that statement, ‘I believe that God exists but would prefer him not to.’ I say this because the call of a Christian is to put self to death for the good of others. In my natural state I would much prefer to follow my heart’s desires, fill my boots and then pass into nothingness without the fear of judgement. Yet, this atheist ideology is not true and consequently dismal.
Christianity is not a comfort blanket or a superstitious ritual that can easily be explained away. Christianity is not a story that makes you feel good or one that gives you a greater purpose. Christianity is all about a person YHWH, the ‘I Am who I Am’ who in reality is an offence to a fallen world, he stands in the gap between God and humanity and calls us all to account.