In Luke 12:16-20, we find the parable of what we have come to know as the rich fool. It was God who called him a fool. According to the narrative, while this man was busy enjoying the present and planning for the future, without giving any thought to His relationship with God, God said to him, “‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own all the things you have prepared?’” Jesus capped off the lesson by saying, “So it is for the one who continues to store up and hoard possessions for himself, and is not rich [in his relationship] toward God” (v. 21). The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a fool as “a person lacking in judgment or prudence,” “a harmlessly deranged person or one lacking in common powers of understanding,” among other things.
However, the Bible characterizes a fool this way: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). Or as the Amplified Bible puts it, “The [spiritually ignorant] fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” From the perspective of the parable, the rich man’s actions and the ways he lived his life suggested he did so as if there was no God. As I pondered the text, I found myself wondering which was worse – to say there is no God or to say there is but to live like He did not exist. While some of us would not deny the existence of God, the real challenge for us is living our lives in ways that reflect this reality. In his book The Christian Atheist: Belonging without Believing, Brian Mountford observes that while the “Christian enterprise” is not “dead in the water . . . it is looked at differently. . . . Traditional views of God are seen as optional; on the whole the ethical vision remains” (p. 6). In other words, we are in a time when it is possible to belong to the Christian community without believing in God or who He says He is. Before we dismiss the notion as ridiculous, if/when you go to church, what do you really believe even as you sit in the pews? What does it mean to believe?
If we truly believe there is a God who is a good Father, one who is all-powerful, all-knowing, who is everywhere at the same time so we are never out of His sight, and who is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20), then why don’t we live like it? Why do we worry when He says we shouldn’t (Matthew 6:25-33)? Why do we take matters into our own hands when He tells us to trust Him and His leading (Proverbs 3:5-6)? Why are we so busy laying up “treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” while paying little or no attention to the admonition to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20)? As Jesus tells it, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v. 21). It is as if we have one foot in and one foot out. Do we really believe?
Mountford tells of a colleague who pointed out that there are many people involved with the Church “who don’t believe what they ‘ought’ to believe, but need and want to be there for a whole host of reasons, not least a desire for connectedness with other human beings. They ‘belong without believing’ and they are significant parts of our worshipping communities” (p. 8). To belong without believing is to be spiritually ignorant and to be spiritually ignorant is to be foolish. That is a dangerous place to be. Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that anyone who comes to God must first believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. It is a matter of active, vibrant faith in God and who He has revealed Himself to be. We either believe Him or we don’t; we either trust Him or we don’t; we either submit to Him and His lordship over our lives or we don’t. Belonging without believing is not an option. If we truly believe, let’s start living like it. Our words, actions, and attitudes will be our testimony.