When I first read Parker Palmer’s phrase

“functional atheism” applied to Christian leaders, I resisted it. How can it be that the very ones seeking to point people to God can be functionally atheist?!

Until I read further.

There can be a disconnect between what we believe in our heads, and what we feel in our hearts. In our heads we believe God is in charge, but we act as if the ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us.  We believe God has charged us with a task, but from here it’s all up to us. We can’t let him down.

This is even the perspective of many people who believe in God! Our gut belief is betrayed by our actions. Like doing everything we can about a situation, and only when we run out of options do we think to pray.  I’ve heard people say, “There’s nothing else I can do. I guess all I can do now is pray.”

This shadow can be pathological. Symptoms include:

  • Imposing our will on others
  • Perfectionism, micromanagement
  • Resentment when others don’t seem to be working as hard as we are
  • Frustration with people and circumstances in our way
  • Blame, depression and anger when life doesn’t work the way we expect it to

There is another way. 

After examining our heart’s functional atheism, we can repent – change our mind – and instruct our hearts with truth:

  • We don’t have to save the world — that’s God’s job. There is only One Savior, and it’s not you.
  • We can celebrate our smallness instead of trying to get it all done. This requires frequent re-alignment of values and priorities, and a joyful acceptance of our human limitations.
  • There are others around us that are doing their part. God is a Trinity of beings who together created the world. That means that any work done for Him will be accomplished through a cooperative venture with others. You are not meant to work alone – God is stirring others to join him in his work. Look for these team members. Their strengths, gifts and experiences will complement yours.
  • God expects us to do what we can, and then leave the rest to him. That’s why he told us to quit working so hard – sleep 1/3 of your life, take every 7th day off for rest; take every 7th year off. He’ll take care of things in ways you can’t imagine. So rest in that. You believe in God, now act like it!