As I listened to the sermon today, I heard the term “practical atheist” used within the context of Exodus 14, where Moses and the Israelites find themselves seemingly trapped between Pharaoh’s approaching war chariots and the sea. Frightened, they called out to the Lord, but then said this to Moses:
“Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What is this that you have done to us by bringing us out of Egypt. Did we not say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians?’ For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians [as slaves] than to die in the wilderness.”
Those were the words of a “practical atheist“.
Even after witnessing God’s powerful arm outstretched over Egypt on their behalf, to rescue them from their bondage, and being led out of Egypt by God’s presence (manifested as a pillar of cloud by day, and fire by night) to the point they found themselves, the impatient and despondent Israelites nonetheless cried out the words of a practical atheist – words laden with fear and doubt.
This was their Red Sea moment – a time when one looks back at works of God in their life, and decides whether to continue to trust Him with their present need, or like the Israelites, succumb to fear and doubt.
Thankfully for the Israelites, a patient God continued with His plan to rescue them, through the parting and convergence of the Red Sea – offering them a path of escape, and death to Pharaoh’s pursuing army.
No doubt we’ve all experienced Red Sea moments in our Christian journey through life, where, although we profess a faith in God, we nonetheless become a practical atheist when confronted with a situation or circumstance that causes us to succumb to fear and doubt, just like the children of Israel before us.
Abiding trust in God is cultivated by looking back at the times where His hand of provision and protection was manifested in our lives. We should cry out to God in times of need, but then must rest in His promises.
He continues to command us to “be still” and know that He is God – stillness in doubt, stillness in fear, and stillness of heart.