No Earthly Good?

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 05/29/2012

John Loftus of Debunking Christianity, author of Why I Became an Atheist, has announced he doesn’t want to spend time arguing for atheism anymore:

I have no more desire to engage Christians. They are deluded, all of them. I have never been more convinced of this than I am now. I have better things to do. I spent 39+ years of my adult life on a delusion. If I add the years of my childhood that's almost my entire life. Yet this is the only life I will ever have. It's time to move on, or at a minimum take a very long hiatus.... If what I have written isn't good enough then nothing is good enough for some Christians. What I intend to do is turn this blog over to a few qualified people. I'll still be a part of it and I suppose I'll post something from time to time. But I see no reason to waste large chunks of my time on this delusion anymore. [He continues in a comment:] I'm going to do other more enjoyable things.

My purpose in talking about this is not in any way to speak badly of John Loftus for quitting. Who enjoys spending all their time arguing for something that is continually rejected—particularly online, where the anonymity of commenters leaves a blogger open to all sorts of frustrations and abuse? I can sympathize with his desire to walk away.

In fact, there’s a moment in Spider-Man 2 I often think of where Peter Parker, after being fed up with being hated by the people he’s trying to help, decides to hang up his Spidey costume and live a normal life, free from the weight of his responsibility to sacrifice himself for others, free to pursue what he enjoys. As the sound of a siren approaches and police rush past him, we think for a moment that he’ll take action to help, as he used to. But no. Instead, he takes a big bite of his hot dog and continues on his way.

Who in the fight doesn’t want that? Who isn’t tempted by that hot dog—that call to an easier life?

So here’s the question: Since that is a temptation for everyone, what is likely to make the difference? Why do people like Jim Elliot give up their very lives for others, sacrificing all the earthly pleasures we all long for?

I think there are many answers to that, but I see a big one in Loftus’s explanation. If this life is indeed the only life you will ever have, then it’s true that life is too short…to spend it suffering thanklessly for the sake of others. This is why, contrary to the catchy saying, being “heavenly minded” doesn’t make you “no earthly good.” Rather, it’s the very fuel of earthly sacrifice, as John Piper explains:

So don’t make the mistake of thinking that future-oriented, future-sustained joy limits present usefulness. It doesn’t limit it. It liberates it. If your future is glorious and sure (which it is in Christ!), you don’t live for money or power or fame. You don’t have to grasp and snatch and chase pleasures that are slipping through your aging fingers. You are free to live for others now. You are free to be another kind of person than the kind that lives for this world. If your hope is glorious and sure, you will seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these other basic things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33). Your love will be genuine. It will be radical, risk-taking, sacrificial because of the joy set before you [emphasis added].

Most people want to do good for others in theory. But no great good is accomplished without suffering. Is your life “too short” to spend it on this? Or can you say with Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose”?

Again, the point of this is not to say we’re better people than John Loftus. I know I’m not better. It’s only to say that he’s right—he has no good reason to continue. But we do.