Curiously, S.E. Cupp, an atheist, has written a book taking issue with the treatment Christianity has received by what she calls a liberal media. The author of Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity, Sarah Elizabeth Cupp, is a 31-year-old who has gained notoriety for her conservative viewpoints as a regular guest on Fox News. And, given that conservative viewports are not in short supply on Fox News, that she stands out speaks to her ability. Of course, as perhaps the only non-blonde female on the network, she was bound to stand out.
She and Newt Gingrich (along with Stephanie Cutter and Van Jones) will be hosts on CNN’s re-booted Crossfire when it is resurrected on Sept. 16. But it isn’t Cupp’s political views I find most curious (well, some, perhaps); it is her religious perspective I find mysterious.
As an atheist, she does not believe in God. She says, when you die, you are at peace after a life of hardship — that’s all. But in a recent interview, she was asked, “Would you like to believe in God?” to which she replied, “Oh, yeah.”
The reporter asked a follow-up: “What kind of God would you like to believe in?” She replied, “A benevolent God but a challenging one. Someone who challenges you to a fight but is rooting for you to win. That’s who I’d like to imagine God is, someone who wants you to be your best and is going to push you to be your best, but is unconditionally going to be there for you when you fail. That sounds great. That sounds amazing. I’d love that.”
This young woman has a master’s degree in religious studies from New York University in which she designed her own curriculum and studied the devotional practices of sports fans and true believers. Still, she seems to have missed the central New Testament tenant. The picture of the Father which Jesus describes is exactly as she wishes God would be like. The image of a patient and loving father waiting for the return of his prodigal son makes the point.
How can it be that a person wishes for exactly the kind of God Christ shows us in the Gospels, and still does not believe? Does she wonder if it’s too good to be true? How could God be so good, so loving, so understanding, so forgiving?
But this is the great Good News of the gospel: That while we were still caught up on our sins, Christ died for us. And, God’s faithfulness to us does not depend on our faithfulness to him.
Almost 25 years ago my wife and I had the sacred opportunity to walk with another couple through the heartbreak of childlessness and also through the joy of becoming adoptive parents. We were there the day Caryn came home. She was an emotionally wounded 5- or 6-year-old with curly blonde trusses and a smile that made you want to hug her. But she came with some baggage, some emotional scars created by mistreatment and abuse.
Her parents loved her and praised her and challenged her and corrected her. She was their daughter and nothing could ever change that. Not misbehavior, not disappointment, not frustration, not sleepless nights wondering about her and praying for her. Not even when they stepped in to become legal guardians for Caryn’s own children.
They waited lovingly and patiently for their prodigal daughter to return. She had joined the army in an attempt to introduce order to the chaos of her life and to find financial support at a time when other avenues seemed closed.
And there were positive signs that Caryn had begun her emotional journey back when an unthinkable tragedy occurred. On July 27, while driving a truck on a mission in Afghanistan, the vehicle hit an improvised explosive device and thereafter was peppered by small arms fire. Caryn, mother of two, and another soldier were killed. She was the daughter of heartbroken parents, the mother of stunned and grieving children. She is one of America’s fallen soldiers. She was the confused and sometimes rebellious daughter of a benevolent, challenging and always loving Heavenly Father who welcomed his prodigal daughter home.
Some Christians, unfortunately, will take the attitude of the older brother in Jesus’ parable. “She had a wild streak,” they might say. “Why should God receive her?” they might wonder. But the point of the parable is not that the wayward son was worthy of forgiveness, but that the loving Father is going to unconditionally be there for us when we fail.
Caryn’s mother and father would never abandon her. If human beings can pull this off, why should we think the Heavenly Father can’t or won’t? As Jesus said, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him?”
Perhaps Cupp simply can’t fathom that love like that could be directed her way. Or, maybe believing is simply too inconvenient for her. True belief requires response. Embracing belief forces upon us certain decisions and faith exacts certain demands. Perhaps unwilling to face up to the requirements of authentic faith, it is easier to disavow any belief at all. But closing one’s eyes does not take away the reality of what is around us, it only means that we refuse to see it.
To her credit, Cupp acknowledges that she does not have all the answers and that she is open to changing her mind. My hope for her and so many others is that Christians will give her reason to believe both by the sterling character of their lives, and by pointing to a good and gracious God who loves them unfailingly even when they don’t. That sounds great. That sounds amazing. And it isn’t only the God we’d like, it’s the God we have. Now, that’s Good News! That’s a God worth believing in.
Jim White ([email protected]) is executive editor of the Religious Herald.