Jesus the Atheist

Several years ago, my mother-in-law found a handyman to help her around her house in Texas.  His name was Jesus (pronounced “hay-soos”), and even though we knew how his name was pronounced it was funny to get a letter from Lu telling us that Jesus had fixed her plumbing or painted the living room.  Over the years he got to be almost one of the family, and when we heard that he had solved some crisis or come to Lu’s rescue we would smile and say, “What a friend we have in Jesus!”

So, when we heard that he was bringing Lu’s furniture to Richmond in her recent move we were excited.  Christy said, “I get to meet Jesus!”  And she did.  He arrived with two helpers at mid-morning on Saturday and didn’t finish unloading the truck until six that evening.  Christy went with him to drop off the truck and pick up a rental car so he could drive back to Texas.  At some point she confessed to him that she had enjoyed knowing “Jesus” was taking good care of her mom.  He smiled and then said, quietly, “It is funny.  My name is Jesus.  I was born on Christmas day.  But I’m an atheist.”

And that caught Christy off guard.  It was one thing to think of Jesus helping her mom around the house, but another thing to think of Jesus as an atheist. 

I’ve been troubled about it almost ever since, and wondering what happened.  Did “Hay-soos” get tired of all the jokes about “Jesus”?  Did the other children tease him about being born on Christmas Day?  Did his mother ask him if he could multiply the meager supper she had prepared?  Did his grandpa complain about his aches and pains and ask him (with a wink) if he could do something about it?  Of course that makes me think of the other Jesus, who had to put up with a lot of that kind of thing himself.  Unbelievers were always giving him a hard time and the believers weren’t much better.  They kept begging him to heal them, to help them, to feed them.  There must have been some days when he wished his name wasn’t Jesus, and there were whole nights when he just had to get away, when he went up on the mountain or off in the wilderness to pray.  But every time he seemed to get up off his knees ready to face the begging, pleading, unbelieving world again. 

Maybe that would have worked for “Hay-soos” the Handyman.  Maybe if he had let those taunts and jeers drive him to his knees he would have grown closer and closer to God, rather than further and further away.  At this point in his life there probably isn’t much that would convince him that prayer is the perfect response to life’s hardships.  He’s probably just relying on himself and his own strength, on his own ability to deal with the world.  That’s fine for the little things, like how to get a load of furniture from Texas to Virginia, but it won’t help much with the big ones.  And so, if “Hay-soos” won’t pray, I’m going to say a prayer for him, and maybe you could, too.  I’m going to pray that he will learn to love the name he’s been given, and feel a kinship with the one who carried it before him.  And when I’m feeling bold I will pray for even more than that, that he will become a passionate believer.  Although I have to admit it feels a little odd asking God:

“Help Jesus become a Christian.”

9 thoughts on “Jesus the Atheist

  1. Although I like word-play as much as the next guy, reading this blog entry was sort of depressing to me.

    “And that caught Christy off guard. It was one thing to think of Jesus helping her mom around the house, but another thing to think of Jesus as an atheist.

    I’ve been troubled about it almost ever since, and wondering what happened. Did “Hay-soos” get tired of all the jokes about “Jesus”? [—]”

    Why would you be troubled by it? Did your religion teach you that atheists can’t be helpful? A case of cognitive dissonance? More importantly: Reading between the lines, you’re assuming that being religious is some sort of “default”. A default which you can be “chased out of” if you’re teased or something.

    There’s no need to over-complicate matters; sometimes a spade is just a spade. People are atheists for all kinds of reasons. But I would be very surprised if being “teased” for one’s name is one of them.

  2. I just read an article on the Tony-Award-winning musical “The Book of Mormon,” and was struck by one sentence calling the musical “an atheist’s love affair with religion.” Then I saw this title and did a double-take.

    I’ve always been more comfortable with red-hot atheists than lukewarm Baptists. Give me somebody who believes–or does not believe–something and I can tell if they’re serious. I like people who stake their life on their faith–or lack of it. What troubles me are the ones who say they believe (or don’t believe) but don’t act any different.

  3. Thanks for sharing this story, Jim. Really touched me…..I will be praying for Jesus now, too!!

  4. I thought you would be interested to take a look at this link:
    You might have to copy and paste it as it is not turning blue as I type, but Katie just brought me the book Heaven is for Real and told me one story in the book, the one about what Jesus REALLY looks like. It is amazingly interesting. This blog link shows the picture and explains the connection between the book and the artist who painted it. Enjoy!

  5. In my opinion, being an atheist takes a great deal of what I would label “blind” faith. You have to be pretty blind to look around at the wonder of nature and the symmetry of it and believe it all happened by accident, and that that the evolution of plants and animals works in spite of the second law of thermal-dynamics (entropy) without some sort of intelligent force behind it. My guess is that most atheists are mad at God for some reason, at least subconsciously, and get back at Him by denying His existence.

  6. Stephen,

    I think you too are over-complicating matters. Atheists aren’t mad at god – that would be absurd.

    Try applying the same reasoning to yourself: Could you find yourself hating the Flymzwigger? (It’s an fifteen legged lesbian omnipotent goddess which I just made up).

    Atheists are atheists because they don’t believe that any god exists. There’s no need to try to redefine that word to mean something else, or that there is any implied “hate” or some sort of “refusal” to accept a gods existence. If we’re going to redefine “atheist” to mean something which it previously did not mean, we need a new word to replace the old word. And I find such redefinitions/language-bureaucracy to be a huge waste of everyone’s time.

    Jim: Your article was an interesting read even to me as an atheist; though not in the way you hoped I suspect. But hey — learning about others is always a good thing. Information is food for the brain.

  7. I think someone who hates God or the very idea of God would have to be called an anti-theist, not an atheist. The atheists I know (and I do know some) seem to fall more in the category of “That just seems unbelievable to me,” rather than, “You people are so stupid you actually think God exists!” I can sympathize with someone who has trouble believing. Lots of the things Christians believe DO seem unbelievable. But the mental constructs atheists have to put together to make sense of the world don’t always seem a whole lot more believable. So, if I’m going to be wrong about this, I want to err on the side of believing that there is a God who brought the world into being, who loves it and loves us, and believes in us even when we don’t believe in him.

  8. Garrison Keillor had a great line about his fictional Minnesota town of “Lake Wobegon.” He said, “Everybody in Lake Wobegon was Lutheran. Even the atheists were Lutheran. It was the Lutheran God they didn’t believe in.”

    I think Jim’s distinction of an “atheist” and an “anti-theist” is a good one, although not easy to apply in real life. It’s hard to tell what makes a person tick. Take the issue in reverse–am I a Christian because I am intellectually convinced of the truth of the Scripture, or because I desperately WANT somebody bigger than I am to bail me out of the trouble I’m in? If the true believer is a “theist,” the desperate hoper would be a “pro-theist.”

    I’ve met atheists who are dispassionately convinced that God cannot exist, and others who use that term to describe themselves who ACT like they are afraid He might exist and are doing everything they can to make Him go away. And I’ve met Christians who make me shudder at the thought of God… and others who make me sing for joy.

    What interests me about this thread is the cognitive dissonance of the title. “Jesus the Atheist” forces me to shift my paradigm on atheism a little. That’s a good thing. I’m glad to be able to share this conversation with the rest of you here who sense there’s something here worth pondering.

  9. My family and I have a favorite local Mexican restaurant in our home town of Monroe called La Unica Taqueria. Because of the high number if Hispanics in this area, we call this section of town where the restaurant is located “Monrexico” (no disrespect intended). The food is great and the salsas are muy caliente!! It’s a great place for authentic food.

    One evening a couple of years ago, after dining alone, I came out of La Unica and was about to get in my truck when I noticed a Hispanic man standing on the sidewalk by the entrance holding a bag and wearing a puzzled look on his face. After a few moments, I decided to ask him if he could use a ride or needed anything. When he spoke I was reminded Hispanics speak Spanish — (ha – right?) – and my Spanish is very limited. After a few exchanges, with our voices growing louder each time, (like that would help our communication) I realized he could use a ride. He was holding an Auotzone bag filled with car parts and evidently needed to repair a car. As he spoke I finally understood the word “RRRRiverrrside”.

    Being familiar with the area, I knew of some apartments in “Monrexico” by that name. After pointing and grunting a few more times, I waved him into my pickup and we headed off. After a couple of minutes of silence, I stuck out my hand and side “My name is Chris”. As we shook hands he said “My name is Jesus”. After another pause I said “Hay-soos?”. He replied “Jes”.

    Short of counting to twenty, reciting the months of the year, and asking where the bathroom is in Spanish, I used up my foreign language skills over the next few minutes trying to kill the silence. I followed his finger pointing making the turns to where his car had been left. He exited my truck with a wave and off Jesus went for car repairs. I am sure he was grateful and it only took me a few minutes out of my way. Besides, how many people can say — ” I gave Jesus a ride down to Riverside.”

    I am reminded of the Hay-soos adventure occasionally when the churning waters of life come out of the riverside banks like a mountain river after a hard rain. Those days I need Jesus to “leadeth me beside sill waters”, and that “walk”, is better than riding with Jesus down to Riverside. — Praise God He is with us.

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