A Christian Responds to an Atheist on Good Friday

By Candace Echols

It’s Easter weekend, and I’m a Christian. Typing that statement still fills me with angst. Not because of Christ, no, but because of the hazy, warped labeling of “Christian” in our current conversations. Readers too may feel that angst. And so, what does being a Christian mean today? And on this the holiest of weekends, do I speak up? These aren’t the easiest conversations in the world to have.

I stumbled upon an unexpected challenge from a magician, Penn Jillette. (see link at the end of the article) Penn also happens to be an atheist. He said this, to people like me:

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there is a heaven and hell and that people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that…it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward… How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

I mean if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you and you didn’t believe it, but that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”

Wow. Well, dear Penn, sometimes it can feel awkward to share one’s faith because people have all sorts of reactions. They might feel judged or things could get awkward. The relationship may end outright. There’s great risk to sharing my faith and I feel it deeply. But Easter is upon us, and I hear what you’re saying. 

As a Christian, I celebrate Easter because nature works in tandem with my own humanity to tell me this isn’t all there is. By that I mean I believe there is an afterlife, and I believe in a Creator (so, that there was a beforelife). I’ve had five babies. Women can certainly be atheists, but once you’ve had two hearts beating inside your body at the same time, it’s gotta be harder. It would be for me, at least. 

I celebrate, because ask any of my relatives or friends and they’ll tell you, I do bad things sometimes – I’m saying “sometimes” to make myself feel better. Every day I mess up but not in “oops-y” ways. Rather, I mess up intentionally. Despite my best efforts at sunrise, as the day wears on I knowingly hurt people with my words and actions, and by evening I feel all sorts of regret. One reason it’s hard for me to talk about my faith is because I’m not a better person, but thank God that’s exactly where Jesus comes in. 

On Easter, we Christians remember that Jesus is the Son of God and also, the son of Mary. So he had the power to live a perfect life and the genetics to represent mankind. He wasn’t selfish, rude, or prideful, all of those things that are so native to my own heart; but he did sweat and cackle and sneeze, just like I do. My bad choices separate me from God. He is perfect. I am not. But Jesus was able to represente me — and, incidentally, you — on the cross. He paid the debt for my badness so that I wouldn’t have to be separated from God forever. That is what “Good Friday” is all about. Good for us. Bad for Jesus. 

Easter Sunday morning, my family goes to the Sunrise church service at the Memphis Botanic Garden at 6:30 am. We go to celebrate that specific morning 2,000 years ago when Jesus’ friends went to the cemetery to give him a proper burial and found an empty grave. (Women—Jesus was friends with women and they loved him for his kindness to them, which is huge in any era, this one included). He had defeated death and had come back to life!

I realize that sounds crazy, but every time you go to a funeral, is there not something inside you that craves resurrection more than your next meal? We were never meant to die – and I would believe that even if the Bible didn’t say so. So, when Jesus rose from the dead, he was saying, “Identify with me and you, too, will defeat death. You will have eternal life, meaning when you close your eyes on this earth for the last time, they will immediately open in Heaven forever, a place where there is no badness. I bought this for you with my blood. Without me, you’re just you with your temper, pride, and selfishness.”

“I swapped my perfect record,” He tell us, “for your imperfect one. I did this on the cross; all you have to do is say ‘I’m in. Please forgive me and save me from my very own self. My life is yours.’”

Listen, a lot of people have done a lot of nice things for me, but nobody ever died for me. Except Jesus. The passion in my bones, the exactness of the sun and moon and the Bible itself all tell me something happens to our souls when our bodies go six feet under. Honestly, all the religions tell me that. So, I’m going to place my faith somewhere, even if it’s in atheism. As I’ve looked at it, Jesus is the best bet. 

And so, Penn the atheist—and to all atheists on this Easter weekend—I the Christian ask you, what do you think happens to you after you die? Do you see yourself as mostly bad or mostly good? Are you willing to place the weight of these answers to your own grave? And, what’s holding you back from swapping records with Jesus and trusting him with your life? 

Well, that wasn’t the easiest news to share, but it sure was good

Happy Easter everyone.

John 3:16-17: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 

Penn Jillette discusses a gift from an audience member. He still says he’s an atheist, but is he softening?

StoryBoard features “The Yellow Chair ChronEchols” by writer Candace Echols. Candace recently published her first book, the children’s book Josephine and the QuarantineCandace is a Midtown resident, wife, and mother of five. She has written for StoryBoard’s Page One Writing Workshops, and writes in quiet moments from her yellow chair.

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