Posted by: Jack Brown | April 6, 2013

My Invisible Sky Friend

Many of you know I spend FAR too much time online debating atheists and self-styled “opponents of faith.” I use the excuse that I’m “sharpening my apologetic skills,” but truth be told I’m more likely responding out of anger and a bloated ego that desperately needs to be right. I’ve cut down a bit over the years, but it doesn’t take much to draw me back in–just a few well-placed insults about Christians or faith in general and I’m slipping on my rhetorical gloves and stepping back in the ring.

One phrase that has become quite popular with the online “anti-faith” crowd in recent years is the “invisible person in the sky” or the “invisible sky friend.” Thrown out there with just the proper amount of sarcasm it’s meant to imply that those of us who claim faith in God are fools for believing in something we can’t see and is “obviously” not there. I stumbled on it again tonight, in of all places an online discussion about the tragic suicide of Rick Warren’s son Matthew. Someone posted, “If they had gotten the kid some help instead of trusting in their invisible sky friend to help them, maybe he’d still be around.” I couldn’t believe my eyes, then my eyes reminded me that they were viewing something on the Internet, and my sense of disbelief subsided. It’s not a good sign that I’m getting used to that level of insensitivity, cruelty, and abuse.

By calling God or Jesus our “invisible sky friend,” the skeptics wish to demean faith by making it sound equal to something out of My Little Pony or a fairy tale. During the Easter season it’s often coupled with bon mots such as “Jesus is just as real as the Easter Bunny,” and similar sentiments are expressed regarding Santa at Christmastime. My initial reaction is to attempt to defend faith as perfectly reasonable and justifiably logical, but in the end such efforts are fruitless because the very concept of faith is irrational in their eyes–to have faith in something unseen is to be a fool.

But what these online provocateurs fail to note is that we place our faith in unseen things all the time. When I order food at a restaurant, and trust that the cook isn’t a homicidal maniac who will poison my Southwestern Mac n’ Cheese, I’m exercising faith. I can’t see air or gravity, but I have faith they will keep me breathing and grounded. The love of my family is unseen–I can only gauge it from the evidence of their love. Just because something is seen doesn’t make it trustworthy, and just because something is invisible doesn’t make it suspect.

But even more than this, I actually think it’s untrue to say we can’t “see” God. I see God every day in creation. I see God in the way lives are changed by putting their faith and trust in him. I see God in community, in selfless love, in service to the “least of these”–I see God a lot. Sure, I don’t see a white-bearded guy in the sky (which doesn’t describe God for me in the slightest anyway), and I don’t see Jesus in the same way the first-century disciples did. But I see him nonetheless.

In C.S. Lewis’ “Prince Caspian,” only one character, Lucy, is able to see the mighty lion Aslan for much of the book. Frustrated with her insistence that Aslan is near, the other characters put the matter to a vote and declare her sightings to be utter nonsense. Thankfully, the existence (and help) of Aslan is not dependent on their democratic process. He is real and he is there despite their stubborn insistence to the contrary. The problem isn’t his invisibility, it’s their lack of faith.

I need to keep that in mind. Without the eyes of faith, God might seem little more than an “invisible sky friend,” and my role is not to prove otherwise. I can’t convince someone he’s there–I can only live out my faith in such a way as to make God a bit more visible, while praying that the Holy Spirit opens eyes to see what is there to see.

Hebrews 11:1 calls faith “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (NASB) Perhaps it’s time I worried less about proving God, and more about engendering faith.

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Responses

  1. Amen. I agree apologetics can be helpful, but you’re spot on. They need to see it in our lives, in our witness that way first and foremost. Along with proclamation of the good news/gospel.

  2. First of all, no, it’s not “obviously” not there, there’s just no evidence for it, so the logical path is to assume it doesn’t exist. Otherwise you have to believe in so many things (fairies, unicorns, the flying spaghetti monster, etc.) – as there’s exactly as much evidence for them.

    From someone who claims “sharpening my apologetic skills”, you are not really good in it, are you? Comparing your god to the reasonable assumption that most people are not murderers (which we can assume because of simply basic statistics) – or to gravity, which can be measured, tested – seems a little bit like the beginner’s stage of discussing about the topic. Love is better – it’s the same nonsense, but at least it LOOKS like a real argument.

    No, you don’t see god. You see the world and claim that god did it – without any evidence or need to. You see people doing nice things and say god did it – without any evidence or need to. In other words, you add something in your mind – without needing to. That’s why people think of you as irrational. If I make cake, I could, of course, believe that little fairies are responsible for the color – but why should I? Little fairies are not required as an explanation, why add them? God is not required as an explanation (and honestly, “god did it” explains absolutely nothing), so why add it?

    Why are you a Christian? Have you ever asked yourself that? For the majority of all Christians, it’s simply, because they were born into it. Were they born in another country they would now believe that the correct faith is islam or hinduism or budhism or something else entirely. Faith is not choosen because there’s evidence for it. You simply get it from your parents and justify it afterwards. This is why all religions are very likely untrue. They are just random constructs, inherited from a darker past.

    And no, Jesus is not an “invisible sky friend”, instead he probably was just another religious guy in a time where you couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a “prophet” who can be happy to be dead because he probably would not even recognize what became of his ideas.

    • I could address your comment point-by-point, but that would negate the entire content of my post. I will offer, though, that you misunderstood my comment about murderers, gravity, and love. I was not offering those as apologetic “proofs,” but merely as evidence that not everything unseen in untrustworthy. I was not comparing God to them, only making an admittedly basic argument about a very basic point. It was an attempt to comment on what I see as a faulty syllogism, not make a grand theological statement.

      In a sense, though, you answer your own question. As you point out, while we can’t see people’s intentions when they cook my food, and while we can’t see gravity or love, we can deduce their existence from the evidence. You ask why I am a Christian…my answer is I examined the evidence and found it sufficient. You have examined the evidence and found it insufficient, fair enough. In fact, you take it one step further and claim there is no evidence. I wholeheartedly disagree and support your right to believe otherwise.

      But before I examined the evidence there was an earlier step to my faith journey. I saw faith and what it had done in the lives of people I love and respect. My heart was “strangely warmed” (to borrow the words of John Wesley) by the faith I had seen in others, and that led me to desire an examination of the evidence. What I was attempting to address was what I see as a faulty evangelism strategy in the church that believes we start with the evidence and the attempt to “prove” God (which Douglas Adams pointed out as inherently self-defeating). That’s the approach I have taken far too often in my own life, and I believe it to be wrong. I should be more concerned about showing my faith than proving it.

      • I always hear of these mysterious evidence, but somehow noone wants to show it to me. Faith is a strong feeling, true, but that doesn’t make religion more (or less) true.

      • Absolutely, which is kind of the point I wanted to make. Christians too often confuse faith and proof, and as a result have often done more harm to their cause than good. Yes, I believe there are good, reasonable, logical reasons to consider the claims of Christianity, but my primary task is not to “prove” it to be true. My primary task is to live out my life in such as way as to demonstrate my faith and show the love of God. 1 Peter 3:15 instructs Christians to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” What jumps out at me from that verse is the role of hope demonstrated in the life of a Christian, which then leads to respectful conversation about its foundation (which was the experience that led to my decision to follow Christ). Christians have often taken that verse as a license to bash people over the head with the Bible, completely ignoring the centrality of hope and the call to gentleness and respect.

        I’m intrigued by your comment that Christians don’t seem willing to share this “mysterious evidence.” Perhaps it’s a cultural thing, but where I live Christians have been almost obsessed with the evidence, which is one of the factors that led to my original post. For those interested in examining it, I usually start by recommending the works of Francis Collins and Ravi Zacharias, two people I believe “get” 1 Peter 3:15.

  3. I know you and your faith personally, and can see it come thru in your online writing. However, other christians in real life, or just online, seem to treat God with the same reverence as the athiests who call Him the Invisible Sky Friend.

    They are the ones who publicly (online) ascribe their beliefs, wishes, and politics (and patriotism) to God. Some come across as downright nutty such as the story I heard today about a christian calling Korea’s threats against America a direct result of our growing acceptance of homosexuality. The ones who drive me crazy are those who have decided that America has/is/and always should be Christian (yes, with a capital C).

    But even further, this becomes judgement on those, christian or not, who don’t have the same beliefs, goals, or politics as these sub-set of everyday christians. And I wish they were ascribing this judgmental behavior on behalf of the ISF, but they are speaking and judging on behalf of God, as if they have all the answers. It is as simple as judging my acceptance of evolution as rejecting Genesis, and thus the Bible, therefor I am against God. Bam! That is the Invisible Sky Friend that I would want to mock, too.

    Wow, that way more rant than I thought it would go. Got it off my chest. Thanks.

  4. Of course I’m real, and who are you to insinuate that the easter bunny isn’t real? I take offense to that! Lol…


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