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Can you have a calling if you don’t believe in a divine Caller?

Many of my students ask whether you can have a calling if you do not believe in God. Can there be a calling without a Caller? As more and more secularized students come to the college where I teach, this question becomes more and more urgent. Many students have deep moral convictions. Many want to fight injustice and work for a more humane world. They want to protect and heal the natural environment. They hope to create beautiful works of art and music. But many do not believe in God, or they have left their religious roots so far behind that these roots are not informing their worldviews.

Because the one who calls is also the Creator whose providence operates in all things, non-believers also have callings. It is better to be aware of the true source of one’s callings, but even those unaware of the true source of their callings serve the Creator unwittingly. Through God’s dynamic ordering of creational spheres, many do the sustaining work of the Creator even though they lack faith. Politicians, businesspeople, laborers, parents, scientists, and artists serve God’s purposes. A powerful biblical example is Cyrus, king of Persia, who decreed that the exiled Israelites could return to their homeland and rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4). Isaiah refers to Cyrus as “his anointed” (45:1). This does not mean God approves of all the actions of such people; it does mean God makes use even of sinful people to sustain his creation and advance it according to his providential purposes.

Many people are prompted to make pivotal decisions in light of deeply felt responses to core human experiences. A profound sense of the needs of some aspect of our world can prompt something like a believer’s sense of call. Perhaps the greatest secular source of a call is gratitude. Bill Gates once said he established his multibillion-dollar foundation because he felt incredibly lucky. He was in the right place at the right time to make a fortune. He wanted to “give back” because he had been given so much. He was thankful. Christians perceive the true source every gift: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). But non-believers indeed do God’s work through their callings even if they do not acknowledge the God who calls them to it.

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