Have you heard the saying: “There are no atheists in foxholes”? Apparently that assertion has been vigorously refuted by a few people, so perhaps it is an overstatement. But its point is clear enough. The point is simply that in times of extreme duress, when we find ourselves at war either literally or figuratively, even the most skeptical among us tends to want to believe in, or turn to, or hope for God.
Researchers don’t seem to be able to agree upon the source of the saying about no atheists in foxholes, but they do claim that a variation of it occurs in Plato’s “Laws” from the 4th century BCE. So apparently it’s been a long-accepted notion that uncertain people look outside of themselves for hopeful signs and certainties.
That really doesn’t surprise any of us, does it? When we know our own resources for remedying a problem are exhausted, we must finally acknowledge the need to look elsewhere for help. And “elsewhere” may indeed be God. Intriguingly, when we look for God, God is likely to find us.
A remarkable occurrence of being found by God in a desperate circumstance happened to novelist Frederick Buechner a number of years ago. His teenage daughter was struggling with anorexia and the outlook was bleak. Buechner felt utterly helpless, unsure of what he could do to change matters, doubtful that the future would hold some resolution to this threat to his daughter’s life.
One day, as Buechner sat in his car on the roadside not far from his Vermont home reflecting on this problem, a car drove past bearing a license plate that read T-R-U-S-T. Buechner later wrote: “Of all the entries in the lexicon of words that I needed most to hear, it was that word trust. It was a chance thing, but also a moment of epiphany – revelation – telling me, ‘trust your children, trust yourself, trust God, trust life; just trust.’” (Timothy Jones, Christianity Today, March 1, 2003.)
After hearing about the impact that his license plate had had, the owner of the car bearing the T-R-U-S-T plate (who turned out to be a trust officer at a local bank), paid a personal visit to Buechner one afternoon. He presented Buechner with the license plate which bore the word that had conveyed a profound message of hope in a seemingly hopeless time. Buechner placed that license plate, a little battered and rusty around the edges, on a bookshelf in his office. It stands as a reminder that a seeker in desperate need can count on being found and reassured, by a God who is always worthy of trust.
Is it true that there are no atheists in foxholes? That’s hard to say. But it seems virtually certain that whatever foxhole we find ourselves fearfully huddling in, our willingness to search for God and to receive the signs of God’s care and compassion for us, may be just what we need to see us through. You can safely trust in that.