What’s Wrong With Atheism?
It may surprise many people that God has a lot to say about atheism. Throughout its pages, the Bible affirms again and again one fundamental truth: atheism as a condition results from a deliberate choice of the heart, rather than from purported loyalty to open-minded intellectual inquiry.
The atheist confines his debate to a limited arena, creating a whole world, as it were, in a sandbox. In that sandbox he claims to be a lover of truth, refusing to believe anything that has not been satisfactorily proven. There is no evidence that God exists, he says, and so there is no reason to believe in Him—any more than there is a reason to believe in fairies or leprechauns. On the other hand, there are plenty of reasons not to believe in a God who is all-powerful and totally benevolent. Evil exists, for one thing, and how could such a God permit it to continue and still remain true to His nature? God is silent, for another thing, and a simple test will prove it. The atheist invites God to strike him dead instantly, or to turn a tabletop into a cloud of purple smoke, within say, the next 60 seconds. Seeing no response, he congratulates himself on finding “proof” of his assertion.
As a precondition for believing in God, the atheist demands a comprehensive explanation for a God-created world. He insists that Christians provide a system that answers all his objections. Again and again he says, “If God is real, He owes me an explanation.” God must answer for allowing evil and suffering in the world. God must answer for allowing death, war, hunger, and disease. He has made a world with misery in it, and He cannot be both good and omnipotent, or He would long since have done something to change it.
Confident within this world of his own making, the atheist scoffs at God and those who trust in Him. He dismisses belief in God as superstition, the folly of the cowardly and weak-minded—people who are too afraid or too simple to cast off their fear of the Almighty. But in his heart he has deliberately chosen to deny the possibility of a very real world outside the safe sandbox of his own mind. And, like it or not, that world does intersect with his artificial world. He can deny its existence, but if he persists, it will forcibly intrude upon him at an unforeseen time.
Sooner or later, a gust of wind from that outside world will sweep in and crumble his arguments, like so many sand castles. In its wake will be the soft voice of God, whispering these words:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1)
In these verses God explains a fundamental truth: that He has made the grains of sand, the people of the earth, and the stars that outnumber them all. Though He is invisible, His existence is obvious to all people, because they can see His creation. He indicts mankind for abandoning the knowledge of Him, and for suppressing the truth about Him by their evil behavior.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1)
The world outside the sandbox is the real world, which God has made and which He rules. In that world, man must answer to God, not the other way around. God will call each person to answer for every evil thought, every evil word, and every evil deed. He will judge the attitudes of each person’s innermost being. That judgment will be so intense, like fire, that no man will be able to stand on his own. God will show that He has no tolerance for evil, but that He allowed it for a time out of kindness, in the hope that each person would turn away from it and decide to follow Him—without being forced to do so.1
Would we dare suggest then that it is God’s fault that evil is in the world? God will show us what we did to promote evil in the short life we had on earth, and He will destroy that evil work—and us too, if we have failed to turn away from it.
Atheism is a spiritual condition, a “darkening of the heart,” which results from a moral choice to reject the truth, its Author, and the accountability He demands. The moral choice and the result (denial of God) always go hand in hand, as the Bible says in Psalm 14: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”2 (The Hebrew word for “fool” denotes one who is morally deficient.)
The atheist’s arguments may make perfect sense to him, but they are nonetheless spurious and deceptive. God calls him to make a second choice of the heart, a choice to step outside the sandbox and into a life with Him.
Paul Clewell, Ezra Stiles ’98
© 1999 The Yale Standard Committee
1 “ . . . Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”(Romans 2)