By BJ Rudge, Ph.D.
I have met many atheists, such as my former college professor who vehemently denied the existence of anything outside the natural world. He spent the whole semester trying to demonstrate the foolishness of believing in God and the Bible. From his perspective, faith in God was devoid of sound reasoning and mere wishful thinking. Although I earned his respect and we had some profitable discussions, he died several years later as a lonely alcoholic.
Many atheists, agnostics and freethinkers claim they have come to their conclusion through rational thinking and by thoroughly examining all the evidence. Despite not having the ability to know everything and be everywhere at the same time, they are certain God does not exist. They often portray themselves as being enlightened and intellectually superior, while those who believe in the existence of God are, in their estimation, delusional and in need of a spiritual crutch.
However, Scripture indicates they are the real fools (Psalm 14:1) and are “without excuse” for denying God’s reality. Consider the insightful words of the apostle Paul:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20).
As Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit says, not only has God instilled within each individual a conscience that bears witness to His existence, He has revealed His reality through His creation. On the Day of Judgment people will be “without excuse,” or anapologetous in the Greek (“without a defense”) for rejecting God because of a supposed lack of evidence. There is more than sufficient proof that He exists.
The Real Reason
While I have heard many arguments against the existence of God, most admitted their initial reasons for rejecting God were of a personal nature such as unanswered prayer, suffering and pain or unwillingness to change immoral behavior. For instance, while at a soccer clinic I met a man named John. Every time someone would bring up the subject of God, John would get very agitated and start yelling that God did not exist and all religions were false.
After a few days of his ranting, I had a chance to talk with John alone. During our conversation, I discovered why he was so hostile: He had family members who were survivors of the Holocaust, and he could not understand why God allowed this atrocious event to happen. Thus, behind all of his arguments and hostile feelings, John was denying God’s existence because of the pain and suffering his family endured.
The apostle Paul goes on to talk about the second step people take after rejecting God: substituting the worship of the true God to worship something within creation:
For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever (Romans 1:25).
When someone refuses to acknowledge the true God, he sets himself up as God. In essence, atheism leads to self-centered worship, where man, not God, becomes the center of the universe. This is the way John lived his life: He became accountable only to himself. He lived a life of self-indulgence as he pursued all forms of temporal pleasures seeking to find lasting fulfillment. Despite all of his attempts, he admitted he still felt a void in his life and a yearning to find purpose and meaning to his existence.
As John and I continued our conversation, I was able to share with him why I believed in Jesus Christ. I explained how my faith was not a blind leap in the dark but was supported by evidence. I specifically detailed the various Messianic prophecies that were fulfilled by Jesus as well as the historical evidence that surrounded His resurrection. When we were done with our conversation, this man who had been so hostile toward God and Christianity looked at me and said, “I never knew there was evidence to verify the Christian faith. In all my dealing with Christians, they never once took the time to share this information with me.”
As the week of the clinic moved on, I continued to build a relationship with John. A few weeks later I received an e-mail: John shared how much our conversation touched his life and that he was now open to further investigation. He closed by stating that just as in the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, George Bailey had impacted the lives of others; so too I had been a George Bailey in his life.
The following are three important principles I use when dealing with self-professing atheists such as John:
First, be ready to give a reason for the hope you have (1 Peter 3:15). You never know when a John will come across your path.
Second, speak the truth in love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Your motivation should be to represent Christ, not trying to win an argument.
Third, get beyond what is being said to understand why it is being said. Remember, behind every argument and hostile feeling is a person like John, who is hurting and in need of the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ (John 3:16, 17).