You don’t need me to explain to you the difference between atheists and theists. The obvious disagreement, of course, is the decision to believe in God or not.
But, I think there’s an underlying factor that largely determines whether someone will believe in God or reject Him.
Will you accept a God who doesn’t act how you want Him to?
So much of modern atheism is not just a rejection of the idea of a divine being, but a specific rejection of the God (and gods) of world religions. Consider one of the most-used arguments in the atheist’s arsenal, the argument of evil, pain, and suffering. Epicurus’ Trilemma is perhaps the best explanation of it:
- If God is unable to prevent evil, then he is not all-powerful.
- If God is not willing to prevent evil, then he is not all-good.
- If God is both willing and able to prevent evil, then why does evil exist?
Most other critiques fit into this same category of refusing to believe in a God who doesn’t fit man’s idea of who that God should be. “If there were a God, He would have shown Himself differently through science.” Even the inane “Who created God?” argument boils down to refusing to believe in a God who is supernatural.
The Christian knows that God does not have to always make sense to us for us to believe in Him, though.
In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis’ powerful account of his own struggle with faith in the face of loss and suffering, Lewis pointed out that every time we feel we have a firm grasp of who God is, He shatters our understanding of Him:
“My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins.”
Everybody in Jesus’ day thought they had Him figured out. Time after time, He showed them He was not who they thought or expected, and that their concept of Him was too small. It’s one of the great evidences of Christianity that our God does not make sense to us. All the stories of pagan, mythical gods show them acting either exactly as we would want them to, or exactly as we do. The one true God does not fit our mold of Him.
God told us His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts, and that His are so far above our understanding that they can hardly be compared. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Faith is believing this to be true and living it out.
It’s Job saying he’d keep trusting in God, “Though He slay me” (Job 13:15). It’s Peter and the apostles staying when everybody else left after Jesus’ “eat my flesh and drink my blood” speech, because “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). It’s countless Psalms in which David and other psalmists lament God’s seeming disappearance or disinterest in a time of need, only to return to the foundational truth that God loves us and is always doing that which is best. It’s nothing more than the commitment to stay with God through thick and thin, because we know Jesus is the only Way, Truth, and Life (John 14:6).
But you and I obviously haven’t given in to atheism. So we’re doing good, right?
Hang on, we’re not in the clear just yet.
Most people who still want to be believers find a third way to handle this challenge, because it’s the easiest way out. Rather than saying “God doesn’t make sense to me, therefore I don’t believe in Him,” we’re very good at reframing God until He does make sense to us. This presents us with two problems: one, we’re no longer worshiping God but rather a graven image of ourselves, functionally making us atheists, and two, because we’ve created a fake god, it will fold under any pressure or questioning whatsoever.
This is how you end up with people believing in a God who supports LGBT causes, or looks the other way on divorce, or doesn’t command separate gender roles in the home and the church, or doesn’t expect His people to withdraw from worldliness, or won’t prohibit the willfully sinful from entering heaven, or doesn’t care about man’s “innovations” in the church, and so on. It’s functional atheism. In those cases we believe only in a god who makes sense to us, and that god is no God at all.
Once again, true faith is believing in God even when He doesn’t act the way I want Him to. Does God ever frustrate you? Does He ever confuse you? Are any of His commandments difficult to you?
If you have a God who always makes sense to you, and acts exactly as you think He should in every situation, you might want to take a closer look and make sure it’s the God of the Bible you’re following.