The Rage against God (Part 2)

Last week,I suggested that both atheists and theists have motives for their belief systems.

When King David declared, “The fool says in his heart there is no God,” he identified skepticism and atheism as a heart problem, not an intellectual one. In other words, being free from God is part of the skeptic’s wish list.

I suspect most atheists, when they’re being honest, admit they prefer there to be no God, and therefore no judgment. Last week I quoted Peter Hitchens, formerly an avowed atheist, who confessed that after burning his Bible he felt “free”—free from rules and free from fear of judgment. He also shared the confession of Thomas Nagel, professor of philosophy and law at New York University, and author of The Last Word: “It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God…. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.” (pp. 149, 50, emphasis mine)

Now as for me, I admit that I prefer an orderly universe with rewards and consequences at the end of life. Either position—God or no God—requires faith.

One of the men at The Shepherd’s House where I volunteer likes to declare his belief that there is no God and the Bible is a human book filled with fairy tales. I admit he has added pizzazz to our class discussions. I confess I am also coming to love him as a potential brother. I commend him for his honesty, and we hug after almost evey class session.

So what difference does it make if we believe in or deny God’s existence? Can’t we just agree to disagree? Of course. But we must also bear in mind that there are critical issues at stake—issues that affect both the individual person and our culture.

Consider the second part of Psalm 53:1: “They (the fools) are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good.”

Is that overstatement? Perhaps. We all know skeptics and unbelievers who are good citizens who do admirable charitable acts. But, we can’t do anything that will appease God or earn brownie points with Him.

David warns that choosing to exclude God leads to other choices resulting in destructive behavior. Paul affirms this truth in Romans when he says that people who once knew about God suppressed that truth—a willful choice driven by their motives. The result has been the perversion of the entire human race. Consider the litany of bad behavior, in Romans 1:29-32, that has resulted from the decision to ignore God.

There is a price to pay whenever a nation chooses to toss the Rulebook under the bus or to deny God’s existence or relevance. The inevitable results include chaos and eventually anarchy—the law of the jungle where the strong rule over the weak.

So how do we decide what is good and what is evil…what is right and what is wrong? Postmodern thinking and the emphasis upon individual freedom have created a culture of moral relativity. It’s a replay of the book of The Judges, where “every man did what was right in his own eyes.”

Nobody will be safe, and no one held accountable for their actions. It is essentially war in the streets. In literal military warfare both sides (the good men in white hats or the evil men in black) are often guilty of committing atrocities. That is why modern nations have adopted rules of warfare. Unfortunately, too often the rules are ignored. This is especially true in atheistic states that attempt to erase every vestige of religion and God.

In his book, The Rage against God, Peter Hitchens writes, “Atheist States have a consistent tendency to commit mass murder.” We need not look any further than Soviet Communism under Stalin with an estimated 6-9 million non-combatant deaths. Or consider Chinese Communism under Mao zedong with up to 70 million civilian deaths. Today there is a renewed attempt in China to resist the expansion of Christianity. Consder the atrocities under the totalitarian dictatorship in North Korea or Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

I admit horrible atrocities have occurred in the name of religion—even Christianity. But, that was religion gone awry. It was wrong and flew against the teaching of Jesus who instructed His followers to turn the cheek and forgive their enemies.

Without God it is impossible to determine right and wrong. Your “truth” may not be my “truth.” Who then decides what is good or bad? Consider the following quote taken from Tim Keller’s recent book, Making Sense of God:

Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov sarcastically summarized the ethical reasoning of secular humanism like this: “Man descended from apes, therefore we must love one another.” The second clause does not follow from the first. If it was natural for the strong to eat the weak in the past, why aren’t people allowed to do it now?” (42–43)

Keller concludes, “While there can be moral feelings without God, it doesn’t appear that there can be moral obligation.” (178)

Without an absolute set of rules we are free to create our own. Is marriage a lifetime covenant between one man and one woman or a temporary agreement to “hang out together?” Without the Rulebook who determines if the fetus in the womb is a real human being? Unfortunately, the choice is too often based upon motives. Even avid pro-lifers have capitulated to convenience to avoid embarrassment.

I propose that there is only one reliable force to restrain evil: biblical Christianity.

When any culture seeks to remove the influence of religion and belief in God they create a vacuum—a vacuum that quickly fills with subjectivism and “the right to do as I please.” That is a culture without a compass to point the way or a lighthouse to warn of dangerous rocks beneath the surface.

Removing God in the Public Place has resulted in the rapid loss of civility. We are becoming just plain rude. Whether entrenched on the Right or the Left we seldom listen but shout over one another and insult one another.

Yes, there is a price to pay when nations rage against God, pronouncing Him irrelevant. I suspect part of their motivation is to resist any One who challenges their freedom to do as they please without accountability.

They may claim they are being rational or high minded in this. In reality, it’s just a shortcut to the gutter.

Do you agree or disagree? I welcome your feedback. Do you believe a culture can remain moral and survive without God?

The Rage against God

Why do the nations rage

and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth set themselves,

and the rulers take counsel together,

against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,

“Let us burst their bonds apart

and cast away their cords from us.”

Psalm 2:1-3, esv

This blog may be the most relevant that I have shared. The title, The Rage against God, reflects Psalm 2. It is also the title of a book by British author, Peter Hitchens, once an avowed atheist, but now one of the most effective apologists for Christianity. The subtitle, how atheism led me to faith, describes his voyage from skepticism to faith.

I love good books, and especially the ones with backbone and meat. I always have a book or two that I’m reading. I recommend The Rage against God to every person, believer or skeptic. Hitchens’ rebellion against God began when he literally burned the Bible his parents had given him. Hitchens is an easy read because he places profound truths on the lower shelf. All following quotations from his book will be followed by page numbers.

Centuries ago, David wrote: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good” (Psalm 53:1).

As I see it, there are two powerful truths imbedded in this verse. First, David claims that atheism is rooted in the heart, not the head. Second, the consequence of excluding God in any culture will always be destructive.

Think about this: Is it really true the fool (in this case the atheist) says in his heart that God doesn’t exist? Don’t most atheists claim their objections to God are rational rather? They claim that they find no rational evidence of God. But is it actually true?

In his youth, having burned his Bible as a declaration of freedom from God, Hitchens wrote, “We were all free now, and the Bible was one of the things we had to be free of.”

He went on, “At that moment I knew—absolutely knew—that it was the enemy’s book, the keystone of the arch I wished to bring down. I knew that there was no God, that the Old Testament was a gruesome series of atrocity stories and fairy tales, while the gospels were a laughable invention used to defraud the simple. And I joyfully and clearly understood the implications of all that.” (18, emphasis mine)

Did you catch Hitchens’ confession that he had a motive for denying God’s existence? He wanted to be free of God and Christianity. It was a heart problem. Without God, he would be free to do whatever he desired with no fear of eternal consequences.

Consider Hitchens’ confession:

This blatant truth, that we hold opinions because we wish to, and reject them because we wish to, is so obvious that it is too seldom mentioned. I had reasons for wanting that proof. (24, emphasis mine)

Later in the book he asks, “Might it be because they (atheists) fear that, by admitting their delight at the non-existence of good and evil, they are revealing something of their motives for their belief? Could it be the last thing they wish to acknowledge is that they have motives for their belief, since by doing so they would open up their flanks to attack?” (149)

Hitchens also quotes from another skeptic, Thomas Nagel, professor of philosophy and law at New York University, and author of The Last Word.

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. (149, 50, emphasis mine)

So the psalmist was correct. Everybody has motives. Even me. I want good to be rewarded, and I want there to be a God who cares about me – a God who will ultimately punish those who think they have escaped punishment. The skeptic or atheist is motivated by hope there is no judgment after death—no hell.

Isn’t that the issue in Psalm 2?

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth set themselves,

and the rulers take counsel together,

against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,

Let us burst their bonds apart

and cast away their cords from us.

(emphasis mine)

We have barely scratched the surface of our topic, but it’s time to leave the porch. Next week let’s consider the negative impact excluding God has upon a culture.

On reflection, I believe we will find ourselves right in the middle of that impact.

(Peter Hitchens, The Rage against God, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010)

What is God Like?

In one of my previous blogs on July 1st I introduced the two most important questions each of us must face in life: “Is there a God? What is God like?”

If you missed that blog, why not check it out now? It began with Mary bursting into my office exclaiming, “Syd, look at this quote. It says the same thing you have been writing about in your book.”

So, to honor my best friend who has supported me throughout writing the book, I have replaced my picture with the two of us celebrating our 50th anniversary in a Pizza shop two years ago in Banff National Park.

Now, back to today’s topic here on the swing.

First question: Is there a god? (Please don’t correct my typing here. I have deliberately chosen to use the lower case letter “g” to allow for all alternative answers before we nail down the correct answer.) Are there many gods—each with his or her sphere of limited influence? Do we have one god over the mountains and another over the oceans? Is there a god who rules over the rain and harvest while a competitor god brings on drought and famine?

That’s a description of polytheism—the belief in multiple gods. This was pretty much the accepted belief through the millennia of human history—and describes the religion of the nations surrounding Israel. Polytheism still exists in Hinduism and many native religions and animism. So before assuming there is only one God, the God of Scripture, I have used the word “god.”

I choose to believe there is a God. One God. The Creator of everything. When you think about it, the universe is so expansive and majestic and intricate that it is difficult, if not impossible, to deny that someone had to design and create the cosmos, our planet, and all that lives and breathes. That was Paul’s conclusion in Romans 1:18-32. If it requires faith to believe God exists, and it does, I believe it takes even more faith to consider the evidence of His handiwork throughout Creation and choose to deny His existence.

Honestly, it all comes down to a rather stark choice. Either everything has come from nothing and happened by sheer chance or Some One has created it.

Second question: What is God like? Assuming (choosing to believe) there is a god/God/Deity, what is God like? That has been the challenge throughout the history of human civilization. How can any mere human left to only their limited ability ever hope to discover what God is like? They can’t. We can’t. Left to ourselves, we will always create a god in our own image. Just like each of us, god will be malevolent (mean spirited and harsh) and capricious (unpredictable, always changing with the circumstances).

Just for the fun of it, how about a little snap quiz? Yes, I know it’s always more fun for the teacher than for the poor student sweating it out at their desk. To make it easier, let’s make it a multiple choice exam. Are you ready? Here are the questions:

What do you think God is like?

● God controls every detail of my life, even the seemingly incidental things such as where I work or live or whether I will die of cancer or in an auto accident or of old age.

● God only controls the bigger, more important things in my life.

● God created the world and sort of walked away to let it run by itself, so He really isn’t personally involved in what happens here and now. We’re pretty much on our own.

Let’s try another question.

Is God…

● always good and kind and loving and so full of mercy that He would never sentence anybody to an eternal Hell?

● Or is He Holy and just punishing every sin no matter how insignificant?

No matter how you answered the above questions, you could never be certain your answers were correct, unless God chose to make Himself known to us. We call that revelation—God revealing something about Himself that we could never discover unless He chose to tell us.

My early impressions about God were shaped by my experience in a very conservative church that emphasized God’s holiness and wrath. God was a Cosmic Cop—and very intimidating. I wanted His help whenever I found myself in trouble, but I never felt close to Him, like I did my friends.

I believe that may also reflect Moses’ early experiences with God. Discover for yourself by reading through the book of Exodus, beginning with Moses’ first encounter with a blazing and mysterious God at the burning bush. Moses learned one thing for certain that day on the backside of the desert: God is holy and will not be trivialized. He was not “safe.”

Years of studying the Bible have balanced my early impressions about God. I have attempted to address the question about the character or attributes of God in the book. (By the way, Moody Publishers and I have chosen the title for the book. Perhaps I will share it on a forthcoming blog.) It is my prayer that you will come to know and appreciate God more fully and personally when you have read the book.

Today, why not pause to reflect on your own personal, spiritual journey. How have your early impressions about God changed? Does He seem more merciful or more severe today? Why?

Remember, God’s attributes or characteristics are not a box of chocolates. We can’t pick and choose our favorite. God only offers the full meal deal. He is who He is. We either choose to accept and submit to Him or we put ourselves at risk of devastatingly eternal consequences when we try to make God safe.

He is not safe. But He is good. What’s more, He is always good—even when we can’t trace His hand in the experiences of our life. God is also righteous. He always does what is right. He is never unfair. Never capricious or malevolent. We can count on Him to never change. Never respond out of impatient anger.

I can love that kind of God. Come to think of it, I have no other choice, since He alone is the Almighty God creator of all and rules over every molecule in this vast and beautiful universe.

It’s not that I have to love Him. I want to. Even the “want to” is a gift from Him.