I read the conversation between an atheist and a renowned Christian who is also an intellectual and I realized how much knowledge we have attained as a church and how much such height of knowledge might be costing us.
In the conversation, the atheist asked some questions and the Christian intellectual gave responses that I cannot help but say fell short of the right answers. It appeared to me that the great Christian intellectual just wanted to ‘fix’ the error of this atheist so much so that he lost him in the process.
Lesson one: People don’t want to be fixed, they want to be heard. They might NEED fixing, but it’s next to impossible to meet a ‘need’ that is veiled with a ‘want’ without first meeting that ‘want’.
Below are my observations and extrapolations from the said conversation. The conversation is quite long so I have written only a summary highlighting some points and other lessons learnt. I must add here that this is in no way aimed at criticizing another’s effort, I am simply using my observations in that conversation to share some lessons that I think we are in dire need of today. Plus, the Christian intellectual in question is someone who I have deep respect for.
From this point on I’ll call the Christian intellectual, LA.
The atheist asked why an all knowing and all-powerful God doesn’t prevent evil from happening especially to His children.
LA says the atheist has a wrong concept of God and that foreknowledge doesn’t imply responsibility. True, but that doesn’t answer the atheist’s question. What LA only succeeded in doing was to state new facts about God and totally miss the atheist’s question.
LA went on to describe the atheist as an idolater. Instead of an answer, he psychoanalyzed the atheist and his misconception of God. He tells him he is not an atheist but an idolater (because he has a wrong IMAGE of God). That to have a wrong IMAGE of God is idolatry not atheism. I don’t see the benefit of this new direction his argument took. This does more dis-service to the issue at hand than render a solution.
When the atheist asked why God gave freewill to man and yet still judges man for the exercise of that freewill, LA did the same thing again. He didn’t answer his question. In fact, he didn’t even correct the wrong impression the atheist had that prompted the question in the first place.
The atheist wrongly believes that God judges man for exercising his freewill.
This is where LA should have told him that God doesn’t judge man for the exercise of his freewill, He judges man for the violation of His word/law.
That would have given LA the premise to then answer the actual question which is – if freewill is a gift, why does judgement still exist?
There are two parts to answering that question.
The first part would be to tell the atheist the purpose for freewill. Freewill was given to ensure true love. Only based on freewill and choice can someone show the true worth and value of their love. In Economics, it is called the forgone alternative.
The second part to this answer is to explain the concept of judgment. Judgement is based on God’s laws which is programmed into His creation just like gravity is. God’s word/law is like gravity, it needs no law enforcer, no jury and no judge, the law of gravity is self-evident and self-fulfilling. When something goes up, it comes down. No court sits to ensure that, and that’s how powerful GOD’S law is. It is simply based on the principle of cause and effect (a.k.a. the action and consequences principle) that is programmed into the universe of God’s creation. If you touch fire you get burnt. It is not out of wickedness or out of un-forgiveness or even out of judgment, that you get burnt, it is simply cause and effect. In like manner, “The soul who sins shall die…” Ezekiel 18:20 NKJV
It is this established principle of action and consequences at work that is called judgement.
The next question was why God does not intervene in our crisis. First, LA answers by saying God has intervened by sending Jesus to die for us. (This is also true; but again, this does not answer the question). This question is directed to Christians who have accepted this sacrifice of Jesus but still undergo crisis from which they need ‘intervention’ but don’t get any. LA’s answer implies that the only intervention man needs from God is to secure his place in the afterlife while he endures whatever he faces in this life.
The problem with this answer is that it tells the atheist that God is not in the business of intervening in the crisis of His people (except to save their soul from damnation) and that’s not true. There’s no discounting the supernatural; it is very real and it is very much a part of our Christian heritage. But God still heals, delivers and raises the dead.
LA even went on to say the atheist’s expectations of a God who intervenes (except in the case of ‘salvation’) is a wrong concept of God (since God is not a “moral street cleaner or a superman”). This argument presumes that the atheist is asking for a magical deity instead of a supernatural God, but that’s not what the atheist is asking. Whatever the case, LA never goes on to make the clear distinction for the atheist neither does he give him the right image of God that he should have.
Lastly, the atheist says the bible is fiction and that’s why LA is giving excuses for God to explain away why He doesn’t intervene in the affairs of men. Here again, LA misses the point and instead of addressing the bone of contention, he went on to explain why the bible is not fiction but totally ignores the issue at hand, which is God’s ability to grant supernatural intervention in the affairs of men.
I believe the reason LA missed so many opportunities to enlighten this atheist is the fact that he failed to listen. It was not for lack of better answers or better understanding. I have read other writings of LA and I find them enlightening but this was not a ‘writing’, it was a ‘conversation’. And in a conversation, you are meant to listen because that’s where the real battle for the souls of men lie, on the round-table, not on the pulpit or on the lofty desk of our ‘square-tables’.
Often, it is over-confidence in our ability to answer any question thrown at us that deafens us. We easily say, ‘ask your next question’ not caring if the first has been properly attended to.
Too often, the church has shut the door to many as we shut our ears to their cry and to their questions.
It is true that knowledge is the key, but listening is the key hole. Interestingly, the onus is on us to have both. We give them the ‘key hole’ first, before we can expect them to accept the ‘key’. If we can accomplish this, we will not only open doors, we would have flung open the flood gates of Heaven sow.
It is time we made a change, come down from our ivory towers of pristine knowledge and meet the world where they are – in their doubts, in their fears and in their darkness. We have showered them enough with our knowledge, it is time we listened once again!