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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Conversation with an Atheist

Let me make clear at the outset that I am not the kind of Christian who goes around shoving my religion down people's throats. I rarely bring it up unless the other person does, except for those that share my views.

If I know the person shares my values and my views on faith, I am not reluctant at all to bring up spiritual issues. But for people in general I usually don't initiate those conversations, believing that the Holy Spirit will prepare a person who is ready to hear what I have to say. And a good indication that they are ready is when THEY bring it up.

However, there are exceptions. Not everyone who brings up the subject is ready to hear.

Such a conversation took place with an atheist the other day. In reference to a certain tragedy that was in the news, he wanted to know "why a loving God would allow such things to happen."

I said, simply, "I don't know. That is a question that cannot be answered adequately. Any 'explanation' that could be offered usually comes up short."

It was then that he unleashed his vitriol against Christianity and people of faith in general.

Said he, "Your answer to my question is only more proof that there is no God. I have never been able to get a Christian to answer my question. If everything you say about God, the Bible, and Christianity were true, you would be able to answer it."

I responded, "So, you would make a judgment about whether or not God exists solely on the basis of something I do not understand and cannot explain..."

"That's how all of you believers try to wiggle out of it," he snapped. "You can't honestly address the fact that if God were loving there would be no young kids murdered by a nutcase with a gun, no tragedies such as the Tucson massacre or the Japanese earthquake and tsunami."

I countered, "So God is obligated to do your bidding, to act in accordance with YOUR opinion of what constitutes justice or love. What if God simply decides not to intervene in the laws of nature in most cases? What if He expects men and women to make decisions on their own, without being forced to do so, and that when they make poor decisions people will get hurt? If God decided to stop bad people from doing bad things, then we as human beings would not be free moral agents who have the power to decide for ourselves. We would be mere puppets."

He then launched into a tirade that I tuned out, which was mostly knee-jerk hyper-emotional reaction arising out of his own internal rage than any rationality.

I just let him talk. And then when he was through, I apologized for anything I may have said that got him upset. It was not my intent to get him so riled.

He accepted the apology and we moved beyond the clash.

What else can one do at that point?

Arguing religion and spiritual issues with someone who is not prepared for the answers, or the non-answers, is futile. It accomplishes nothing.

But I will say that there is a part of this encounter that sticks in my craw and always has--the fact that many unbelievers wish to hold me responsible for that which I cannot explain or that for which God has not provided an explanation.

There is plenty that people of faith will never understand. The finite cannot fully grasp the infinite. Our limited human minds cannot wrap themselves around that which is unlimited in scope.

I don't have to understand everything nor offer an explanation for everything. I can continue digging, exploring, inquiring, studying, and growing. But that's about it. I am not worried about things I cannot explain or understand. I am much more worried about the things I DO understand and CAN explain fully.

Accepting reality means embracing the fact that we mortals are limited in our ability to comprehend certain spiritual mysteries. This in no way undermines faith. In fact, faith is enhanced by our acknowledgment that 'blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.'


  1. I couldn't worship a God I could explain. A Supreme Being, by definition, would be orders of magnitude more intelligent, and beyond our understanding.

    "Why does He allow etc etc etc?" Because He gives us free will to act as we will. Many choose poorly. It's as simple - and as complicated - as that. I still can't explain His wisdom in acting this way, but I'm eternally grateful to Him for doing it.

  2. An excellent observation, Paul...