“Why Atheists Have A Psychological Need To Deny God”
(A message for modern Christians about defending the Faith against Atheist objections)
Christian experience counts as evidence for God’s existence. In fact, a Christian who has fully come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, will have the experience of knowing God and growing in Christ because of the presence of and experience with the witness of God’s Holy Spirit – even if, like myself, one was led to that knowledge in great part due to reason and evidence. The end result is a relationship with the divine.
But, if we are to evangelize “ALL MEN” 1 Peter 3:15 “…always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” and witness to the “WHOLE WORLD” Mark 16:15 “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”, we must recognize that an experience, though powerful and life-transforming as it is, that experience is still open to interpretation, to evaluation and analysis. Likewise, it is possible for anyone of us to have a profound experience that we misunderstand profoundly. Therefore, verification of our experience by checking it with scripture is always our charge Acts 17:11 (describing the faithful Bereans) …for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.
My conversion to Christianity has not necessarily been one of those Damascus Road affairs where it was sudden and dramatic. I often find myself feeling envious of those who have had such a profound transformation and sudden revelation of God and the overwhelming feeling of peace so often described. My experience has been different than that. Same result. Just a different experience. This is why we must never question one’s personal testimony; rather observe for the fruits of the Spirit to be manifest. These attributes can be found in Galatians chapter 5 verses 22 and 23.
Often, shiny new Christians whose own Damascus Road-like experience is still very fresh in their minds and hearts are gushingly eager to tell the story of their conversion—and for one, I love to hear those stories and to see the excitement in the lives of those who have come into the truth and are loving their new relationship with their Creator and Savior. Knowing Jesus Christ changes lives and that is not a disputable fact. For the new Christian, it seems hard to imagine why anyone in the world wouldn’t be thrilled to hear about this exciting thing that has happened to them. For many of us, whether the experience was suddenly profound or cumulatively revealed over time, one thing we all have in common is that feeling that we have discovered the “Pearl of Great Price” Matthew 13:45,46 45 “…the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, 46 and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. and it is natural in that moment to feel that everyone else in the world would have an equal admiration for this life-altering, priceless metaphysical jewelry.
Unfortunately, today that is most often not the case. It is more and more common in the modern secular world to run into those who are not just unsure of, questioning or maybe even seeking metaphysical truth, but to run into a certain type of modern person who is immediately eager to deny it, lampoon it, attempt to explain it away as a delusion or wishful thinking or ready to criticize it and analyze it as a silly mistake. Very often we hear this sort of rhetoric, “Don’t you understand what has happened to you? You have come to religion because you needed some kind of crutch, or a “Sky Daddy” to assist you through life.”
Karl Marx described religion as “the opiate for the masses,” a sort of magical elixir to make one’s life more bearable. The modern skeptic is greatly reliant on these ideas and will often argue that individuals have a psychological need for religious experience. THIS we will look at in depth today. For example, the skeptic will often claim, “You have allowed fantasy to replace reality.” or, “You have experienced a common error of the creative imagination of human intelligence that psychologists call ‘wish projection’ or ‘wishful thinking’ because you WANT TO believe in God, because you WANT TO believe that there’s someone out there who will cleanse you of your guilt, who will alleviate your fear of death, who will promise things and give significance and meaning in your life. Therefore you have fallen into ‘wishful projection’ in that you have projected a wish into reality and have now therefore you have taken up the fallacious crutch of religion.”
As arrogant as it does sound, we must be prepared to recognize that there is an element of truth contained in these objections. And I will explain why that is in detail as we move along in this message. These lines of objection are often heard from the modern movements of the New Atheism and so-called “street epistemology”. Those who traffic in this style of argumentation most often offer rhetoric that is actually emotion-based and pseudo-intellectual. Those of us who have answered the call to defend the faith must recognize that there is at least to a point an element of truth in this argument. But that element of truth actually exposes the Atheist rather than explain away the Christian experience. Our experiences as Christians with the Holy Spirit are ours and precious to us. But, we also have the reasonable arguments to exhibit the evidence, therefore there is no need for emotional or personal attacks or to be intimidated by confident sounding arguments. We already have the truth, to be Christlike is our greatest tool in debate.
It is a fact that there are false religions and false gospels in the world that promise to satisfy many common temporal and fleshly, worldly desires. And the more one interacts with the academic world and with those who have committed their lives to purely secular pursuits and the great numbers of personalities on the internet who are ready and eager to tell you how foolish your are to buy into such strange and hopeless ideals, the easier it is to fall into a state of denial and perhaps even to a mind and heart of unbelief. This is why it is so very important for those of us who have the means and opportunity to do so, to share with fellow Christians why God’s character should be defended and why the truth of Christianity is completely defensible in the face of ALL objections. As a complement to evangelism, we must defend the faith 1 Peter 3:14-18
In fact, most of the time the objections and arguments you will experience come from from skeptical deniers who have not even bothered to familiarize themselves with the finer points of their own arguments. Arguments which have been made by intellectuals for decades prior. That is to say that most of the skeptics you will encounter as a Christian, those who will attack your faith or attempt to weaken your faith with the same old chestnuts and mental gropings, have never read the primary sources of the world’s most well known and accomplished skeptics and Atheists like, David Hume, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell, and so on. They are also mostly unfamiliar with the arguments and errors of their contemporary skeptics and Atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Machael Shermer, almost anyone in POP science television today, and on and on… The ones you mostly encounter are just attacking because they are following the lead of their favorite Atheists YouTuber, Aaron Ra, Matt Dilahunty, and on and on… and have truly never encountered a Christian WHO CAN defend his/her faith with calm and reasonable rhetoric, arguments and evidence. They are probably not even aware that such a thing exists.
Likewise, for those of us who set out to be an apologist and intend to openly defend Christianity against skeptical deniers, we must also be well read and seek mastery of the primary source literature of the theologians, philosophers and scientists who have gone before and paved the way to defending Christianity in a modern secular world. An important fact that gets lost today is that most of the fathers of science and philosophy were Theistic thinkers. Here is a comment from Isaac Newton regarding God, the Bible and Atheism:
“I have a fundamental belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by men who were inspired. I study the Bible daily. Opposition to godliness is atheism in profession and idolatry in practice. Atheism is so senseless and odious to mankind that it never had many professors.” -Sir Isaac Newton
Likewise, we ought to master the literature of modern theologians and philosophers like William Lane Craig, JP Moreland, Alvin Plantinga and so many more that can’t be named here. These are just a few of the men who have provided the modern groundwork for defending Christianity in a post-Christian world where secular humanism is growing rapidly. One job of the modern apologist of any level, secondary to sharing the gospel, and in addition to answering skeptical objections, is to empower the average believer with confidence and examples of just how sound and true Christianity actually is.
That is the purpose of this ministry – Armor of Truth – to show Christians where to find their armor – how to put it on and how to use it to defend themselves against the onslaught of Atheism, Humanism, Naturalism and globalist idolatry of the earth and climate – to empower modern Christians to walk confidently with Jesus Christ and to be able to proclaim the gospel with gentleness, respect and also CONFIDENCE!
Now, it is true that everywhere we look in the world, whatever culture we examine, we find evidence and manifestation of some form of religious expression and religious belief that is deeply rooted in the culture. And it’s not something that is limited to or contained within the confines of primitive ignorant people. We find profoundly intelligent people who are as confident in their affirmation of the existence of God as the Atheists are in their denial. We must investigate all the claims and allow truth to separate the fiction.
We can investigate this world. We investigate the forces of physics in this world and chemistry and biology and we can also examine anthropology. We can examine people. One of the things we can see is a phenomenon that people everywhere tend to be religious. So we ask, “Why?” We need to account for it. Just as a scientist in his laboratory has to give some kind of sufficient or efficient causal explanation for the data that he examines, we need to understand why – the advent of religions. What we will also see in this study is that explanations that are rooted and grounded in psychology are abundant. One common cultural expression of religion we see is for people groups to depict gods that seem to look like versions of themselves. People seem to create gods or a god in their own image. This is in direct contradiction to Christianity where God is the Creator and has created man in His image.
Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist and socialist revolutionary) and a vocal Atheist, said that the history of mankind is basically the history of the conflict of economic clashes between economic groups. He said in any world, in any society, those who control the wealth will always be in a minority and the poor will always be in a majority. And the problem that the wealthy have is simple, how to control the masses. Keeping the masses from rising up in rebellion and taking the wealth and distributing it among themselves is a prime fear of the ruling classes. Marx said there are two ways that the wealthy control the masses:
1) First of all, the wealthy control the legislation so that Justice is in fact not blind, but very much controlled by those ruling classes, thus according to Marx, the law begins to reflect the vested interest of the ruling classes. So, the law will discriminate against certain groups who are not empowered.
2) Secondly, and most interesting to our study, Marx said that the most important tool that the owner has to control the slave, that the rich have to control the masses is religion. He said that the wealthy must use the tool of religion to control the poor. Because what religion does is this: it promises a better life in heaven. That is, if they are good slaves now and behave themselves then someday they will have true freedom. But in the meantime, they must be humble and stay in line with what the ruling class has deemed necessary. In other words, you put them to sleep with drugs of religion. That’s the theory.
And my friends, is it not interesting that we really do see this theory of religion played out quite often in our postmodern, post-Christian society today? This is one reason for so much skepticism today regarding the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. People rightly fear being controlled by a system that would oppress them with false ideals. But, does that description of religion match the truth of Christianity? One who has studied God’s Word carefully without the lens of subjectivity will find that this is not the function or form of Biblical Christianity, in fact it is the opposite.
In another case, Sigmund Freud argued that man is in fear because he is vulnerable to natural disasters or simply the weather or diseases and because we cannot negotiate with these forces we begin to personalize them and believe that there’s a God that is inherent to the natural forces – or lives inside them. Therefore, Freud says, that man personalizes gods in order to appease them and find some control over his environment. Once again, this is very common in pagan practices, but does it harmonize with Christianity at all?
The point is that the age old argument against religion is that it is a man made invention that comes out of some deep rooted psychological need and that religion is used to control and enslave mankind. This is where the element of truth can be found in some common arguments offered by skeptical deniers. Therefore this is where we must concentrate our approach to refuting these claims when they are made against Christianity, because as anyone who has studied the primary documents of Christianity will attest, critics and faithful alike, the teachings of Jesus Christ bear no resemblance to these ancients man-made systems of religion or enslavement.
However, it is very clear that human beings indeed do have the capacity to invent religion. If we are honest in our approach to defending the faith we must admit that up front. You see, man does have the ability to project ideas, to project wishes and certainly we have the ability and propensity to be engaged in fantasy. That is no secret. We all know that. And it is obviously the case that where confusion reigns people are apt to invent a god or gods.
But let us begin defending the Faith on that point:
Here is your first indication that there is a big problem with the idea of these well known false religions and the gods they created. Do we really think that Yahweh, the God of the Bible is the one that man would would create?
Man would not invent a God who is holy, a God who demands perfect obedience to Him with the threat of everlasting torment if we fail. Think about that. If we wanted to create a god for our lives here in the world we certainly would not create one who demands that we serve Him. We’d create one that SERVES US and gives us what we want – like a genie in the bottle. In fact, on a side note, the god of the prosperity gospel looks an awful lot like the type of being that man would create – the genie in the bottle who is eager to bring you riches and happiness and promises of health. This is not the character of the Most High God of the Bible. Christianity is not in harmony with man-made systems of religion.
But let’s step aside from that line of argumentation for now to focus on the point of this message, which is:
Why Atheism? Is God hidden? Does man have an excuse for his denial of God?
Clearly no. There is a God who has so clearly and manifestly demonstrated His existence to mankind that knowledge of Him is virtually inescapable. This is a much better explanation as to why there are so many false religions in existence. Man clearly has the instinct to recognize that there is a transcendent cause for his existence even if he is so apt to corrupt and personalize God through idolatry and self exaltation. The point to be made here in the form of answering Atheist objections is this:
To the Atheist: I have granted you that, even though they are not like the Christian God, mankind is obviously psychologically motivated to create his own god. Are you willing to grant to me that there are also powerful psychological motives for man to deny the existence of the Christian God? A being who demands accountability from you.
You see, my friends, I have encountered in my relatively short-lived duties of sharing the gospel and defending the faith that it is certainly the case that there are people for whom the worst possible news they could ever discover is that there is a God who will hold them accountable for their choices and the way they chose to conduct their lives. Strong psychological reasons to deny – not epistemological reasons – not great arguments for why – but strong psychological reasons for denying the existence of God. That is what we find when we look deeper.
The truth is, we all should fear God. Because we are all guilty before Him and we are all going to be held ultimately accountable. If I am in disobedience to a God who can create universes, then I am in a terribly perilous condition and I might just be more willing to convince myself of a hundred different reasons why I should deny His existence rather than to acknowledge and submit to Him – because if I were to acknowledge Him, then I would have to be obedient to His law – I would have to change my life and that is unacceptable – I am the god of my life!
This is the mindset of most skeptical deniers I have met in my life. In fact, I once held a similar mindset myself. So, I understand why they might think this way. This is why, when speaking to an Atheist or skeptical denier, and they give me the old “give me your best evidence” charge, I always ask first, “Are you inquiring sincerely? Do you want there to be a God? Or are you busy playing the role of skeptic? Is this an emotional quest or an intellectual one? Most often it is an emotional quest of confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance.
You see, nobody is truly neutral about this question. I’ve yet to meet anyone who just had no opinion one way or the other. That is because there is no neutral position when it comes to moral responsibility. One either attributes morality to an objective law giver or he makes himself the god of his world. There is NO OTHER POSITION. And the latter is the heart of moral relativism – a truly untenable worldview.
But, let’s be gracious to the unbeliever. Perhaps they just believe that the free gift of eternal life is too good to be true. If you are an Atheist or skeptical denier and you are watching this and that is the case with you, that you just feel that such a thing is too good to be true, then I beg you, I implore you to investigate God’s Word and to make an honest study of it – because THE MIRACLE IS TRUE! And it is offered to you, too! But you must respond and make Jesus Christ the Lord of your life. You have to set aside your personal godhood and give it to Jesus Christ. Sadly, this is not usually the case. Most of my experience in discussions with Atheists comes with a spirit of hostility. I think maybe now we can understand why that is. Mankind naturally hates the idea of a morally objective and all powerful person because he wants that role.
Let’s look into God’s Word, in The New Testament, to get a sense of what God has said about this specific mindset of denial. Let’s ask ourselves the question: Does man reject God because God is hidden? Or does man reject God because he has chosen to do so? And let’s allow God’s Word to answer this inquiry once and for all.
Let’s study Romans chapter 1 and begin at verse 18. This is the Apostle Paul writing in approximately 56-58 AD (only 20+ years after Jesus’ death and resurrection) addressing those who, like himself, are Roman citizens and subject to the daily influence and oppression of the Roman Empire who at this time were NOT eager to accept Christians in their midst – to say the least. What we can use from this text in application to our lives today is to recognize that unbelief was rampant and persecution of Christian believers was commonplace. With this context, we can apply the text to the similar circumstances we experience in our lives today.
18 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
Look at this word “WRATH”. This word indicates that God is not mildly bothered or annoyed by something or even just angry. The pure exegesis of this term reveals that God is filled with furious anger about something. To the modern day “Laodicean” version of Christianity where prosperity has lulled to sleep, made us fat and happy and of no particular zeal or need for God’s law it might sound like hard teaching to your ears to hear that God is furiously angered. That is because modern Christianity, or rather extra biblical forms of it, have taught that God is only love, there is no punishment and that He loves everyone all the time and that God loves you, “exactly the way you are.”
To quote the late RC Sproul: “The God of Scripture is a God who is capable of being angry. When human beings violate other human beings, and when human beings trample truth, and when human beings desecrate that which is holy, God is angry.”
Let us not get it twisted friends. Our God is an awesome God who reigns and he also has the right to be angry when his creatures behave abhorrently. Never let anyone convince you of the false doctrine that God’s love outweighs His authority. The true teaching from His Word tells us that he is capable of mighty wrath (furious anger) and that his anger is RIGHTEOUS and we ought to fear it. “FEAR” is the right word. Fear is a good thing to have. Fear keeps us from walking too close to the edge of a cliff, fear keeps us from death. What good would an objective moral law giver be if He was not capable of punishing evil? Also keep in mind that God is slow to anger:
Psalm 103 verses 8-11:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in loving-kindness. 9 He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever. 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His loving-kindness toward those who FEAR Him.
He is merciful and patient, but he is not to be tempted or trifled with. This is His creation and the authority is His to express Himself upon His creation as He sees fit. Anything less IS NOT GOD! We need not even claim to have a grasp of the concept of God’s grace until we have understood the concept of God’s wrath. Anything less is NOT objectively moral – anything other than this doctrine is NOT Christianity.
So, what is Paul saying about God’s wrath here? What is it that His wrath being revealed against? Paul is telling us that during that time in Rome unbelief was rampant and man’s overt rejection of God was evident just as it is today as it is expressed in the so-called New Atheism movement and the aggressiveness of skeptical deniers and street epistemologists attempting to weaken the faith of God’s very own children – Paul is saying:
18 “…the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.
So, there is a reason for God’s anger. Can God have an anger that is not justified? The reason for His wrath is twofold:
Because of a particular sin that God regards as both unrighteous and ungodly. It’s not only unethical, but it is irreverent and blasphemous.
This sounds serious! What sort of sin could it be that God is so furiously angry about? What sin is it that is unrighteous and ungodly, unethical, irreverent and blasphemous?
End of verse 18 “who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
If you want to know what really sparks God’s wrath, right there it is. It is not a secret. It is the suppression of His revealed truth. Depending on the translation you might have the verse might use one of these words:
KJV, ESV “hold” NASB(seminary study Bible) “Suppress” NIV “suppress”
Some versions say, “…repress the truth.” Some say, “…hinder the truth.” Some say, “stifle the truth.” The meaning seems clear but let’s take a look at the word used in the Greek New Testament (The New Testament was written in the common form of Greek for the day).
The original greek term used here is the verb “katecho” (kuh-TAY-ho) which is found in the “Dictionary to the Greek Testament” to mean “hold back” or “restrain” or “detain” or “restrain”
As an example, its the term that is also used in the New Testament when the Apostles are held against their will in prison or incarcerated. So the term here is unmistakably one that suggests the contemporary English word, “suppress” or colloquially to hold down or to keep from getting out – it specifically points to something that men are are holding inside or even preventing others from expressing.
Again, what is it that men are suppressing and holding down? GOD’S REVEALED TRUTH
Let’s continue into the passage to get more context and understanding of what and who and why God is furiously angry.
19 “because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.”
Paul is clearly and unambiguously talking about knowledge of God. God is furious with man because he has suppressed, held back, kept from view, incarcerated, locked up inside himself that which is evident, obvious – the truth about God.
“because that which is known about God is evident within them for God made it evident to them.”
Here the word “evident” is shown in the Greek New Testament to be the word “phaneros” (fah-nay-RASS) of which the nearest English equivalents are “manifest”, “openly”, “outwardly”, “make known”, “evident” and “has shown”. Is that quite clear? Could it be more clear that God has said that His presence has been openly and obviously shown to ALL. This is how we also know that it is possible for those who have never heard the Gospel to be saved because of their response to God’s general revelation. It is not an esoteric or tricky doctrine. It is plain to see for those who do not suppress the truth within themselves in an act of denial of that which is EVIDENT.
We often hear stories of how religions are esoteric or have hidden elements that are only knowable to the inner circle and certain enlightenment or initiation is required for one to be able to see the full truth. The Gnostic and Neo Gnostic sects are good examples of this. Biblical Christianity is exactly the opposite. As we see here so clearly God has made it very clear that there is no excuse, but that some have suppressed this knowledge in their own heart in order to deny that it has been shown to them in an act of self exaltation. It seems clear as well that another reason for God’s anger are the efforts of men to mislead others away from God’s revealed truth. It’s bad enough to suppress God’s revealed truth in your own heart, but it seems there is also a definite woe to those who make a practice of seeking to diminish the faith of others. Atheists who make a point to go into churches to exalt their unbelief before God’s family… please, for your own sake, beware. You tread on Holy ground and you have moved God, the transcendent Creator of the Universe, to furious anger with your denial of His plain truth. This seems very ill advised. But, that seems to be a common element within the arrogance of the natural man.
Psalm 19:1 is one more example of this manifest clarity:
“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge… Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world.”
In all honesty, you don’t even need the heavens to declare that! Just look at your mother, your father, your child, the tree in the park, consider why it is possible that man can reason his thoughts at all! It is a miracle that anything exists at all! And even more so that we are here and capable of contemplating such matters with a consciousness unlike any other creature on the planet. To deny the cause of all this obvious effect that surrounds and inhabits us is beyond blind arrogance. It is pitiful denial. We might pray that God shows mercy to the Atheist and forgive them, for they know not what they do. However, God has said, THEY DO KNOW! He made a special point to make sure all would know.
Man is without excuse.
Let’s look at verse 20. The story doesn’t get any better for the Atheist here.
“For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes, his eternal power,” “His eternal power, His divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.So that they are without excuse.”
Paul is telling us (through divine inspiration, God directed) that the invisible attributes of God, specifically His eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen and understood because of what has been made so that they are without excuse. WITHOUT EXCUSE! I don’t hate or dislike Atheists and skeptics, I worry for them because they are so obviously mislead by their own pride and desire to suppress the obvious nature of reality with man-made ideals that lead only to death. This is why I take such a strong stance with skeptics. Because according to the Creator of the Universe, they are without excuse. My prayer is that God will not withdraw His Holy Spirit from any of those who persecute and ridicule us as Believers. I pray that God works in them and in myself that they might come to see the truth of the One who made it all and has offered them access to eternal life with Him. What a tragedy for anyone to miss that offer because he is blinded by his own pride.
God is just. He will allow every man to choose his own path. He has done so right from Genesis chapter 3 in the Garden of Eden when He allowed Adam and Even to choose their own path. Without freedom of choice, there is no such thing as love. God seeks those who seek Him. God’s grace is available to those who will choose it. Likewise, the Lake of Fire is prepared for those who will choose it. Please choose wisely, Atheist friends!
This is not simply an amoral, intellectual question. The question of your affirmation or denial of the existence of God is a matter of moral responsibility. The one excuse that every Atheist and Agnostic will want to use on the final day of judgment is the excuse of ignorance. He will say, “God, I didn’t know You were there. If I had known I would have believed You. I would have followed you. I would have obeyed you.” Sadly, in debates or diatribes online you can see Atheists and skeptical deniers make wry comments exactly like this. How tragic a commentary it is when they cannot see through their own prideful self-reliance to properly perceive the reality they inhabit. Just another obvious sign of the presence of Satan and the fallen nature of man’s heart.
In my opinion, and many others, Agnosticism is no different than Atheism. Sure the definition is different, but the end result is going to be exactly the same. When you get a ticket for breaking a traffic law you were ignorant of, you get no consideration for your ignorance. The same is with God. All men have been shown. After Jesus came to reveal God’s character to the world, God no longer winks at ignorance (Acts 17) there is no longer an excuse.
What Paul is saying is that people claim ignorance as an excuse, but it is a fraudulent claim. I have seen real hostility emerge when people who are hostile to Christianity discuss these matters. They get angry at ME! Sadly, they are not responsible to me to believe this. We are all responsible to God for how we choose to live our lives. They don’t have anything to fear from me! I’m not going to persecute you or prosecute you or try to bring any harm or injury to you about these things. Even though you might very well choose to persecute me for what God has revealed to the world. Be of good cheer is the world hates you.
John 15: 18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you…But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.
Ultimately, affirmation of the existence of God is not an intellectual question; it’s a moral one. We choose to engage the Atheists and skeptical deniers in intellectual forums because it is the only way to reach a man who worships intellect above God. But, the final truth of the matter is this: if you refuse to affirm the existence of God, you are in moral opposition to the objective moral law giver of the universe. That is like denying that if you jump from a ledge you can will yourself not to crash to the ground – a deadly mindset to hold.
Finally, the most damning selection of the passage comes in verse 21.
“For even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.”
Pay very close attention to what is said here – the fundamental sin of the human race, the most basic crime that one can commit against God is this: at the very time you knew of His existence, you refused to honor Him as God. You refused to give proper gratitude to your Creator. According to the Apostle Paul, who was very familiar with Atheism and skepticism from dealing with Epicureans and the Stoics is that it’s not that the Atheist doesn’t know God. The problem is that he refuses to acknowledge what he instinctively knows to be true. He rejects and claims to not know that which is present all around himself. And he chooses to claim that there is no evidence at all while he refuses to hear any evidence contrary to his prideful position and that is dishonest.
In light of what we have learned here from God’s Word regarding the Atheist and skeptical denier’s mindset, when answering objections from skeptics regarding the existence of God it is always wise to give this disclaimer,
“I am happy to debate this with you as long as you want and I’ll do my very best to answer as many questions as I possibly can, but I am going to be honest with you right from the start. I don’t trust you. I think you’re trying as hard as you can to suppress knowledge of God with sophistry and pride so that you don’t have to be accountable to God. If you really want to know God, I can introduce you to Him right now. Otherwise, I no longer volley with those who are skeptics for sport.”
Is that a Biblical approach? We have just learned that it is. The New Testament declares it. The Apostle Paul pulls no punches and neither should I, or should you.
Verses 22 and 23 express the psychological aspect of the Atheist mindset.
“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man, of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”
And in verse 25, we read:
“they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.”
Is it not interesting, considering what we have discussed here in this presentation that what man usually does with the revelation of God is to turn it into a religion. Sometimes he gets it slightly wrong other times he turns it into pure idolatry and gets it very wrong by worshipping the creation above the Creator – which is sadly upside down and is found within the so-called Christian churches even today. When you hear people say things like, “I don’t recognize all that anger and fury and wrath you’re speaking of, my God is a loving God.” The only response is to say, “It’s quite possible that your god is an idol of your own creation.” We all have a basic instinct toward idolatry and things that satisfy our desires and flesh in the moment. That is expected.
However, notice the difference, Atheism is not a normal response to man’s experience of reality. Our usual instinct is NOT to turn God’s revelation into ATHEISM. Atheism is an aberration within the mind of mankind. A wholly misguided mindset that has no basis in reality. An irrational worldview, in fact not even a worldview because it is highly subjective and relative from one denier to the next. In fact, Atheism is an emotional system of belief that can be shown through modern psychology to possibly be the result of some trauma.
The following is a paraphrase of an analysis offered by the late theologian, author and Prebyterian Pastor, Dr. RC Sproul regarding the psychology of the Atheist (and my term skeptical denier). Psychologists are very much interested in traumatic experiences that result very specific repressions. We can use Paul’s inspired words here as an analog to modern psychological analysis of repression as a result of trauma. Here is what it would look like.
QUOTE “In many views of psychoanalysis, psychiatrists and psychologists are interested in traumatic experiences and the damage they cause unconsciously to our psyche. There’s constant probing into the secrets of our past to see where we experienced trauma as children and how that baggage can be carried through our entire lives. For example, I may go to, I may go to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist and I’m greatly distressed about something. And he begins to take my family history, and he, he not only listens to the words that I say he pays attention to my nonverbal communication. He may ask me about my dreams. We understand that we can communicate in other ways besides words. And if that psychiatrist was taking my history and he says, “How do you get along with your mother?” And I say, “Mother? (facial tic) I always got along great with mother (facial tic). My mother* and I were terrific. I love mother* with all of my heart.” And every time I say, “Mother,” I do that*, he’s reading my body language. My behavior is saying something exactly the opposite from my words. And the idea with repression is this, that I have a tendency as a human being, if I have a scary experience, an unpleasant experience, a traumatic experience, to try to take the memory of that and bury it as deep as possible into my subconscious. But what modern psychiatry understands is that no matter how much I seek to hold it down, to hinder it, to incarcerate it, to suppress it or to repress it, that repressed knowledge does not annihilate the memory. It may not be in the conscious mind, but it’s there. And like Freud used to say, it’s like if you’ve expelled a boy from class, from school, and once you send him out of the classroom, he runs around out in the playground. He picks up pebbles and he comes out and starts throwing little stones at the window to let everybody know he’s still out there. Well, those traumatic memories that we have are like the little boy. We get these uncomfortable symptoms from the past and we’re not always aware why. So, repressed knowledge seeks to come back to the surface, but when it comes up, it comes up disguised. It will come out in a dream, in a strange symbol, in a strange tic or gesture because it is too scary to come out in the form that caused it. And so what we do is that we bring it back out, according to modern psychiatry, in a substituted form that is less threatening. In other words, we exchange the original idea for a counterfeit.” UNQUOTE
My friends, this is exactly what Paul is describing as the basic psychology of the human mind regarding God. Specifically what I’m offering to you here is to say that the scariest thing to a sinful person in all of the world is the holiness of God. The person who KNOWS he is in rebellion to the Universal Creator inherently FEARS the consequences of his actions. The best way to get rid of surface fear is to repress it. Stuff it down. SUPPRESS IT.
When God reveals His righteousness and His holiness to us it can be overwhelming and scary to us. Take for example the elder John in Revelation where he meets the Holy representation of Jesus Christ in a divine vision and falls flat on his face as if dead. This happened to other prophets in the Bible. Just to be in the presence of such divinity in an unglorified human body can even be deadly. Moses was hidden in the cleft of a rock while God’s image passed by in order to protect him from God’s holiness. That is POWER. It’s similar when we consider our nature as fallen beings who are not naturally able to experience the divinity and Holiness of God. This fear of wrath from pure holiness is a shocking thought to us all and we have all considered it at some point in our lives. What some of us do is bury that fear or repress it as deeply as we possibly can in the depths of our psyche, but as we learn from the study of psychology the memory of the revelation cannot be destroyed. And there we see the relationship between “suppression” in verse 18 and “exchange” in verse 25:
We repress, then we exchange. We exchange the truth of God for a lie. We exchange the holiness of God for an idol, something that is more comfortable and more in-line with our worldly desires and ideals. We exchange the law of God for either a man-made version of religion or we exchange God’s law for the outright denial “suppression” of God, because we have a deep psychological bias against a God who is holy, morally objective, all powerful, all knowing, eternal, and transcendent. We do this because it is easier to enjoy the flesh and the pride of life without God’s law in the way.
Mankind is naturally God’s enemy Enemy. It sounds like harsh teaching but that is our condition from Genesis 3 onward. We are at enmity with God UNTIL we seek his mercy and then He is faithful and true to His Word to forgive us and sanctify us if we follow Him. He holds us under his wing. Psalm 91 verse 4:
He will cover you with His pinions, And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.
There are certain things about God that mankind does not like. God is holy. God is all powerful, and we don’t like someone who is holy AND more powerful than we are. God is immutable, He does not change! Man’s instinct when finds something or someone that challenges his own morality is to perhaps try to corrupt him and make him just like myself.
But, God is incorruptible. He is holy now and He is holy FOREVER. God will not negotiate His terms with man and that terrifies man deep inside himself.
So if we’re going to debate the existence of God, we ought to consider the psychology that we are dealing with first. Because if we are talking about Yahweh, if we are talking about “God with us in the flesh”, Jesus Christ, then we are talking about a God that people have a driving passion to deny. So, brothers and sisters, fellow followers of Jesus Christ, do not be mesmerized, intimidated or persuaded by the flashy arguments of Atheism, especially when they tell you that you only believe because you NEED to, because you have a psychological NEED for a God. Because we know better than that now don’t we? We know that they have every psychological NEED and DESIRE to deny God and that their need to deny God has clouded their judgement so severely that they can’t even see the majesty of the creation they live and breath within every day. Don’t be intimidated, my friends, and don’t be afraid to evangelize them. The Atheists and skeptical deniers are just scared and trying their very best to deny that which would hold them accountable. Pray for an Atheist every day. They’re dealing with a lot of repressed trauma from suppressing the truths that God has given us all. The life you save may be one very close to you and as Christians we seek to bring ALL PEOPLE to Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 13-17
13 Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. 17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.