They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. – Ephesians 4:18
Someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus, or the God of the Bible, will often times be quick to explain why he or she doesn’t believe. These are generally motivated by three main pretexts:
- the experiences he or she has had with Christianity insulted their intelligence
- the experiences they had with Christianity were negative, or even traumatic
- or, they simply feel they don’t have a need for God in their life.
In my experience, the reason someone is an Atheist is because doubt, misunderstanding, and/or deception has taken over their heart and mind.
Somewhere along their journey in life, they were negatively influenced to the point of openly rejecting the notion of God. This influence may have come in the form of a family who didn’t quite ‘live their religion.’ I have met families where the parents are regular ‘churchgoers.’ They are at every activity, they volunteer at every church event, and they are almost always in attendance at their weekly Bible study. And yet, their children don’t want anything to do with God. Why is that?
As I have gotten to know many different families, I noticed many times that their home life wasn’t quite in agreement with their public life. While they seemed to be completing all of the functions of a faithful Christian, in private they were anything but. In interacting with their children, these parents were argumentative, judgmental, and oftentimes outright combative. Although God was spoken of in the home, He was not felt there at all. Phrases similar to ‘because I said so’ are often thrown around in these types of homes. There is little compassion, love, or understanding shown to the children; and thus, they grow up never understanding the joy and happiness that comes with feeling the light of Christ. In other words, they never see the benefit, nor the incentive, to living a Christ-like life.
Another common experience among Atheists is a traumatic event. This is absolutely a sensitive subject because there are so many cases where a church authority figure may have molested, or otherwise sexually abused someone when they were a child. Oftentimes, the abused will grow-up associating this experience with Christianity itself, instead of viewing it as an isolated incident. What’s also very unfortunate is sometimes other church authority figures, mostly motivated by their pride and vanity (i.e. their public image), will attempt to cover-up the event. These types of life-changing experiences can scar a person for the rest of their life. And, in the process, can cause the victim to harden their heart towards anything associated with that church, or its belief system.
Apart from abuse, there is another class of traumatic experience that can be caused by the death of a loved one. Perhaps someone lost a child to an illness, or a spouse to an unfortunate accident. In these incidents, a person might blame God for what they see as an ‘injustice’ towards them or the lost loved one.
The last type of Atheist is perhaps the toughest to work with, simply because he or she doesn’t have any ‘need’ to know God. This lack of ‘need’ can stem from monetary wealth, an abundance of secular education, and/or a self-professed “understanding” of Christianity in general. When Jesus mentioned that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a ‘rich’ man to enter into the kingdom of heaven, he was referring to the this type of person (Matthew 19:24).
When a person does not want for anything, then he or she oftentimes does not feel a need to be saved from anything.
So, if we approach this person with the idea that they are ‘not saved,’ that they are in danger of eternal suffering, they will more often than not become defensive, or completely right us off as ridiculous. And, it isn’t their fault, this is simply the way people are.
For example, if I go up to a person who works out everyday at the gym, eats healthy, and generally takes care of their body, and I tell them that they are in danger of dying, they will most likely be skeptical of what I have to say. All they need to do is simply analyze their lifestyle and conclude that what I am saying appears unrealistic.
So, is it possible for the proud, and wealthy, and scholarly to be converted to Christ? Yes! But, it is very difficult for us to be able to have any kind of influence on them if they feel they don’t have any place in their life for God.
So, what can you do in this type of situation?
- First and foremost, you must approach this type of person with humility in your own heart. Talking down to them, or challenging them in any way, will only bring conflict and contention.
- Second, you must allow them to see how Christ is working in your own life.
- And three, we must be patient and know that they’re on God’s time, not ours.
Usually during life changing events, people look outside of themselves to find answers. If we truly befriend someone, and they happen upon a time in their life that causes them to reflect upon their past decisions, then that is the moment when they are most teachable. Perhaps the ‘wealthy’ friend that we have is going through some sort of financial difficulty. Or, perhaps the ‘scholarly’ friend who says there is no God has just lost a loved one. Maybe the friend who says that he or she knows everything they need to know about Christianity is going through some sort of trying time in their life, and you can be there for them! You can not only teach them the benefits of knowing that God is available to us, no matter who we are, or what happens to us, but also show them what a Christ-centered life looks like through your example.
But, how do I teach someone the benefit of having God in their life if they won’t listen to me?
Honestly, there isn’t much you can say that will get them to listen to you. But, what we can do is show them the light of Christ in our hearts by how we live our lives. It is this Godly happiness, that can only be found in one who has been saved by grace. When things get tough, they may look to you for guidance on how to be happy again.
But, in order to aid in the conversion of anyone, we must first be truly converted ourselves. When we are converted, the light of Christ is able to shine through us; and, those who see His light “. . . will not remain in darkness” (John 12:46).