If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. – James 1:26
As a Christian, one of the most important things that needs to change, when it comes to having a conversation about God with an Atheist, is this ‘holier-than-than-thou-art’ mentality. What I mean by this is, Christianity, just like any other belief system, has the tendency to create an ‘us vs them’ stance. Many Christians see those who don’t believe in God as wrong, plain and simple. Because Christians know they have the truth, and they just know that Jesus is the answer to everything, then everything else doesn’t matter by default.
The Christian might think: “Why should I care about what you believe if I already have the truth? You need to do what I say and believe in Jesus!”
While Christians might not use those exact words, they’re stance often times comes off as arrogant and cold.
If you truly are your brother’s keeper, and you truly love your fellow man, then you want to help those who don’t believe in God to understand the joy that comes with having Jesus in their life. Which means things like your pride, your insecurities, and even your own beliefs need to take a backseat.
But, you might ask, “how can I preach the Word if I put my own beliefs second? Isn’t the whole point of ministering to share the truth with these people?“
And my answer would be, “Yes and no.”
Yes, they may want truth; but also No, because it isn’t you that’s going to give it to them. Only God knows the truth. Our job isn’t to give truth to anyone, our job is to love our neighbor as ourselves.
The first thing that needs to happen is a change in the idea that Atheists don’t believe in anything. While they may not believe in what you believe, they do believe in many things. Some of the most kind, generous, loving, and all-around good people are Atheists. What’s even more, Atheists who do good things for others don’t do them expecting some kind of heavenly reward, or godly recognition, they simply do it because it is the right thing to do. And if that isn’t the true essence of Jesus’ teachings, I don’t know what is.
When the Christian labels an Atheist as a ‘non-believer,’ what they are essentially doing is perpetuating a false narrative; in other words, making it seem as if they are unable to believe. This is simply not true. What has happened is an Atheist has placed their hope in something else. While there are many reasons people choose not believe in God, the one thing that is across-the-board true among all those who don’t believe in God is: it doesn’t make sense to them. They simply can’t wrap their brain around it. To the Atheist, belief systems like Christianity seem absurd, or antiquated, or in many cases even self-contradictory.
I remember one conversation I had when I was an Atheist. In it, I asked a very common question to my Christian friend:
I first said to him, “I could never be a Christian because the Bible contradicts itself all the time.“
“How so?,” he asked.
“Well, look at the Old Testament. God is killing people all over the place. But then, all of a sudden, Jesus shows up in the New Testament and it’s all peace and love. So, which is it? Why is it OK for God to kill everybody, and then he says for everybody to love their enemies. That doesn’t make any sense.“
Now, if your first reaction to this question would have been to take out the Bible and start preaching, you already lost. Or, if your reaction to this question is to start defending God by saying things like, “You don’t understand, we don’t know how God works. We just have to have faith and be obedient to His will;” then, again, you have already lost.
Too many times, the Christian is trying to explain God in ways that cannot be explained. What that means is, the Atheist is speaking a language of logic and reasoning, and the Christian is speaking a language of faith and belief. Oftentimes, I’ve found it sadly amusing to see a Christian attempt to explain why he or she believes in God, or Jesus, using deductive reasoning, or so called “evidence” of the Bible being true. If you have a habit of doing this yourself, please stop. It’s not working and you look ridiculous.
Christian Apologetics is only good for reinforcing your own beliefs. If you choose to believe in Jesus, and some archaeological finding appears to back up what you already believe in, then great! But, the vast majority of the time, when your goal is to present a rational argument in the defense of Christian beliefs, then you are not spreading the Gospel, you are defending it from attack. And the last time I checked, words like ‘defend’ and ‘attack’ were associated with fighting and contention, and contention hardly ever converted anyone.
I have had conversations with Christian Apologists, and the scripture that gets thrown around a lot is 1 Peter 3:15, which says, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” But, if you read this scripture carefully, does it say we should give a defense of God, or Christianity? No, it doesn’t. It says we should be ready to explain (i.e. give a defense), to those who ask us, why we choose to follow Jesus (i.e. a reason for the hope that is in us). It doesn’t say go out and prove God exists, it simply says tell people why YOU believe in Jesus. That’s it!
When I would ask Christians why they believed, a lot of times I would simply hear, “because it’s true!” And then they’d leave it at that. I heard others try and explain their belief through Bible scriptures, mainly while preaching to me what they believe, but not necessarily why they believe it (e.g. the Apologists). But then, that would lead me to the say, “OK, great! There’s all this evidence about the Bible, but what does that have to do with you?” When I was in South America, most people I asked would tell me they were Christian because their parents were Christian. While this seems like a very logical conclusion, it didn’t really help me at all.
In places like the United States, because it is a country with such an abundance of wealth, we often forget just how much we rely on God for everything that we need. Thus, when we are faced with a challenging question like, “why do you believe in God,” we may be quick to forget the real reason why we believe; or, rather, the reason why we should believe in God. I would venture to say that the vast majority of Christians, especially those living in the United States, believe what they believe simply because that’s what was introduced to them at a young age. You are a Christian because you were told what to believe! If a person is born in Afghanistan, and you had to guess what religion they were, would you say Scientology?
Now, are there Scientologists in Afghanistan? I don’t know . . . maybe? But, that’s not the point. Most of the time, your culture shapes your belief system; but these beliefs are not personal to you. Hence, they are not your beliefs, they are your culture.
How many Christian households raise children in their church only to see them become Atheists when they are grown? How many Atheists raise their children in a home that doesn’t promote any form of religious doctrine, only to see them grow up and believe in God? In short, we shouldn’t confuse personal conviction with external influence. Christianity should be a unique experience, a private experience.
On one occasion, when Jesus was talking to the Pharisees, he explained, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation . . . For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).
If you can’t feel God in your heart, or if you can’t recognize His influence in your life, then all the Bible scriptures and church attendance in the world isn’t going to do you a bit of good.
A perfect example of why someone believes in God was illustrated to me many years ago by a young woman living in one of the poorest parts of Ecuador.
She was a single mother living in a cane shack, with a dirt floor. She had one small foam mattress for her and her child, a small table for cooking, and three plastic chairs. I asked her where her husband was, she said that he had left her about a year prior. I asked her if she had any family. She said she never knew her father, and her mother left her when she was a little girl to immigrate to the United States. She grew up with her grandmother who later died of a stroke. I asked her how she supports herself. She told me that there were many months where she had no idea how she would be able to feed her child, let alone herself. But, somehow, she always had just enough to survive. I asked her if she believed in God. While holding her one-year-old daughter in her arms, she looked me in the eyes and said, “of course I believe in God.”
When I asked her why, she replied, “because He’s the only thing I have.”
Up until that moment, I had never personally experienced anything in life where God was literally the only thing I had. I grew up in a privileged country, in a home that always had food in the kitchen, and a warm, comfortable bed for me to sleep in. But this young woman never had any of those things. Her only hope was for a benevolent God to provide the things that she needed for her tiny family to survive . . . and she was grateful for everything she received!
Whether I realized it or not, for a long time, I struggled to find a personal answer to such a simple question:
Why am I a Christian?
Perhaps I never had an answer, which is most likely why I turned away from Christianity, and God, all together. But, after much soul searching, much introspection, much mediation and prayer, and a whole lot of struggle, I finally found my answer. . .
. . . because it works for me.
Subjective reasoning is basically my opinion. Regardless of what it is based upon, in the end, it’s mine. The things that I have experienced, and the pain that I have gone through, have lead me to trust in Jesus. While I may not know all the answers to all the things that absolutely make no sense about the Bible, or Christianity in general, that doesn’t matter to me. I have found comfort and joy in the God of the Bible.
You can debate all you want with someone about the merits of Christianity, or the evidence for or against it, but at the end of the day, the debate itself becomes the focus, not God.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he asked, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Corinthians 13:5) So I ask you, is Jesus Christ in you?
Are you sharing your beliefs, your parent’s beliefs, your culture’s beliefs? Are you sharing Christian dogma or so-called “archaeological evidence?”
OR, are you sharing Christ who is in you?
I tried being an Atheist and I didn’t get much out of it. Christ keeps me centered. Christ’s teachings in the Bible give me personal clarity and focus. I know why I am a Christian . . . do you?