Paul Poulton considers the argument against God
A survey in the World Factbook estimates about 12.5% of the world's
population are non-religious and about 2.4% are atheists. The survey
was carried out in 2004, but since then atheists have taken a leaf out
of the Christians' book and become more evangelical; they seem keen to
promote their beliefs, even taking to advertising on London transport.
Perhaps they thought that believers in God have had it too good for
too long, so now the atheists are on the march.
I can see the atheists' point: Maybe Christians have made statements in the seclusion of their churches, and, if we are honest, some of the statements may have been of an uncertain nature. Proclamations about wide-spread satanic rituals, backward masking, scientific conspiracies, the Common Market, the last days and other declarations that are hard, if not impossible to verify.
Social media is now a part of people's lives and it's a lot harder for people who have faith to make a statement without it going unchallenged. In some ways being challenged is a good thing, because Christians may sometimes let a brother or sister make a dubious statement without challenge because we are, after all, brothers and sisters. But some atheists have no such qualms and will dive head-long into a rebuttal of a faith-based remark. This approach helps us see each other's point of view: we sometimes see the glaring flaws in the atheists' position, but also we sometimes see the bizarre nature of statements made by some enthusiastic Christians.
The percentage of people who call themselves atheists seems to be rising in the UK. My wife and I sometimes get talking to people about faith in God and lately people do seem happier to identify themselves as "atheist". The "no God" option is made a little easier for people to subscribe to when celebrities such as Stephen Fry unleash a vitriolic tirade against God. When Stephen was recently asked on a TV programme what he would say to the Almighty at the gates of heaven, Stephen denounced God as "utterly evil, capricious and monstrous" if he were to exist. So now, people who see Stephen as a sensible chap, who seems to have his head screwed on, notice that he is an atheist and they may be more likely to call themselves atheists too. Stephen at one point was considering ordination into the Anglican priesthood, but these days he's known as an atheist. He may change his mind once more, there are certainly a lot of testimonies around of people who were atheists who came to faith in Christ. And well known former Christians who have since lost their faith in God. Both parties have trophies to parade.
We ought to note that coming to faith in God is not a "change of mind" thing. It is a "change of heart" thing. We don't find God by logical progression. If we did, all the clever people would be saints and we know that some intelligent people are far from being saints and closer to being clever devils. People who are looking for proof of God using their intellect are looking in the wrong place. Christ knocks at the door of our heart, not our head. How much intellect does a human being need to weigh God in the scales and find him guilty? How big do those scales need to be? Stephen seems happy to think he's covered all his bases and hasn't overlooked anything that might prove important when putting God on trial.
Stephen went on to say, "the God who created this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac, utter maniac." But Stephen is an atheist, so he really doesn't believe that God is a maniac. The present state of the universe has led him to his conclusions. He is really saying there are some shockingly awful things in the universe and people who attribute the creation of the universe to a loving God must be totally naive. And yet there are still people who say their hearts have been touched by God's love even though they know that bad and horrible events happen in life.
In fact life being as it is, is one of the factors that has alerted
them that all is not well with the universe and one of the things that
is not well is their own human soul. Human beings are a part of the
universe, so yes, all is not well with the universe, because all is
not well with human beings; we hurt each other, we fight, steal,
cheat, maim, rape and abuse, etc. The creation groans under the weight
and the universe reflects the evil. We reap what we sow and all is not
well. Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us where disasters,
disease and death will be no more, but we are presently living in what
John in Revelation calls the, "old order of things".
The trouble in the universe alerts us to the fact that humanity is not in the eternal home that God has made for us; we are not 'there' yet. The danger and dilemmas show us that this universe is temporary, and also allows us to see that we need help. Trouble can be what CS Lewis called a "severe mercy". That we see things go wrong, and sometimes disastrously wrong, helps to warn us of our need. Many people around the world cry out to God, and place their faith in God and find him to be there for them. The faith must come first - without faith it is impossible to please God. We need to come humbly, with our hearts open. There are many testimonies around the world of people whose lives have been changed by faith in God.
When I was a child there were occasions when I was angry with my parents. They disappointed me and they sometimes caused me some pain and consternation. I occasionally cried and stamped my foot. Yet they truly loved me. Now I am older I understand why I underwent the discipline. Christians believe that one day we will be older, and though we now see "through a glass darkly" we will one day see and understand clearly.
We may wonder how God feels about Stephen calling him "utterly monstrous" and told that he "deserves no respect whatsoever". In fact a lot of questions may come into our minds: Is God angry that Stephen would say such things about him? How many people who may be heading towards faith in God will be hindered by Stephen's accusations about God? Should we put God on trial?
Stephen is actually a little late with the trial because the actual trial took place a long time ago and God the Son was handed over to the Roman soldiers to be executed - sometimes people will side with the accuser. While Jesus was on the cross he said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
Christ's love reaches out to us all, including those who put him on trial.
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