It is an over simplification, but the work of some popular atheist writers can be summed up in the phrase, “God does not exist and I hate him.” The God they deny is presented as a vengeful and capricious dictator along the lines of Nero. Passages from the Old Testament are pulled from their context to support the notion that God is a monster and should be hated. The tone of these writers is often one of anger or disgust.
This is a very different view from the way that Jesus represented his Father. In Luke 15, Jesus presents an image of God as a loving father who is watching and waiting for his wayward son to return. When the son eventually comes back, the father greets him with rejoicing rather than reproach. The son comes home expecting a tongue lashing but instead finds himself the focus of celebration.
The church can unwittingly reinforce the negative view of God by presenting the Christian life as one of rule keeping. When Christianity is reduced to a set of do’s and don’ts, the implication is that God is watching and keeping score. When in reality, God does not keep score and it is the church members that are watching.
The primary thing that believers can do in response to the claims of the angry atheists is to continue to walk in relationship to God and live out the claims of the Gospel.
Paul tells us in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (NASB) The salvation to which Paul refers is not a one-time event such as buying a lifetime membership to a shopping club. Salvation is an ongoing process of reclaiming the territory lost to the Enemy in the fall. Elsewhere Paul uses the analogy of clothing to describe this; we are to put off the old man and put on Christ, like we put on and take off garments.
Living out the claims of the Gospel means being loving when attacked. It means being patient with those who are irreverent toward God. It may mean that we suffer real persecution for our beliefs. In short, it means that we respond to the world around us the way we see Jesus responding to it in the Gospels.
Recently, a commentor on this blog correctly pointed out that we cannot argue anyone into the Kingdom of God. Those who have the perception of God as an angry and vengeful bully will not be persuaded by quoting Scripture or well reasoned arguments. The only thing that may break through is a life lived in imitation of Jesus.
A line that I heard a while back comes to mind, “you may be the only gospel that your neighbor reads.” It is by living out the truth of the Gospel that we can provide the correct perspective on who God is. We are called to represent him well, as did our example, Jesus.
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