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I was perusing a recent CNN photo gallery of famous atheists and was reminded that there is a concept currently en vogue in our culture which states, essentially, that the world would actually be better off without religion. The CNN piece pulled quotes from each person referenced, included Christopher Hitchens, who viewed religion as “the main source of hatred in the world,” and Sam Harris, who wrote that “the greatest problem confronting our civilization is not merely religious extremism: rather, it is the larger set of cultural and intellectual accommodations we have made to faith itself.”
Often this rejection of religion is tied to a very real and palpable perception of the stark injustice of the world in which we live. While some would argue that God could not exist based on the amount of evil and suffering in the world, others go even farther and assert that belief in God is the primary sourceof evil and injustice.
There is another brand of “pop psychology” en vogue today that is typically expressed as some variation of, “Just be who you are.” Don’t let someone try to change you. You are who you are. Just be yourself. While in some cases these may be helpful encouragements that build self-esteem, to others they have taken on a different meaning. The suggestion that anyone’s behavior might be wrong has become taboo, offensive, and hypocritical. “This is who I am. Don’t try to change me!”
This has created a tragic irony. We are keenly aware of the injustice of the world and yet unwilling to admit that we might have some small part in it. We see evil all around us, and yet cannot face the fact that the same evil impulses lurk in each of our hearts. It is self-denial of the highest order, the kind that Jesus condemned so strongly in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14).
And in some cases we begin to play the blame game. If it’s not my fault then the fault must lie with someone else. Here religion becomes the scapegoat – another tragic irony. In a remarkable twist, the one group willing to hold up a high moral standard is to blame for the evil in the world.
Christianity has a different message than the “pop psychology” of our culture. Christianity says that you’re not alright. Your heart contains the same evil impulses that every human heart contains (Jer. 17:9), and with varying degrees of frequency you’ve acted on those impulses (Rom. 3:23) to the detriment of yourself and others. The mistakes you’ve made have damaged your relationship with God and require reconciliation with Him through Christ’s death on the cross (Col. 1:19-20).
Christianity places us in the rather uncomfortable position of seeing our hearts in a mirror rather than through the rose-colored lenses we use so often. But Christianity offers hope that you truly can become something different: a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). You can be forgiven and restored by a God who loves you immeasurably (Eph. 3:18-19), even when your heart was far from Him (Luke 15:20, Rom. 5:8, 1 John 4:10). This is not an offense any more than a doctor is offensive when she diagnoses a disease and provides the pathway for a cure.
In fact, the injustice of the world – far from being an argument against God’s existence – is actually an argument for God’s existence. Here C.S. Lewis, a former atheist, gives us some clarity:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I gotten this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too — for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist — in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless — I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality — namely my idea of justice — was full of sense. Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning. – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Imagine a world without religion. (Actually, you don’t have to try too hard; imagine communist Russia and China.) Do men no longer abuse women? No, abuse comes from the human desire for power and control. Do wars cease? No, there is always an excuse for war, but the underlying motive is the same: the insatiable desire for more. Are all people treated justly and equally? No, in the absence of accountability, people will still take advantage of those who have less power.
All of these evils and more are covered by 1 John 2:16, which argues that they come “not from the Father but from the world.” That is, they are not a part of God’s character. They are a part of the innate human rebellion against God. And when they occur in the church – God forbid it should be so! – they arestill not a part of God’s character. Instead it is a tragic confirmation that all of humankind is desperately in need of repentance and forgiveness.
In fact, the point here is actually not to convince an atheist that God exists. The point is not for atheists at all. It is for those who call themselves Christ-followers. The injustice of the world – and our existence amidst a culture that increasingly does not share Christianity’s fundamental belief in God – places a significant moral demand on Christians.
More specifically, live holy lives.
The book of 1 Peter was written to a group of believers who were beginning to face social pressure and persecution from a society with very different fundamental beliefs. The author’s pervasive admonition to his readers was to live holy lives among non-believers (1 Pet. 1:15-16), “for it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people” (1 Pet. 2:15). Believers must not live as though the forgiveness they have received has freed them from further moral obligation (1 Pet. 2:16). Followers of Christ no longer have the option of living solely for themselves. Instead they live lives on display, for nothing less than the reputation of God depends on it (1 Pet. 2:12, Matt. 5:16).
Christians, we must not be afraid of the mirror that Christ places in front of our souls; that sort of denial is the source of hypocrisy. Instead we constantly return to the mirror asking God to show us how we can be more like Christ, confident that His love is never-changing, and eager to bring Him glory through the holiness of our lives.
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