I've been blogging for a while now; this month makes nine years. My online discussions with critics, however, go back over 20 years to the old, AOL chat rooms. I've been on FaceBook and many online forums like CARM where I've engaged atheists head to head – not just answering the comments left on my blog. I read other people's blogs, watch their videos, and listen to their arguments. Suffice it to say, I've heard about every reason there is that people use to reject God. Yet in all that time, all the different arguments I've heard can be grouped into just a few different categories.
Before I get into the categories, let me just say that I have my doubts that these are the real reasons why people reject God; they are merely the excuses they give. I think, deep down, they ultimately reject God because of their sinful, prideful, rebellious nature. They would prefer to continue in their sin rather than submit to God. They want to live life how they please and simply are trying to convince themselves there will be no judgment at the end of it. But since these are the excuses they give, they are what I will use.
Keep in mind that critics will seldom limit themselves to just one of these categories. Usually, it's only one of these things that will first cause someone to doubt, but once he has rejected the idea of God completely, he always embrace the other things as well. Here are the categories I've seen.
Some people claim to reject God because of the “bad things” they see in the world. It's common for people to say things like, “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” This includes not only people doing bad things but also natural disasters like earthquakes, plagues, famines, or tsunamis. Sometimes, there will have been a personal tragedy in the persons life, like the loss of a loved one or maybe a divorce or abuse. They believe that God doesn't act at these times because there is no God.
Other people claim to reject God because they reject the biblical standards of morality. They will point to passages like 1 Samuel 15:3, where God commanded Saul to destroy the city of Amalek and describe it as genocide. They say a loving God wouldn't condemn things like homosexuality. Dan Savage once said that the Bible was “wrong” on slavery so how can we trust it on things like sexuality? They also question the “fairness” of God forgiving really bad people or condemning “good” people who reject Him. They aren't just questioning why God let's bad things happen, but claim God Himself is bad. Critics believe if there were a God, He wouldn't act like this.
People also claim to reject God because they see no evidence that He exists. I can't tell you the number of times I've heard people ask, “If there is a God, why doesn't He just show Himself?” These critics see the universe operating according to fixed, physical laws and we don't really need to invoke a god to understand them. Just a few months ago, I blogged this quote: Why is God so stingy with direct evidence?... [T]he supposed miracles that attest to a supernatural power all happened in ancient, pre scientific, times, in which there existed no means of reliable verification. These supposed miracles are not being duplicated today so that we could see that such things are possible.... A loving God would not erect such high barriers to belief and then further compound the difficulty in believing by providing us with such strong evidential circumstances against the supernatural, such as the inviolability of the laws of nature. These critics believe if there were a God, He would make Himself known in an obvious way.
I could include people who reject the Bible on the grounds that they claim it contains contradictions and so can't be divinely inspired. This is more of an argument for agnosticism than atheism. That is, they may still think there could be a god, they just don't believe it's necessarily the Christian God of the Bible. This category isn't really relevant to my point today. I just raise it in case people later try to claim I didn't think of it.
As we review this short (but nearly exhaustive) list of reasons, we see a theme begin to develop. These people aren't merely searching for God and not finding Him. Instead, they've imagined how they think God should act but they can't find a god that acts like that! In other words, they aren't really rejecting God, they're rejecting a straw god, one they've created in their own imagination.
If we look at these reasons objectively, we can see they're non sequitur. Take the first excuse, for example: bad things happen so there can't be a god? How exactly does that follow? It's sort of like saying, “doctors are supposed to heal sick people but, since there are still sick people, doctors must be imaginary.” You can see how that doesn't work. The second point suffers the same way. It makes no sense to say, “I don't think homosexuality is a sin so if God thinks so He must not be real.” Finally, no one can seriously claim that God can't be real because He won't appear on the evening news and tell us He's real. OK, maybe they do claim that but it still doesn't make sense.
There is a God. He is loving but He is also just. The bad things that happen in the world are His judgment for our sins but He has made salvation available to all who believe. He has redeemed His people by shedding His own blood and He will restore His creation where there will be no more death. He also has made Himself known through His prophets, through His word, and through His Son, who became flesh and dwelt among us.
It's no wonder some people can't find God. They're looking for a capricious god who loves sin. They're not rejecting God; they're rejecting an imaginary god who doesn't exist.