The Fly in Atheism's Ointment

I enjoy talking to atheists. It’s fun watching them scrabble for answers to the truly deep philosophical questions of life. Questions like “How can we know what is morally good” generally confound them. I like challenging a scientist to take all the exact chemicals used to make an acorn and get them mixed in such a way that an oak tree will grow from it.

It amuses me to see the bewilderment in their faces as they realise science can’t answer these questions. Science can’t explain life. No robot will ever be truly self-aware in the way a human being is, no matter how well it’s programmed. “Terminator” is unlikely to happen for real.

These confounding questions are a thorn in the side of atheists. They simply have no answer. Try asking one what caused the Big Bang. Or to prove the theory of evolution. Scientifically it actually can’t be done. It’s a theory. They can show an apparent progression, but there are many links in the chain missing. It requires a deeper “faith” to believe we evolved by chance than it does to believe we were created – by whatever means that creation took place, be it natural evolution or God’s hand at work – which I find infinitely more likely.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not so far down the fundamentalist road that I think the Earth is only 6000 years old, but I have what I believe is a healthy level of skepticism about carbon-dating accuracy.

Perhaps the answers to some of the “mysteries” of the world are in scripture. Maybe the pyramids were the great store-houses built by Joseph and the Pharoah of the day (possibly Akhenaten who was known to have converted to monotheism of the Aten or Sun-God in the fifth year of his reign) to store seven years of harvest and nothing more. Nobody would paint inside a barn today, so why would then be any different? The suggestion was made in what is considered a work of fiction, Thomas Mann’s “Joseph and His Brothers”, but as with much fiction perhaps there is a certain amount of fact mixed in?

I can’t prove it one way or another, and science seems to not be interested in exploring the possibility as far as my research can tell (although I stand to be corrected).

But the biggest thing I hear is the problem of the world itself. Atheists seem to think Christians in particular – especially fundamentalists – believe this world is as God created it and that He is in complete control. This makes Him out to be a monster. Genocide in the Bible and modern times are all His doing and His will.

They can’t seem to grasp the concept of Free Will.

Free Will, given to mankind represented by Adam in Genesis, was responsible for the murder and mayhem in the world today, not God’s Freewill, but humankind’s. When you say this an atheist will usually ask why God doesn’t correct it. They can’t seem to grasp the thought that God desires us to follow Him willingly, not as automatons like a terminator.

Freewill is the fly in the ointment. The spanner in the works.

If Man has freewill, then the state of the world is mankind’s creation and not God’s. The purpose of Christ , then, becomes exactly what He claimed it to be – a restorative and redemptive relationship-building exercise leading to the eventual vanquishing of evil from humankind in general and the recreation of the Heavens and Earth. If, however, mankind is simply another mammal then we are in deep trouble. Moral decay becomes inevitable and the destruction of this world a mere formality. We have already got the weaponry and mindset to destroy the planet many times over – it is simply a matter of time.

Like most Christians, I prefer to look at the glass as half full. We may be in the final days, but freewill prevents us from destroying everything we have created and everything God left here for us to enjoy while we are here. Long life in this world is listed in the Old Testament as a Blessing for Obedience – although an argument could be made in some cases that God simply doesn’t want those people yet as He wants to give them a chance to repent.

Whatever our personal view, the fly remains in the ointment. Freewill will always be here. Humans and self-awareness go hand in hand, and we all – atheists and deists alike, seek a reason for our being here at all.

Personally I believe it’s a practice for the awesome Relationship we will enjoy in His presence for Eternity.

Vision. Humility. Courage.

The title says it all. The three things we need to live in a state of Victory despite our circumstances.

Vision:

Vision gives us hope. It allows us to see beyond our current circumstances whether it be poverty, ill health, homelessness, divorce, debt or any other adversity that plagues us as believers. It allows us to search for and find refuge from the storms of this world and the attacks of the enemy.

Vision allows us to see, as God says through Jeremiah in chapter 29:11, a hope. A plan. Prosperity not harm. A future.

Vision allows us to see beyond our circumstances.

Those who know me personally know my circumstances. I’ll share some with you all here as it is a part of my testimony. Six years ago in 2009 my life was finally coming together. My wife and I were working hard to build a business which was succeeding to the extent we were able to own our own home, give away to the less fortunate without thinking about it and plan for a baby despite our advancing years.

All that changed 1st April 2010. Routine surgery went horribly wrong for my wife. Infection set in and she became sick to the point of being only days from death when we finally sought a second opinion. The doctor we went to and his team quite literally saved her physical life, but the psychological damage was done, as was the financial. Due to her failing health we had to give away our business – it was incurring debt we could not service and the prayerful decision was to give it over to someone we could trust to offer the same level of care we had offered to our patients. By March 2011 we had some answers. The infection was exacerbated by secondary incurable infections which modern medicine can hold at bay but not yet cure. Weakened, she could not work. As a foreigner in South Africa, a white, male, tertiary qualified and business experienced foreigner I was unemployable at that level of the business world. I took a job in a call center so we had some income, and God provided the balance we needed from most unexpected and unlikely sources.

People we knew to be wealthy beyond our dreams accused us of “temerity” when we asked for assistance. People we could never have imagined could assist us gave out of their lack into our hands and bought us time for my wife to begin to recover.

In time, a vision emerged. A new business which is now growing. But the time was not without cost. We sold our home, our car and everything not nailed down to minimise the strain on us and our benefactors. Tragedy struck in the form of cancer in our family to not one, but two members being struck down within months of each other. It seemed our hopes were in vain, but the Vision remained.

More than that, the vision grew. What began as a medical practice has grown into a medical center with other practitioners operating and cross-referrals going on daily. We all benefit and the vision continues to grow.

So we reach humility:

Humility is the ability to receive guidance and gifts given in Love. Humility is acknowledging our strengths and weaknesses equally bluntly and allowing God to step in and build us in our weakness, provide for us financially and keep a roof over our heads.

He has been faithful in that. We have never been without a home where we have been welcomed and loved, and there is the possibility of more to come if we will humble ourselves to receive it.

Receiving a blessing from others is hard when you’ve always been the conduit in the other direction. Humility gets twisted into humiliation by the accuser. This is simply not the case. To receive from someone giving out of God’s command to them is to Bless that person. It requires the Godly Humility to recognise we cannot do this alone and we need to have help in this world. God moves through people to help us. His Blessings – especially financial ones – come through other people. A place of Refuge is often provided by the most unlikely, or at least unexpected sources. Accepting it is to give a Blessing in return to the giver.

It’s a gift we must learn to walk in to draw close to God.

Finally we have Courage.

Courage is the hardest step. It is the determination to move forwards in the direction the Vision has shown and the Humility has provided guidance for.

But we are often comfortable in our situation. It’s familiar. When Peter walked on the water to Jesus in the storm he acted out of courage. He had the vision that trusting Jesus was the right first step. He had the humility to cry out to Him for help because he could not save himself. He had the courage to step over the side of the boat onto the water.

The other 11 disciples were comfortable in peril. They clung to the boat despite knowing it was sinking. The knew in the raging storm they would die if they didn’t do something extraordinary, yet Peter was the only one with the courage to act on the Faith of God inside him, and as a result he walked on water to Jesus. Even when he began to sink he cried out to Jesus, not to the men in to boat to throw him a line.

Courage despite the circumstances.

Three small concepts at first glance.

Three exceptional steps to getting from drowning in problems to walking on water.

And the best part? Jesus is right there waiting to take our hands and lead us over the troubles to safety.

Rich man and Lazarus in the 21st Century

I love the overtly descriptive way the Amplified Bible tells the descriptions in the story of Dives and Lazarus.

“There was a certain rich man who [habitually] clothed himself in purple and fine linen and reveled and feasted and made merry in splendor every day. And at his gate there was [carelessly] dropped down and left a certain utterly destitute man named Lazarus, [reduced to begging alms and] covered with [ulcerated] sores. He [eagerly] desired to be satisfied with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover, the dogs even came and licked his sores.” (Luke 16 19-21 AMP)
There’s no doubt about the Worldly social standing of these people. The rich man, Dives in some translations, has it all. Cars, houses, clothes, money. Lazarus has nothing. We don’t know where he came from to be reduced to such a level, but the analogy applies today.
My Grandfather was a preacher, an officer in the Salvation Army during World War Two. He used to lament with me about the people who had material possessions who refused to help those who had lost everything because they didn’t “owe” it to them to help. That was England in the 1940’s.
Here in South Africa in the years since the fall of Apartheid, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened. The rich elite are no longer the white minority, but the veterans of the Struggle who feel they are “owed” or that they “worked for” what they now have. Cars. Houses. Clothes. Money.
There is still minority rule in the “free” South Africa. It’s just now it’s a minority with more melanin in their skin than before.
This isn’t a political rant, it’s a social one. I write about the disparages in South Africa because I live here and see it every day. People drive their cars costing R500k ($50k +/- US) or more past beggars on the street who will probably never have that much over their lifetime, never mind to buy a car, who just want to not go to bed hungry, or just need R5 (50c) to spend the night in a shelter with a bed instead of on the street.
It’s not limited to any social starting place. Victims of poverty in South Africa and the world in general start anywhere. Then something happens. In South Africa it’s often HIV/AIDS or TB or any one of dozens of preventable diseases that can lower people from places they’d worked their whole lives to reach to destitution, losing homes and all the material things including jobs that had kept them able to cope. Now they are the poor, but the rich still don’t see them.
There’s a moral blindness, and in this “tolerant” society, the loss of a recognition of Hell as a real place. As a result, an “everyone goes to heaven” mentality has developed. It’s marked here, but I saw it in England before I moved out here, and I read about it all over the world. There’s Facebook groups declaring themselves to be “Progressive” Christians who teach it. Alarmingly, many of the people who spout this non-biblical nonsense are ministers and even bishops in the various denominations. There’s a sense of telling the masses to keep quiet because they’ll be rewarded in heaven – and the masses buy into it – and the richest that it’s ok to worship their wealth and hoard it up for themselves.
I heard a brilliant teacher say many years ago now “I’ve never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul”. It makes sense to me. I’ve lived at both ends of the spectrum. Illness several years ago prevented me from working for over two years and before I was 30 I was told by doctors I’d never work again. Government handouts are not huge sums of money, and I had to try to cope. Since then, I ignored the doctors. I trusted God, and He brought me out to a place where I was able to study, get a degree and start my own business. So much for man’s facts.
And it occurred that the man [reduced to] begging died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And in Hades (the realm of the dead), being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom.” (Luke 16:22-23 AMP)
There’s a warning coming in Jesus’s story. He speaks of Hell and Hades as real places, not metaphor. It is clear from the many references in both the Old and New Testament that Hell is a very real place. Something liberal theology tries to make us dismiss.
 “And he cried out and said, Father Abraham, have pity and mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame. But Abraham said, Child, remember that you in your lifetime fully received [what is due you in] comforts and delights, and Lazarus in like manner the discomforts and distresses; but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who want to pass from this [place] to you may not be able, and no one may pass from there to us.” (Luke 16:24-26 AMP)
The beginning of the warning. Jesus is making the point that he’d had his reward in this life, not because it is either in this life or eternity, but because having that kind of power that great wealth gives you in the world also gives you a responsibility to help others with it. I’ve met multi-millionaires who live on 10% of their income and give away the other 90% to build shelters, churches, sponsor missions, provide the helpless and downtrodden with their needs on a day to day basis, and after they give away that kind of money they are still millionaires. One in particular whom I met at a conference told me he believed it was his Christian duty to live how he did, and as he began to give, God blessed him back financially faster than he could give it away, so he increased his gifting percentage. His business boomed, so he gave away the profits – and it boomed faster. There was a correlation between the two. Money isn’t a bad thing. I’ve been well off, and I’ve been broke (well-off’s better). The difference only comes with how you use what you have.
And [the man] said, Then, father, I beseech you to send him to my father’s house — For I have five brothers — so that he may give [solemn] testimony and warn them, lest they too come into this place of torment. But Abraham said, They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear and listen to them. But he answered, No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent (change their minds for the better and heartily amend their ways, with abhorrence of their past sins). He said to him, If they do not hear and listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded and convinced and believe [even] if someone should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:27-31 AMP)
Another of my Grandfather’s quips was “There’s none so blind as them what refuses to use their eyes”.
He was right.
Using South Africa as an example, a now wealthy family who spent time in exile during Apartheid, rub
bed shoulders with the likes of Mandela but missed his point completely, can say to a family member struck down with an illness that is a death sentence “we owe you nothing because we worked for what we have” while another member who stayed and resisted in the country can say to the same family member “we owe you nothing because we give this out of love for you. God has blessed us, please let us bless you now”.
The difference? The first worships mammon. The second follows Christ.
Hell is real. I’m not a “turn or burn” preacher. I’m not saying “Give or go to Hell”. But there’s a warning in Luke 16 here telling us if money is our god and we choose to worship it, God Himself will not deny us that choice.
In the meantime, I daresay in a few years we’ll see South African hearses fitted with a tow-hitch for the U-Haul…