When I was eleven years old in middle school, I knew a smart and pretty young girl. She knew that I was smart and that I was a good student and she was nice to me. I thought she liked me and, as you might imagine, I liked her very much. When I went to my first school dance, it was only natural for me to approach this girl and ask her if she would like to dance with me. “I just finished dancing and I am tired”, she said and my hopes soared, “ask again later and we will dance then.”
At some point, I think her friends got to her and asked, “Why were you talking with that loser?”. Whatever happened, when I came back later I got a bit of a rude shock. “I don’t want to dance with you loser!”, she yelled and ran away crying. It was quite the embarrassing scene and despite the fact that I was used to bullying and being the object of mockery, this experience was extremely painful. I never went to another dance again.
Experiences like that one had an enormous effect on me in that they caused me to reject my father’s “human beings are all loving and all a part of God” religious beliefs and become an atheist. If the human beings who hurt me in school were any indication, then I didn’t want anything to do with human beings or their “goodness”. After reading the Diary of Ann Frank, I generalized this decision. If the Nazis were good people, then I didn’t want to be good because the whole idea was ridiculous nonsense. A goodness that can torture and injure people is not worth living for and, in fact, makes me want to die. I still feel that way.
I thought of this incident when I watched a review of the recent debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye by “The Young Turks” channel on YouTube. What is the connection? Consider the following quotation from the video (@14:00):
In the Bible, you have the philosophical stuff and then you have the stuff that purports to be fact, historical fact or whatever. Over time, you strip more and more out of that as science reveals more and more about our history . . . You get rid of that stuff. The more you get rid of it the more the Bible will become basically just another philosophy book . . . At that point you compare it and contrast it with other philosophical texts. I think, for the most part, that it (the Bible) will lose out when you do that, except for some of the stuff that Jesus said that you can find in many other philosophies.
In my essay, “Reasons to Disbelieve” I believe I have been very honest about the various reasons to reject Christianity. One might even read that essay and ask, “Why is this man not an atheist?” The reason I am not an atheist is that I think this “Young Turk” is completely 100% wrong and has it exactly backwards. If you remove the unbelievable elements from the Bible, what you have left is the most compelling and beautiful vision that has ever been offered to humanity. To understand why I feel that this is the case, let us ask a question. What would a good God’s attitude have been if he saw the young man that I was getting rejected by that young woman and her friends so long ago? There are a variety of possible responses:
Look loser those young girls were right! You need to learn how to be popular and pretty like them.
Look loser, I don’t care about your feelings either. You need to toughen up princess because sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you.
Don’t get mad, get even. Lose some weight, buy some fancy clothes and go out with those women and use them for sex. Buy them some stuff, tell them that you love them, cheat on them and after a few years jettison them like some used garbage. Be sure to mention in parting that it is not them but you because you have a fear of commitment since your parents divorced.
None of these options seem like the response of a loving and mature human being, let alone a loving God. If there was a God who was truly loving, then his response would have to be something entirely different. Perhaps it would be something like this:
I saw the way those people treated you and it made me want to be sick. When I see that kind of behavior, it makes it difficult for me to do the endless amount of work that I do on a daily basis to sustain human life. It was for that reason, that I decided a long time ago not to sustain such people and pronounced my judgment on all sinful people. “The soul that sins deserves to die” (Ezekiel 18:20). That is how much I care about you, Rob. Those who have hurt you do not deserve my love and blessing and I have proclaimed them unworthy of the blessing of life.”
Now in the short run, God’s concern for me would be a balm to my injuries. In the long run, however, a problem would arise. The problem would come about because those young girls are not the only ones who God would observe behaving in a way that God finds unworthy. Watching me long enough, God would also observe me doing things which were insensitive, selfish and evil. After one such event, he might come to me with his divine judgment. Perhaps he would say something like this:
Rob, do you remember how I told you that those young girls who injured you did not deserve my blessing of life when they hurt you? I have some bad news. I saw what you did to that little boy, over there. You made fun of him in much the same way as those little girls made fun of you. You also are not worthy of my blessing of life and all the hard work I do to sustain your existence. You also do not deserve the blessing of life and are subject to my divine judgment of sin.
At this point, God’s righteous judgment which was a balm to my earlier hurts has now become an inescapable sentence of death. I go to God and I say, “God you are right. I behaved badly and I do not deserve your love or your constant effort on my behalf. What can I do?” It is at this point that the significance of the cross of Jesus Christ becomes clear. If the God responsible for writing the New Testament were to answer me directly, he might say something like this:
I knew that you were incapable of perfect love when I created you and it comes as no surprise to me that you did not love those around you perfectly. If you accept the sacrifice that my son Jesus Christ made on your behalf on the cross at Calvary, then I will help you to love those around you. In this way, you can become the person that I want you to be, and realize your full potential loving others in eternal paradise. As the first step along this new path, I want you to forgive those young girls who injured you and share the good news that my love and assistance is freely available to all human beings.
With all due respect to the “Young Turk” and those who agree with him, the message of the cross taught by Jesus Christ and his disciples in the New Testament is absolutely unique, truly compelling and sublimely beautiful. It is the only way that I know of to reconcile the dark and terrible world that we live in , the people that we are and any consistent concept of divine love. It offers us genuine insights into who we are and how we can become better people. It has also offered a vision of our potential as children of God that has inspired tens of thousands of people to make the world a better place. To argue that Christianity would die out if we stopped believing in a simplistic interpretation of the creation story told in Genesis is not to understand or be aware of the deep needs that human beings have for meaning and love. It is to be ignorant of what Augustine meant when he said, “our hearts are restless until they rest in you”. I do not believe in Jesus Christ because I think the Bible accurately describes a 5000 year old creation, I look for reasons to believe in the Bible despite the obvious difficulties because within its pages I find this unique, compelling and beautiful vision “as through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
** Note that this essay relies on a few arguments that I have presented before. For more about the divine death sentence see “Examining Death from God’s Perspective“. For more about God’s provision see, “Examining God’s Provision“. For more about the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and Christianity see, “Jesus Christ, the One and Only“. For more on the cross of Jesus Christ, see “The Nature of the Atonement“.