Is it OK to sympathize with atheists – sometimes?

For those of us brought up in the church, the Gospel of Christ is so, well, so believable. We’re used to it (too used to it). Yes, we have to believe it for ourselves, but it doesn’t shock us or stun us so much (though it should).

But try to put yourself in the shoes of an unbeliever; I’m thinking especially of those who have never heard the Gospel. Have you ever tried to imagine how hard it is for such unbelievers to believe the Gospel message? I mean consider what we’re asking them to believe:

  • God spoke to lots of people in lots of places about lots of subjects using lots of methods over lots of years, resulting in an infallible document called the Bible that we can totally trust.

That’s actually relatively easy compared to the next bit. Hold on tight because in the person of Jesus Christ:

  • God became an embryo in the womb of an unmarried virgin.
  • God was born
  • God grew up – baby to toddler to infant to teenager to young unmarried man
  • God learned and slept and tired and thirsted and hungered and sweated and cried and laughed
  • God lived as a man for 33 years in this world and never committed one sinful act, spoke one sinful word, thought one sinful thought, desired one sinful desire.
  • God lived as a man for 33 years in this world and never omitted one duty to his parents, his siblings, his friends, his community, his boss, his church, or his civil rulers

But that’s still elementary school compared to what comes next: In Jesus Christ:

  • God suffered
  • God suffered the wrath and curse of God
  • God was crucified
  • God died
  • God came alive again
  • God went back to heaven with his human body and soul
  • God runs the universe today in a human body

And if you’re still breathing, brace yourself to graduate to these truths:

  • God offers the perfect earthly life and justice-satisfying death of Jesus to murderers, rapists, adulterers, gamblers, liars, Jihadists, homosexuals, Pharisees, and even to religious and moral people.
  • God will save anyone, yes anyone, and everyone, yes everyone that puts their faith in Jesus alone
  • It does not matter what you have done or not done, if you repent and believe in Jesus you will avoid hell and go to heaven forever when you die
  • Let me put that a fourth way – you do not contribute one atom of effort to your salvation.
  • And a fifth – because it is so “unbelievable” – Salvation is a gift to trusters not a reward to workers.

And if anyone’s managed to believe all that, try this for a finalé:

  • The one life and death of Christ, lived and died 2000 years ago, has saved and is saving millions and millions of people from every country and generation
  • God will come and live in your heart when you believe in Jesus – and He will never leave you – EVER.

I mean, come on, are you not beginning to sympathize with unbelievers a bit?

Well, if you’re starting to soften, let me now turn it around a bit so that we don’t let unbelievers off the hook. First, this Gospel Good News fits the human condition perfectly. Although it’s stunning, it’s not like whiplash jarring. It fits what everyone knows in their conscience about their spiritual need. That’s why Paul says that unbelievers are without excuse. And that’s why when the Gospel is preached to unevangelized people, they often believe it quicker than churchgoers who have been hardened by Gospel unbelief over many years. It answers and meets humanity’s deepest needs so nut-and-bolt perfectly.

And, second, we have the power of the Holy Spirit to rely upon as we preach and witness to the “greatest” unbelievers. What else could have made us believe all that? And what else can make unbelievers believe any of that? Thankfully we need not rely on our own powers of persuasion, but on His.

And that’s what makes the unbelievable so incredibly believable.

  • Bernard

    David I went from total unbelief to saving faith through a single gospel talk, lasting 15-20 mins, at my school when I was fifteen. When I look back I see two factors at work: I could see that the message fitted perfectly with my observation of the human condition, and the Spirit softened my heart towards what I heard. Precisely the same two factors that you mention above.

    • David Murray

      Wonderful story Bernard. What an amazing Savior we have.

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