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Why Make a Bet You Can’t Win?

Jun 10, 21
JMorgan
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6 comments

Part 3 (of 3)…continued from prior blog post

Maybe it was the pastor’s humility, confessing that Andrew was justified in seeing many Christians as judgmental and hypocritical, that convinced him to meet one last time.  During that conversation about “sin”, Andrew expected to be cornered and guilted, not watch a Christian fall on his sword.  Andrew’s neighbor, Bill, was just excited he was able to broker a third meeting between a pastor and an atheist!  Bill also enjoyed being a fly on the wall learning responses to the standard arguments all atheists raise against Christianity.

The pastor assumed today could be his last opportunity with Andrew, so he had a strategy…

“Thank you for hashing through a tough topic last time we met.  There’s no way around the question of whether sin exists – it’s the fundamental disconnect between the Christian and secular world views.  We’re either accountable for our actions when this life is over or we’re not.”

“Hey, I have a wife, boss and police to keep me in line.”  Andrew’s wry smile quickly disappeared.  “I don’t answer to any imaginary god, and don’t appreciate churches holding the threat of eternal punishment over my head to get me to do what they want.”

“That’s not my intent.  But since you bring it up, are you 100% confident there’s no afterlife?  You’ve asked me to prove there is a God, but can you prove there’s not?  How do you know for sure?  Are you willing to bet the ranch with absolute certainty?  There’s a lot at stake here.”

“All I know is what my eyes see and my mind tells me – proven scientific facts.   Unless you’ve got some way to validate Heaven and Hell, then they’re just figments of your imagination.  Or worse, they’re inventions intended to manipulate uneducated masses.”

“I’m just saying, given the size of your wager maybe it’s worth retracing the roots of your unbelief.  Was your decision that death is the end truly about science alone or is there any chance it stemmed from disappointment with God for not doing or being what you wanted at some point in your life?  Many atheists once presumed God’s existence but faced unmet expectations or just preferred the freedom to live without His constraints.  Motives matter.”

“My family wasn’t religious.  The only time I remember praying, maybe once or twice, was when my mother got sick.  Looking back, it was a silly thing to do – a desperate act by a confused child.  College and business confirmed what I already knew – everything Christians ascribe to God can be explained by natural phenomena and the power of self-determination.”

Bill didn’t know Andrew had lost his mom at such a young age.  “So sorry for your loss – that must have been really difficult.”

“Thanks for sharing such a painful memory, Andrew.”  The pastor decided to open up too.  “I lost my dad at a young age, and in my case, it got me thinking about my own mortality.  It’s part of what led me into ministry, realizing this life is short.  Leading people toward Christ felt like finding out seashells would be the currency next year and trading all my dollars for shells now.  Conducting business in earth’s economy seemed less important than saving in Heaven’s account.  I started living for the line and not the dot, doing now what I’ll be doing then like praising and serving God, rather than what ends when I die like maximizing income, impressing people and worrying.”

“Then you’re not living in reality.  What a waste because this life is all there is.  I’ve heard the saying, ‘if you’re too heavenly minded you’ll be of no earthly good’.  Living a heaven-centered lifestyle when heaven doesn’t exist is like being granted parole but returning to your jail cell.  How can you be effective or relevant in the here and now when you’re always looking ahead?  I live for the moment because it’s fantasy to believe there’s anything outside space and time.”

The pastor briefly revisited a prior argument.  “An external actor, or ‘uncaused first cause’, had to be present outside the space-time continuum before creation – and He won’t disappear when space and time end.  In the meantime, looking forward actually enhances the human experience because Christians willingly sacrifice short-term personal pleasure for the good of others.  Whatever we do provides greater meaning and joy knowing the returns on our investments don’t stop at death.  We have a saying, ‘aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get neither.’”

Andrew was a businessman, but spiritual ROI was a completely foreign concept.  “If you’re wrong about eternity then you’re missing out on so many chances for success and happiness.”

“Actually, if I’m wrong we’re both going to wind up in the same place, six feet under – but quite frankly if you’re wrong, you’ve got a real problem.  Yes, you’re freer to chase what we consider ‘sin’ like greed and lust, but we have forever to enjoy what God provides.  So we don’t need to milk all we can out of this life before we’re worm food.  Atheists need justice now, wealth now, and notoriety now – but we have plenty of time for all that so we leave them up to God.  We seek His approval, not man’s, and don’t demand justice since Christ is the ultimate victim.”

“So you forego the visible for the sake of the invisible.  Can you hear how crazy you sound?”

“Actually, it’s worse than that.  A disciple of Jesus Christ is called to die to self – like the soldier in the foxhole who must reckon himself already dead to muster the courage to fight.  Funny, that reminds me of the old saying that ‘there are no atheists in a foxhole’.  Anyway, according to the Bible, what’s unseen is more important than what’s seen.  Christians give up the temporary for the permanent.  We’re all one accident or diagnosis from death, so we die to worldly impulses sooner than later.  We’re already citizens of Heaven since our seat is reserved, so we have dual citizenship.  We reside in America but are citizens of a Kingdom.  This is not our home or our destination.  Our priority isn’t where we live but where we’re headed.  We receive a new birth certificate when we pledge allegiance to Jesus.  Under His authority we don’t give up freedoms but gain an ability to say no to sin and to know we’re forgiven when we screw up.”

Andrew knew there was another side to the eternity story.  “That’s great for you, but what about the billions who your religion says are bound for Hell?  What kind of God condemns non-believers to eternal torment for a single ‘crime’ – even unbelief?  Do you call that fair?”

“The question isn’t how could a good God send people to Hell.  It’s how could a just God rescue bad people from Hell?  We do so many thousands of things wrong in our lives yet professed atheists and non-Christian faiths tell God that He didn’t need to send His Son to endure torture and crucifixion to pay for their sins.  ‘Thanks, but no thanks!’  Everyone in Hell chose to be separated from Jesus.  Why would we expect to have a relationship with God after our deaths if we didn’t have one with Him during our lives?”

“Then why doesn’t He show up and prove that He’s real rather than hiding Himself from unsuspecting non-believers destined for damnation.”  Andrew’s sarcasm hid his sincerity.  “If He did exist, then He’d be on the hook for causing what I see all around me – pain, death, corruption and disease.”

“How has God revealed Himself to you, Bill?”  The pastor was testing Bill, concerned that a long-time church member didn’t appear to have responses to Andrew’s stock objections to Christianity.

“Personally, there are hundreds of ‘God-incidents’ in my life that were far too miraculous to be chalked up to ‘co-incidence’.  Maybe when you appear before God one day Andrew, you’ll understand all the invitations and evidence you missed on this side of eternity.  Even the hard times my family has gone through points us toward Jesus – we pray more and sense His love during our darkest days.  And knowing our troubles will be over in Heaven gives us strength.”

“Well, I just hear crickets and am not waiting around for a sign from above.  Meanwhile, I have all I need – family, friends, wealth and weekends – and don’t need faith as a crutch.  Plus what I see from Christians is about the same level of judgment and compassion you depict in your God.”

That familiar refrain had always bothered and convicted the pastor.  “Unfortunately, Christians aren’t always a perfect reflection of a flawless God.   Somehow many miss a key fact that you gloss over as well – that each of us is not simply the sum of our physical bodies, words and actions.  We are an eternal soul created in God’s image.  Christians often judge based on outward appearance but that’s just our candy coating – an ‘earth suit’ housing our true identity.  Our bodies can be falling apart but our souls can be in perfect health.  Yet many churches treat members like consumers, focusing on what God gives to them and not what He expects of them.  The message is they can punch a free ticket to Heaven and then live however they’d like, including looking down on non-Christians rather than looking up, seeing each individual’s eternal value in the Lord’s eyes.”

It’s Your Turn

Do you feel the conversations with Andrew at least moved him from staunch Atheism to uncertain Agnosticism?  Is questioning the wisdom of banking eternity on what can’t be proven a solid approach for making headway with professed atheists?  Or is there a better way to break down their resolve, like radically and relationally demonstrating God’s love to them?

6 Comments

Lowell  June 12, 2021 at 4:52 pm

I think Christians miss the mark by focusing on Jesus’s having died for their sins. Accountability may involve being made aware of the consequences of our actions-not necessarily punishment. That anything as incomprehensibly powerful and all encompassing as God would expect humans to believe one story about one man, in one of humanity’s many wisdom traditions, on one planet- is silly. My belief is that God is better than that. Christians would better serve themselves and the world by focusing on Love. Follow Jesus’s example of being love.
I do feel that love is eternal but it does not require anyone else to agree with that idea. Compassionate service, forgiveness, non-judgements acceptance, careful listening…enhance quality of life for self and world. If you want to convince others that the path of Jesus is true, be loving and allow them the basic dignity of finding out for themselves. Love is more powerful than one religion’s stories.

    JMorgan  June 17, 2021 at 7:40 pm

    Lowell – But how do we know what love is without Jesus. Without God’s sending His son to pay a debt He didn’t owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay is the definition of love. Also, God’s gift of the Holy Spirit living inside of believers (after Jesus’ ascension) provides the only power we have to love unconditionally (Agape). You seem to be arguing for more brotherly love (Philia) and familial love (Storge), which are corrupted by man’s agenda and self-centeredness. Man is not capable of the kind of love that would convince anyone to surrender their selfish priorities and follow Jesus.

Fred Weiss  June 14, 2021 at 6:46 am

Jesus never existed.

Neil  June 16, 2021 at 9:30 am

We had some neighbor friends a few years ago: a young couple — one was agnostic and the other atheist. In a humorous moment, I asked them how their behind-the-scenes arguments went. Perhaps like this? “There is no God!” And the rebuttal, “Oh, but there might be!”

*smile*

Yes, the stakes are high. And it is worth talking about. Thanks Jim.

    JMorgan  June 17, 2021 at 7:29 pm

    Neil – Appreciate your comments, brother. Yes, the stakes are high and worth spending the past 3 blog posts laying out a hypothetical conversation between a professed atheist and a pastor. Hopefully it helped fellow believers learn potential answers (that they may not have been provided at church) to the same few refutable objections atheist always raise. If nothing else, these posts have afforded a huge number of Christians and so-called “atheists” to make their arguments, present the Gospel and debate their positions on Facebook.

Neil  June 16, 2021 at 9:52 am

One thing we can agree on — that a ‘God’ would be perfect, and the world we see around us should not be this way. So even my atheist friends would gladly welcome a perfect God, if indeed he exists. And they wouldn’t want him to cavalierly disregard the evil they see in the world — war, rape, muggings, corporate greed, etc.

So we all want a perfect God and perfect world. But the paradox is, at the same time, we want a God who would be patient with us personally.

It’ll be Fathers Day shortly. And fathers are patient with our children. And our children want us to be. Yes? But what father, after years of patient, loving, even sacrificial care for his child, wants to hear: “Your patience, your sacrifices never existed. I’ve done this all on my own. You’ve played no role. It’s like you never existed. I owe you nothing.”

The question is: How patient do we want that God to be?

And the answer is: He’s patient with us for a lifetime. And after that, the judgment.

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