by Kyle Butt, M.Div.
If a hundred atheists, agnostics, or unbelievers were asked why they do not believe in God, they might give a hundred different reasons. Certainly, no single reason has emerged as the quintessential answer for unbelief. The problem of evil, pain, and suffering would rank at the top of the list, as well as the claim that “religion” is unscientific.
There is, however, another primary reason that many people give for not believing in the God of the Bible. They say that they would believe in a god if he acted different than the one in the Bible, but they simply “cannot” believe in a god that would act like the one discussed in the “holy book.” An excellent example of this argument comes from an article written by Ronald Defenbaugh. In it, he chronicled his life, pointing out specific times when his unbelief was confirmed by a particular action or idea taught by a “religious” individual or institution. In a paragraph detailing his early years of raising a family, he stated:
One evening, a friend about the same age as us rode home with us from one of our children’s sporting events. This was the first time I realized I may have a real problem with believing. She was a good friend of my spouse’s, a member of our Church and very religious. I don’t remember how the subject came up but salvation was our subject of conversation. She stated that even though my father had been an honest, caring person who did nothing but good, he would not receive salvation. He could only go to Heaven if he accepted Christ as his Savior. I remember thinking that I wanted no part of a deity that sent my father to Hell under those circumstances. Why would a baby, or my father, or even me be sent to Hell just because we didn’t accept Christ as our Savior? What about the Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists? Again, what about me? This started me thinking that I probably was without belief. Or at least I didn’t understand it. It didn’t fit my logic (2003).
While his reference to God sending a baby to hell is without any biblical support, his understanding of the teaching of the concept that the God of the Bible will send to hell all individuals who have reached the age of accountability (the level of mental maturity at which a person is capable of understanding the concept of his or her own sin) and who have not accepted Jesus Christ, is absolutely accurate (John 8:24). Understanding this precept very clearly, he stated that he “wanted no part of a deity” like that. It is almost as if he is implying that if the God of the Bible were a little different, or if He better “fit” Defenbaugh’s own ideas, then he might be willing to believe in such a God.
Let’s analyze this position. Those who “cannot” believe in a God like the one in the Bible, conveniently accept as true all the characteristics of God that make Him look like a heartless tyrant. For instance, they accept that the God of the Bible is a deity Who has ordered executions of “immoral” nations that do not worship Him. They also accept that the God of the Bible will confine certain individuals to eternal destruction due to the “wrong” decisions of those individuals. (The word wrong is in quotation marks because the actions the Bible labels as wrong and the actions accepted as wrong by many unbelievers often are quite different.) After flipping through the Bible and compiling a list of all the things that they think a true god should not do, they then declare that they cannot believe in a god that would do such things.
In doing this, they neglect to accept the other characteristics of the God of the Bible that would make acceptable His actions and decisions. For instance, 1 John 3:20 states that God “knoweth all things.” There is not an unbeliever alive who would claim to know everything. Could it be that the things known by the God of the Bible, which are unknown to the skeptic, might just be the very things that could sufficiently explain God’s actions? Isaiah 55:8-9 states: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” If the skeptic accepts from the Bible the ideas about God with which he disagrees, is he not equally obligated to accept the statements about God that explain the depth of God’s character? If the thoughts of God and the ways of God are far above all the ways of man, could it be that, in the great cosmic scheme of things, an all-knowing God might have some plans of which the skeptic is not fully informed?
To postulate a capricious God Who confines people to eternal destruction simply because those people do not “dot a few i’s” or “cross a few t’s” seems an easy straw man to destroy. Yet, when the “rest of the story” is told, the picture becomes much clearer. The fuller portrait of the God of the Bible is of a deity Who is all knowing (1 John 3:20) everlastingly righteous (Psalm 119:142), loving (John 3:16), compassionate and merciful (James 5:11), anxious for all men to be saved (2 Peter 3:9), and willing to give them numerous opportunities to do so (Acts 17:26-27).
The later portion of Defenbaugh’s article reveals the true essence of rejecting the God of the Bible. Defenbaugh commented that atheism “means no belief—no belief at all, godly, ungodly or otherwise. No Satan, Hell, Heaven, God, Jesus, Angel, Holy Ghost, no nothing. I am free of all constraints. The only person I have to answer to is Man—each man.” Once again, Defenbaugh hit the nail on the head when it came to his concept of the God of the Bible. God demands certain things from His human creation. But since Defenbaugh does not want to comply with those things, he has chosen instead to disbelieve, so that he can be “free of all constraints.” Yes, it truly is easy to answer “each man” since all human opinion carries equal weight. But “God is not a man” (Numbers 23:19), and “…the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:25). In reality, after the Bible’s entire picture of God is allowed to shine through, in all its glory, no other god could measure up to “a God like that.”
Defenbaugh, Ronald (2003), “Why I Couldn’t Deconvert,” [On-line], URL: http://www.secweb.org/asset.asp?AssetID=263