26. Atheistic People

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.26

Psa 79:10 Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”

As we have commented before with this set of meditations there are certain similarities, and the questions in today’s verse are similar in some ways to the things we saw in the 12th meditation considering Psalm 2 and the cry there of the nations against God. Similar and yet different. There is a similarity also to the meditation two days ago from Psalm 74 for both Psalms come from the time of the Exile. In Psalm 79 the psalmist starts out with that acknowledgement, “O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple, they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.” That is what Nebuchadnezzar’s army has done to Jerusalem. The previous meditation was about the struggling over the thought of rejection by God, but this psalm is focusing more on what the nations will say about Israel and about God. It is concern for the name of the Lord that comes out here. Yesterday’s meditation was about our responses to the violence of such people, but the plea that comes forth now is simply about reputation.

There are times, as Christians, when people say things against us, unjustly, and we feel hurt and upset. Our reputation is being maligned, but that is really a minor thing for they said such things about Jesus. They made a whole lot of false or wrong accusations about him and then, in Acts, about his followers, so we shouldn’t be too concerned on that count. If our heart is a heart of love for God, our greatest concern is what people say about God. Just before today’s verse the psalmist cried, “Help us, O God our Saviour, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake.” Lord, he is saying, for the sake of your name, please act; don’t let them say things about us that malign you! We need to understand what is going on here.

When Israel were taken into captivity, in the eyes of the surrounding nations who were pagan, idol worshippers and who had denied the one true God, their natural and obvious conclusion would have been that whatever ‘god’ Israel worshipped, actually had no power. In their lack of understanding, they would have seen and heard what had happened and considered that this ‘god’ was obviously impotent against a great human force like Nebuchadnezzar’s army. They would not have realized that Nebuchadnezzar was, in fact, God’s instrument to discipline His people. This wasn’t a mighty king defying God but a mighty king doing God’s biding for Him, this was Nebuchadnezzar acting out God’s will. But no, the surrounding nations wouldn’t have understood this, and so they would have written off Israel‘s God.

But that is just like many atheists today. Although there are many scientists who are Christians, there are a number who look at the apparent power of science and of technology and jump to the false conclusion that everything can be explained away without the need of God. They see how the universe ‘works’ and assume wrongly that it doesn’t need God to explain it and keep it going. Yet the word of God, speaking about Jesus says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb 1:3) Without the Son of God, this world wouldn’t exist and wouldn’t continue, but there’s little point saying that to those who have already closed their minds against God.

Ah, there is a truth, the closed mind. Paul speaking about history, said, “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.” (Acts 17:27). The person with an open seeking heart will look at what has happened in the world and seek and find God. Similarly Paul wrote: “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.(Rom 1:19,20), i.e. those with open hearts will ponder on the wonder of creation and see God in it. That’s what many modern day scientists are doing. Solomon also caught something of this: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.” (Eccles 3:11) i.e. God has made us so that something in us will be yearning for meaning and purpose and understanding and will reach out for Him.

The truth about the Exile, of course, was that God knew what He was going to do and wasn’t put off by the foolish words of closed-mind unbelievers. Paul spoke of “those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality” (Rom 2:7) and said that they will receive eternal life from God. Implied in that is that they are responding to Him, perhaps without realizing it. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what is happening. What matters is the heart of the individual, perhaps revealed as he or she responds to what is happening. Those with open and righteous hearts will perhaps wonder and, because they have open hearts, God will speak to them. Answers are given to those who seek with open hearts. The truth is that it is the foolish closed-mined unbeliever who says, “Where is there God?” in a derisory way and they say it like that because they have a derisory heart that is not open to God because they are rebellious against any authority, because they are, as the Bible says, ‘lawless’. They don’t want anyone to tell them what to do, so they reject God, not out of intellectual reasoning but out of self-centredness.

So when you come across someone apparently espousing atheism, check their heart. See if they are open-minded seekers who just haven’t found their answers yet, or whether they are self-centred closed-minded individuals who are not interested in anything else other than getting their own way. It makes a lot of difference to how we should respond. To the first we need to gently give answers. To the second, we need to gently disengage.

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