I was left speechless.
My friend who identifies himself as an atheist could not make sense of my faith in God. Why would a loving God…How can a ‘loving’ God… condemn people to hell? I responded by sharing that God does not unjustly condemn people to hell. Rather, those people in hell are those who hate God. They want nothing to do with him, therefore, they are responsible for their place in hell. I told him, “God extends the olive branch, but they take up arms.” My friend’s response left me speechless—“But I don’t hate God.”
But, you do…
Jonathan Edwards gives us 7 reasons why unbelievers cannot recognize their hatred towards God.
So, here they are (I’ve condensed and edited a bit) :
1.Blinded by Unbelief
Disbelief in God does not indicate a lack of hatred for God. Rather, it conceals anger. Can you hate something that does not exist? No. Why? Because it is absurd. This can be shown in hatred for a person: “If you had a rooted malice against another man, a principle that had long been established there, and if you should hear that he was dead, the sensible workings of your malice would not be felt, as when you realized that he was alive. But if you should afterwards hear the news contradicted, and perceive that your enemy was still alive; you would feel the same workings of hatred that you did before.” (Edwards, Men).
2. Compassionate Feelings Are Aimed at a Strawman god
The ‘god’ that many amicable atheists or agnostics do not believe in is not the God of the Bible. They fashion the god that they do not believe in, into a tame and sin-tolerating grandfather in the sky. If these people truly understood God, they would understand that He is not one that would condone their actions, and He is not like them: “These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you” (Psalm 50:21). If they allowed themselves to understand who God is, they would hate Him because, contrary to their imaginary god, He hates their sin because it brings death.
3. Enjoying Without Gratitude, is Hate
The enjoyment of earthly things as opposed to, or in replacement of the enjoyment of God is an indirect assault against His perfection and blessings. This is because all good things come from God, and are to be enjoyed as He has instructed us, within a proper relationship with Him. If an atheist enjoys the things of God, but not according to God’s will (for example, enjoying food, but not to the glory of God as is commanded in 1 Corinthians 10:31) then he has a hatred for God in the person’s will or desire for good things outside of fellowship with God. This is like a child stealing cookies from the cookie jar, hating the fact that his parents instructed him to only eat them when they deem it permissible. In stealing the cookies, he is challenging and expressing his disrespecting his parents. The atheist steals goodness from life from God (because he doesn’t give God thanks).
4. Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
The distance between God and man is so great that any desire to harm God vanishes due to the sheer impossibility. Since man knows that he can do nothing to attack God (at least, those atheists who are not mad at God) his hatred for God is allowed to wane since it never has an opportunity to act. Edwards uses the analogy of a serpent’s disregard for threats at a distance: “A serpent will not [try to] bite that which it sees at a great distance; which if it saw near, it would do it immediately.” If the snake sees a mongoose from 100 feet away, of course it will not strike at it. But if the mongoose is only a few feet away, the snake will strike.
5. Fear Produces Servility
An atheist’s fear of God restrains his hatred for God. Since God is so powerful and fearful, the atheist is hindered from allowing his hatred to fully vent. A Soldier who is afraid of his enemy will not go out yelling for his enemy to find him—he would most likely stay hidden in order to preserve his life. Therefore, the fear of God in the heart of the atheist will often prevent his anger from becoming manifest. Calvin said as much: “he who is the boldest despiser of God is of all men the most startled at the rustle of a falling leaf” (Institutes 1.3.2; cf. Leviticus 26:36).
6. Hate is Latent
Much hate in the heart of atheists lay in latency, like a serpent resting in peace, but willing to strike at anything that disturbs it. One of the ways that this latent hatred becomes manifest is in trial and suffering. Many unbelievers feel no adverse feelings toward the God they do not believe in. However, when they undergo difficult times, they often find themselves praying! As the saying goes, “there are no atheists in foxholes.” In His marvelous grace, God sometimes answers these prayers despite the fact that the unbeliever will continue in his rejection of God – such is the undeserved grace of God. However, if God should not give the unbeliever what he asks for, he is often filled with great rage (think of the antagonist in God’s Not Dead). Addressing the unbeliever, Edwards says, “Notwithstanding the good opinion you have of yourself, yet a little trial would show you to be a viper, and your heart would be set all on rage against God” (For a recent presentation of this idea in history, see Alec Ryrie’s Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt).
7. Living Against God is Hating God
Finally, Edwards notes that actions, rather than self-perception, are the best indicators of the heart (see John 13:35). The actions of the atheist are clearly contrary to the law of God, as even the atheist will admit. These actions are a better determiner of his heart, than his own feelings or words. For example, an employee who continually does things that are contrary to the goals of the company, who regularly maligns its reputation, disobeys the instruction of his boss, does not reform his ways when warned and reprimanded, and spends his time with the employees of a rival company, even supporting its goals, is clearly an enemy of the company that he works for. In the same way, a person who continually disobeys God and does the things of Satan has made himself God’s enemy, even if he does not claim to be or feel like he is.
In these ways, those who do not believe God demonstrate that they hate him. Some do so consciously, while others do so subconsciously. But, for all, they demonstrate that, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law. Indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 7:8). In reaching unbelievers, I think we need to allow the Bible to open up their hearts and reveal the sin within. As J.C. Ryle said, “I believe that one of the chief needs of the contemporary church has been, and is, clearer, fuller teaching about sin.” What was true in 1879 is more than doubly true now.