Let’s look at atheism from another vantage point. We must understand that the human heart, while not at first gripped by full-blown non-God atheism, is by nature potentially inclined to unbelief – un-God. That is to say, I don’t deny God’s existence, I just choose to ignore Him and live my own life as if He isn’t there. Isaiah 53:6 puts it this way, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way….” Away from God! We all have this natural inclination to get as far away from God as we can, even though deep down we know that He exists. That is true of every one of us. Man by nature doesn’t necessarily renounce God’s existence, he just avoids Him. Classic unbelief! Classic un-God! Classic us by nature! That is to say, all of us by nature have the inherent potential for unbelief. It is much easier for us to not believe than to believe. Added to the difficulty of believing is that to believe, we must give up the tastiness and enjoyment of sin for a God that we cannot see, touch, taste etc. Faith must fix itself upon an unseen world, while unbelief fixes itself upon the seen world which is much easier.
Some people move from un-God unbelief into a most likely no-God disbelief. That is to say, there could be a God but they don’t see any real convincing evidence to believe that there is One. So they choose not to believe that any God exists and they live accordingly. God has no relevance to their lives. It is traditionally called agnosticism. Romans 1:28 says, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer….” They don’t deny 100% His existence, but rather, they choose not to acknowledge it. As one agnostic put it, “I don’t spend much time thinking about whether God exists. I don’t consider that a relevant question. It is unanswerable and irrelevant to my life, so I put it in the category of things I cannot worry about.” That pretty well says it. We all by nature have the capability to move from UN to AG, from unbelief to agnosticism. The AG seeds are there ready to germinate.
And then of course, there are those who move from UN to AG to NO, that is, there is no God. Atheism! As Clarence Darrow put it, “I don’t believe in God because I don’t believe in Mother Goose.” In other words, this God thing is nothing but a nursery rhyme and a fairy tale. Mother Goose is fictional and so is God. I am presently in dialogue with a prominent American atheist, and he makes it very plain that the God in Whom I believe is nothing more than a figment of my imagination. I respond to him that his non-God is a figment of his imagination. But I always tell him that Jesus loves and died for the sins of all men, which includes the UNS, the AGS, and the NOS.
All of this is why sustained unbelief is so dangerous. Unbelief can move through and into all of the other stages. You see, natural man is dead in sin. (Ephesians 2:1) All spiritual truth must be spiritually discerned, and man by nature is dead spiritually and in big trouble from the start. He is a sitting duck not only for unbelief, but for agnosticism and atheism. We must face this obvious truth, namely, that spiritual realities can only be discerned spiritually. That is obvious! Run Dick run, go get the ball. Likewise, things that are sensible must be grasped by the senses. If your senses are dulled, and your smeller doesn’t smell, or your hearer doesn’t hear, or your seers don’t see, there will be no apprehending of sense things in your life. My wife’s taste buds are loosing their sensitivity, and it is hard for her to sense at times what is over or under salted. I am her taste sense gauge. Or again, intelligible things must be grasped by the intelligence, or, intelligibly. I want this teaching to be super-intelligible to you, and part of that process is assuming that you can reasonably and rationally apprehend. So too, spiritual things are spiritually discerned! That makes sense doesn’t it? There must be a likeness and suitableness between the object and the faculty that processes it. Right? Right! However, natural man’s spiritual processor is broken, not working, kaput! So the Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 2:14,
“But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”
Man, which includes you and me and everybody, needs a brand new heart that can spiritually discern. That is why we have the glorious promise from God in Ezekiel 36:26, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within in you (able to spiritually discern); and I will remove the heart of stone (spiritually dead) from your flesh, and give you a heart of flesh (spiritually sensitive).”
Wow! That explains why one man listens to a sermon based faithfully and fully on the Word of God, and in that sermon he finds nourishing food by which he spiritually thrives and grows. At the same time, another fellow hears the same sermon and gets nothing out of it because he is without a spiritually perceiving heart.
Or again! Think of it this way! You see, we are told in I John 1:5 that:“…God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.”
In other words, God is pure spiritual light, undimmed and easily seen (spiritually discerned). Man’s difficulty in believing in God is not because God is a spiritual dim bulb. It rather is the darkness of our sin-blackened hearts that blocks out the brightness of His shining. That is exactly why we read about Jesus in John 1:4-5, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”
The non-comprehension does not come from a lack of potency in His light, but from the potency of the darkness in man’s heart. Every truth of God’s Word has brightness in it that is so powerful, that it literally can and does become a lamp unto our feet and a light upon our path in this world of darkness. But then can you begin to imagine how darkened man’s spiritual discernment is when it refuses to be penetrated by the light in which there is no darkness at all? In fact atheists believe, mind you, that their belief about there being no God is enlightened wisdom. This brings to mind the words of Christ in Luke 11:35, “Then watch out that the light in you may not be darkness!” Horrors, for if the light in man be darkness, how great is the darkness.
You and I can go from dark to darker to darkest! We too could move from unbelief to agnosticism to atheism. Why? To put it yet in another way, but in principle the same, we all start out in life spiritually blind. During the Christmas season of 1879, a newspaper reporter in Boston saw three little girls standing in front of a store window full of toys. One of them was blind. Coming closer, he heard the other two trying to describe the playthings to their sightless friend. He said he had never thought of how difficult it would be to explain what something looks like to someone who has never been able to see. That incident became the basis for a newspaper story.
Two weeks later this same reporter attended a meeting conducted by Dwight L. Moody. His purpose was to catch the great evangelist in some inconsistency and expose him. He was greatly surprised, therefore, when Moody used the reporter’s own newspaper account of the three children to illustrate a spiritual truth. “Just as the blind girl couldn’t visualize the toys,” said Moody, “so an unsaved person can’t see Christ in all His glory.” Moody then went on to say that God opens the eyes of anyone who acknowledges his sin and accepts the Savior in humble faith. The newsman was touched by Moody’s words and saw that he too was blind and in need of Christ’s healing touch. There is only one who can heal spiritual blindness, and that is Christ.