The Implications of Rejecting Belief in the Personal God
Recently I saw a cartoon of a preacher. He had an extremely apologetic look as he remarked to each person leaving the church building, “Now I hope that you do not feel that there was anything personal in what I had to say this morning.” I hope to communicate just the opposite reaction with you in this article.
Skepticism has won strategic victories because quite often the Christian teacher has divorced the practical implications of faith from his teaching. Belief in God has been viewed in a philosophical, theoretical compartment rather than from the standpoint of the consequences produced in the moral conduct of man.
HISTORY: Hysteria or Hope?
The God of the Bible gives a view of history that is filled with both hope and purpose. History is going somewhere. The “somewhere” is in the direction of God, who is concerned about his creature, man. Remove God and history becomes a pessimistic swamp. Two of the most influential thinkers of a past century were Feodor Dosteovski and Friederich Nietzsche. Both recognized that history without God was emptiness. The former chose God and the latter accepted the chaos which must come when Deity is rejected. Nietzsche said, “Where is my home? For it do I ask and seek, and have sought, but have not found it. O eternal everywhere, O eternal nowhere, O eternal in vain.” Voltaire exclaimed, “Strike out a few sages, and the crowd of human beings is nothing but a horrible assemblage of unfortunate criminals, and the globe contains nothing but corpses. . . . I wish I had never been born.” Renan asserted, “We are living on the perfume of an empty vase.” H. G. Wells commented on the future of man, “There is no way out, or around, or through, it is the end.”
Hope is essential to a healthy human existence. When long range hope is removed, the consequences are a steady weakening of man’s intellectual fibre and moral integrity. Youth of our day are paying a heavy price for the failure of religious teachers to present adequately a view of history that brings life into purposeful focus. As teachers of the Christian faith, we have acted “properly appalled” at the escalating divorce number, political corruptions, racial prejudices, youth unrest, sexual immorality, and increasing suicide rate; however, we have overlooked the necessity of presenting coherent, systematic reasons for our faith. (Many times sermon efforts in the areas of Christian evidences are regarded as impractical attempts of the speaker who is wasting his time on an irrelevant subject since “after all, the audience must believe in God otherwise they wouldn’t be there.” To keep life in focus, history must have a sense of hope to combat the despair which evil is continually seeking to plant within man’s heart. Only a sense of the reality of God can keep this hope alive on a long term basis.
MORALITY: Muddle or Measure?
Most would agree with E. P. Dickie’s analysis of the human predicament:
A correct estimate of man sees in him an extraordinary dignity conjoined with an extraordinary distress. He can rise to such heights as to justify our belief that he is made in the image of God; and he can descend far lower than the brute creation. The angel has him by the hand and the serpent by the heart. (13)
Of course, the penetrating question is, “What can we do about it?” Volumes have been written concerning cures for man’s spiritual sickness. However, these solutions have possessed a singularly ephemeral nature. Carlyle Marney’s words are disturbingly emphatic:
There are four remedies that will not work. Ignore evil, perhaps he will go away; deny evil, perhaps he is not really there; invite him in, who knows but that he could be tamed? Involve him in a conversation, perchance we can confuse him with our high-sounding terms. In other words we have tried to answer evil with four minor and most inane home remedies; activism, mere belief, petty morals, and pseudo-intellectualisms. (65)
Quite bluntly, man has only two choices concerning the derivation of moral codes. Choice I: If he begins with the concept that the universe is the product of unknown, impersonal powers, there is the logical conclusion that morality is simply one of the actions or standards which man sets. It must be recognized that since man is nothing more than the product of these forces, he might not be able to exert real freedom of choice in relation to his life. In other words, he cannot really help himself very much as far as what he is morally. He is sort of a biologically, preset computer. At any rate, this choice of material origin places man on a pedestal of a creation in which he feels that he is chief. So man can set his moral standards; whether he actually possesses freedom of choice or whether he imagines that he does is not material in view of the practical aspects of living. Of course, the query, “Which Man sets the rules?” must come. Historically it appears that the “Man” who is the biggest is the definer of moral terms for a particular age or location. Choice II: If God is accepted as the originator of the universe, then man’s moral life takes on an entirely different dimension. Morality is no longer the muddle of human emotions but morality emerges as a measure which the Creator has revealed. Certainly it does not seem to be unreasonable that the One who created would also make known the principles of abundant living for his creature, man.
There is nothing childish about morality stemming from the God of the Bible. There is no shallow form of escapism projected. Assuredly man is not reduced to a robot going through the motions of living. Rather belief in God projects moral conduct that is creative, thoughtful, respectful of the dignity of one’s fellow human beings, and cognizant of community responsibility.
SCIENCE: Serpent or Servant?
Believing in the God of the Bible reveals a bold, challenging view of the scientific realm. According to this view, man has been placed upon the earth to explore, to use, and to learn. He has the right to become a scientist! The Christian philosophy of science is that it is a legitimate, God-intended human enterprise. Science allows man’s acumen to develop in a superlative degree. The Bible has given no physical theories of creation but instead the challenge is to man to probe and to theorize. Science is not a religion or a dictator to human conscience but a servant to be used in man’s God-granted stewardship of the earth.
Without God, there is the tendency to elevate “technology” to an idolatrous “temple.” Man can easily become the pawn of his machines. Carl F. H. Henry has well said:
The scientist is faith-qualified, for all men by nature are faith prone. The different between scientist and non-scientist therefore lies not in their disposition to worship, but rather in the object of worship. The reverence paid to false gods distinguishes the unbelieving scientist and philosopher from the devout believer. Science will bolster its undergirding principles somehow; if not by an appeal to Christian theism, it will lean upon some non-Christian metaphysics. The scientist who cuts himself off from the changeless norms of Hebrew-Christian ethics, sooner or later will smuggle in absolutes and idolatrous value judgments on his own. No sooner does the scientist glory in deliverance from the worship of a personal God than he is tempted to bow down and worship the √-1, or Einstein’s E=mc2. (262)
One of the vital problems confronting contemporary man relates to the maintaining of the dignity of the individual in an age of computers and other gadgets which constantly seek to reduce him to a dull, grey, faceless being. Without the recognition of the presence of God, science can be transformed into a hideous serpent whose bite destroys the multi-dimensions of human personality leaving only an emotionless, statistical shell. Without God, man’s technology has no effective Moral Governor to protect humanity from wholesale destruction.
RELIGION: Ridiculous or Real?
This introduction to the topic of “God” is given in the Syntopicon of the Great Books:
More consequences for thought and action follow from the affirmation or denial of God than from answering any other basic question.
The light of history shows man to be incurably religious. Religions have appeared and now appear in all shapes, forms, and sizes. The psychologist, William James, has catalogued an amazing diversity of religious experiences. Commenting on the observations of James, Professor F. David Martin has written:
Thus I propose the following revision of James’ conception of the nucleus of religious experience: (1) uneasy awareness of the limitations of man’s moral or theoretical powers, especially when reality is restricted to sense data and natural objects; (2) awe—full awareness of a further reality—beyond or behind or within; (3) conviction that participation with this further reality is of supreme importance. (1)
If there is no God in a personal sense, man’s regard for religion is a commentary on the unreliability of human thinking. The “awareness” described by James and Martin is a cancerous mental growth from which man cannot escape seemingly. Contemporary atheism is not an antidote for man’s religious consciousness but rather an exchanging of one set of dogma for another which has been couched in materialistic terms. As Karl Barth has said, “Every man has some sort of theology.” Atheistic systems replace the idea of God with a metaphysical view of man in which either he or his work is deified. Communism and Nazism are classical examples of this type of exchange.
So if there is no God, man’s religious concern describes him as being possessed with an overwhelming desire to contemplate the ridiculous. However, if the biblical view of God is accepted, man’s religious consciousness is a recognition of his true identity as being in the image of God. (An image, which even though it has been deeply marred by sin, yet retains a knowledge and a thirst for the glory of the former relationship.) Belief in God does not diminish man’s intellectual caliber but rather explains why man has been and is so religiously concerned.
A. E. Taylor has concluded an excellent book:
Heaven has only one gate and there is only one road thither; if we are to tread it at all, we shall have to take it along with everyone else as “common fellows,” not as members of some privileged order. For all of us, the journey will have to begin with a venture of faith reaching out in a true humility of spirit to things which are not seen. Nor is this reasonable humility of mind to be disparaged as what our latest unlovely jargon calls “wishful thinking.” For genuine “wishful thinking” we must turn to the kind of “agnostic” who “in the dark that covers” him blusters about his own “unconquerable soul,” not to the Christian who says “not as though we were sufficient of ourselves . . . our sufficiency is of God.” (189)
FUTURE: Frightful or Fruitful?
One of the most dire consequences of unbelief, whether classically expressed or practically lived, is that it limits man. Believing in God attaches to man a fruitful future. He is to be the achiever because he has a divine partnership. Belief in God brings the universe to friendly terms. A man can be forgiven. He can rise again. Regardless of his defeats, he has been endowed with a spirit that is strong and tough. He has also the companionship of the Son of God for encouragement and guidance. With belief in God, man can say with confidence, “Even though I do not know what the future holds, I do know who holds the future.”
With the realization that most of the readers are professing Christians, I appeal to you as your fellow servant to stress to you family and to your friends the far-reaching implications of either belief or disbelief in the God of the Bible. The scientific accomplishments of our day can be used as effective tools for the Christian faith or they can be interpreted to support short-range expressions of materialism. Much depends upon our willingness to be instruments of God in proclaiming His word to our times. Proclaiming His word not in empty-headedness but with clear minds and with sensitive, caring hearts!
Carlyle, Marney. Faith in Conflict. New York: Abingdon, 1957.
Dickie, E. P. Revelation and Response. New York: Scribner’s, 1938.
Henry, Carl F. H. Contemporary Evangelical Thought. Great Neck: Channel, 1957.
Martin, David F. “The Atheistic in Religious Experience.” Religious Studies. 4. 1 (Oct 1968).
Taylor, A. E. Does God Exist? Glasgow: Fortune, 1961.
The above article appeared in a special edition devoted to Christian Evidences in the Gospel Advocate, January 23, 1969. Virgil R. Trout is a long time minister among churches of Christ. He was an associate of the late Dr. Thomas B. Warren who also authored an article which appeared in the aforementioned special issue of The Gospel Advocate. Trout served as former Exec. Director of the International Foundation of Religious-Scientific Research, as well as membership in the American Association for the Advancement of Science with classification in physics and philosophy. Virgil Trout has done extensive work of great value in the field of Christian Apologetics. He resides in Oklahoma.