You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God.
I have known atheists who I thought were great people, absolutely. Not every atheist I ever met was "great people" - I have met some who were miserable examples of humanity. I am not going to even try to try to figure out a percentage or anything. Just a clarification. This is not intended to be a post per se: It is just too big to fit in the comments thread. In fact, it is going to be about half rant. But it is going to be a very long answer to a commenter. Let's begin:
"Radar, this would be a good moment to repeat the question I asked you a while ago but never got answered:
Do you think the atheists you personally know and who are - by your own admission - great people, deserve to go to Hell to be tortured for all eternity simply for not believing in God?"
What I think doesn't matter. What you think doesn't matter. What is true matters. God is good. God is light. God is truth. God cannot lie. He does not consider gray areas or balance out levels of righteousness. He simply separates good from evil. I believe the Bible is true. If you do not that is your choice. I suggest that you consider that choice carefully because it truly is a matter of life and death.
According to my understanding of scripture there is not one person on earth who is completely good. You who read this blog, can you dissect your motives for any good things you have done and found absolutely no self interest there? In Isaiah God compares the righteousness of men in their own eyes to used menstruous rags in relationship to absolute good.
Isaiah 64:6 -
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
So neither you nor I are good enough to go to Heaven. We all fall short of perfection. God is perfection and cannot spend eternity in the presence of sin. So He came to earth in the form of a man to deal with the problem of sin.
Jesus Himself said that there is none good but God. It finally dawned on some of the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, God in the flesh. He made it very clear that mankind had a way to avoid the sin penalty by accepting the sacrifice of Himself which would soon occur. Only God could live as a man and avoid sin, therefore only God in the form of a man could pay the price tag for sin for all of mankind.
For so many centuries believers had sacrificed animals and asked for forgiveness and atonement year after year. God accepted their honest belief as righteousness in advance of the actual solution. When Jesus came, the sacrifices were no longer necessary. When He was crucified the veil in the Temple (a massive piece of fabric of immense size and weight, by the way) split from the top down. Jesus had told his followers of a day of judgment coming within one generation and, sure enough, the Temple was destroyed and torn to pieces stone by stone in AD 70 by the Romans. God wanted the world to see that Jesus Christ was the Last Sacrifice and the Messiah.
Going back to the beginning about that sin problem.
God made man with free will. He could choose to do or not do things as he wished. God only had one rule...just one. Otherwise Adam and Eve did as they pleased. They were innocent, they did not know right from wrong. Therefore nothing they did was sinful. Also, with no sin ever passed down to them they retained an innocent nature. They did not want to hurt anyone or any thing. But that literal tree of the knowledge of good and evil had to be there so that man did have a choice and that he would not be a robot, an automaton. There had to be a choice to obey or disobey God in order for man to have free will and be an independent sentinent being able to interact with God.
One man chose to sin. By knowingly eating of the forbidden fruit and knowingly disobeying God, he brought sin into his soul and the spirit within him became a dead spirit. Eve had been deceived but Adam knew what he was doing. I think Adam knew Eve was "going to get it" from God for eating of the fruit and could not bear being parted from her and so ate the fruit. I would love to have an exclusive interview with Adam and Eve to nail that aspect down! No matter, sin had now entered into man and into the world. Man had given up his right to rule the Earth. Death came into the world along with sin. We have all paid for Adam's transgression during our earthly lifetimes as we deal with sin and death and disease and sorrow. But we are not able to keep ourselves from sinning or atone for anything we have done nor can we use a twelve step program to eradicate our sin nature.
One man, Jesus Christ, paid for that sin. God, who hates sin, willingly lived as a man (Jesus Christ) surrounded by it for 33 some odd years, constantly dealing with temptations but always doing good and following the will of God the Father. He was then illegally tried and executed by crucifixion as the prophets had said hundreds of years previously. But He was able to rise from the dead and present Himself to the Father as a suitable sacrifice to atone for the sins of mankind.
All men can accept that sacrifice and be released from being judged. Or, they can refuse the payment of their sins and be judged on their own merits. No one can withstand that kind of scrutiny.
God does not send men to Hell for their lack of belief. Demons believe there is a God. He sends them to Hell for being sinful. He cannot spend eternity with sinful beings. Everyone deserves to go to Hell. Those who reach out to Christ for help, to save them from Hell, they do not go there. All other people do.
In computer terms, pretend normal people are gif files (picture file type) but the only file type that can be displayed in Heaven is jpg. Receiving Christ is much like converting a picture from gif to jpg. The picture will still look the same but the format has undergone an actual transformation. It looks the same to the eye but it is changed.
Sinful man requires a conversion to Christian format in order for God to allow him into His presence for all eternity. The transformation of the spirit of a man is real. God has a presence within everyone who actually makes the decision to be saved/born again/whatever term you wish to use. All who are converted will, upon the death of their temporal body, join God in Heaven. All who do not must still exist somewhere because the spirit is eternal. So non-converted people go to Hell.
Just as non-converted gif files will not display on a computer program that requires jpg, non-converted people will not exist in the presence of God. They are deleted forever.
Now you can argue about whether you think this is fair all the rest of your life. The fact is that (and there is an amazing amount of evidence to support this outside of the Bible) all men and women descended from that small family of Noah's that came out of the Ark and they all knew and trusted God. Some of them taught their children to follow God and some did not. Those who did not brought destruction upon many of their children and children's children and that is on them. People who willfully turned away from God and set up idols like the Egyptians and the Indians and the Chinese and the Druids and on and on and on, they were descended from people who knew the truth.
Anyone of you who read this blog have been presented with the gift of God. You cannot say you do not know of it and have not heard it.
Do atheists deserve to go to Hell? Yes. I also deserve to go to Hell. I have not always done everything I should do and I have often done wrong. Even many of the "good" things I have done were out of self interest. Realizing my lack, I turned to God to fulfill the Law for me, for I am unable. Through Christ I am redeemed, my sins are atoned for and I am not only forgiven but declared to be a Son of God and a joint heir to all eternity with God.
By the way, I "said a prayer" to please someone as a younger child. I did not really completely understand salvation and I did not mean it, I just wanted the other person "off my back" and happy.
As an adult, when I realized God was real and Christ died for my sins, it was very different. Even as I began to pray to be saved I felt a huge change within myself. There was an unexpected experience that accompanied my decision to follow Christ. I did not understand at the time that I had just become a "new creature" but my life from that moment forward demonstrates it.
I went to seminary and spent a few years working in evangelical ministries that required me to spend long hours knocking on doors in poor parts of Chicago and East Chicago and Hammond and Gary. We were usually in gang-controlled areas and I learned a lot about gang culture. At least once each week I walked in places (always with a partner) where the police warned us to avoid. I trusted that the gang-bangers would respect us Bible-thumpers, although primarily out of superstition, and in fact they did. What caused me to spend hours doing this, to get up in the darkness before dawn to go and get a bus to haul kids and teens and adults to a church service? Because inside of me was a desire to please God and the authorities at the seminary and the bus ministry and the "Fisherman's Club" evangelical ministry told me to do it for the sake of Christ. I wasn't trying to work my way to Heaven, I was sure I was going already. I just wanted to please God and work for Him. My wanter was different.
I have led lots of people to Christ, at least to pray with them to ask Jesus to forgive their sins, be their Lord and Savior and live in their hearts. I am talking about schoolkids and teens on up to adults nearing 100, in church, on buses, in nursing homes, in special meetings, going door to door and as an official church evangelist and even at work. I wonder how many of them were real and how many were simply pleasing me? For simply saying a prayer is of no more eternal value than skipping a rock on the surface of a lake. It seems kind of cool for a few seconds and then it is gone! I tried very hard to avoid "meaningless prayers" but the odds are that at least a few of them were either insincere or misunderstood. Alas...
I admit I sometimes fell prey to the idea of comparing my works to other's accomplishments. I took pride in standing up each week in Fisherman's Club because I had prayed with one or two or three or four or five people to receive Christ. I would sometimes lose sight of the fact that only Jesus saves and I was simply the moving mouth He used to bring someone to Himself. I got caught up in the competition for numbers for awhile, I admit it. Pride? Not exactly a Christian virtue.
It is also true that many at seminary thought they were kind of justifying themselves by their works and realized after awhile this idea came from the pulpit. Eventually I figured out that Fisherman's Club was misusing scripture to convince people to attend church and stand up to be recognized as new Christians by the use of a verse that meant something entirely different.
Allow me to explain. These are two of the verses we memorized in the King James Version to help explain salvation to people, but the second one was used to convince them to come to our church:
Romans 10:10 - For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Now this verse helped me explain to people that just a prayer was not worth anything, it was a matter of making a decision and believing in that decision and in Christ. Perfectly good use of scripture and absolute truth. If a prayer is not an expression of a decision of the heart, it is just words.
Romans 10:11 - For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
We were taught to ask people if they were ashamed of Jesus, that great Son of God who had just saved them. If not, they would therefore come to church and stand up and let everyone see them because if the prayer was genuine they would not be ashamed. Poor new Christian just feeling all excited about being saved and now here we are pressuring them to do something uncomfortable before even giving them a chance to enjoy the conversion experience!
Problem is, after studying Psalms and Isaiah I found enough references to show me that this verse did not mean that at all! It meant that those who had been saved would not be ashamed in front of God but rather received by Him as a son or daughter. It meant Christians would be accepted by God, they would be His sheep and not one of the goats.
I went to the head of the ministry to ask him about it and he agreed with me. But he told me that using the verse that way got people to come to church so he promoted it, even though it was deceptive to do so!
Yes, this is a sidebar but what the heck. I realized that Fundamental Baptists of this particular ilk were making a habit of intentionally misusing scripture. I would find something, bring it to leadership and they would usher me out with bromides and Jesuit-style explanations. I realized that leadership believed in doing bad in order to accomplish a greater good. Guess what? Hitler told himself that very same thing. Before long I found out that many in leadership at this one particular seminary and associated church were involved in adultery, promiscuity, theft, bribery, graft, kidnapping, child abuse and homosexuality. Turns out that Pharisees never have gone out of style, they just change wardrobes and nametags. My internal wanter wanted me to drop out of seminary and go away and that is what I did.
I struggled to find a church where people concentrated on the Bible and discipleship and not on the length of one's hair or the style of one's music. There are churches that love to use the term, "Of the devil." Pretty much everything I have heard ascribed to the devil was actually just the good old flesh. The rest of it was a style choice. Is playing a guitar "of the devil?" Is going to the beach "of the devil?" Is a woman "of the devil" because she prefers jeans or shorts to a dress? Some of these fundamentalist churches are incredibly focused on minutiae and completely missing God.
(Very rarely do you actually encounter a form of demon possession and even then it is usually a demon obsession, where a person is not really controlled by a demon but rather seeking the leadership of one. Just an FYI. Demons usually prefer to be under the radar and subtle. They are usually only exposed as being in control of someone when that someone suddenly begins to fight. Satan wants everyone to think of him as a nice little cartoon character with a tail and pitchfork, kind of a rascally little guy who was invented by some Bronze Age Walt Disney.)
I found many churches where they wanted God to be a slave, required to obey you when you uttered the right words. I found churches where God was a ponzi scheme. There are churches that should be named "Blab it, Grab it!" or "Name it, Claim it!" and many television preachers should just admit they are in it for the money. There are many churches that tell you to give more to God in order to get even more back, as if God was a money market fund that was running hot. There are churches that think God takes over your tongue or knocks you out like a prize fighter or causes you to contort and convulse on the floor. There are churches that teach you that God wants you to bark like a dog or growl or howl with insane laughter.
There are also plenty of churches that present God as a Big Buddy. Let's all get together and be nice to each other. People are nice. God is nice. We have nice little Bible stories to tell. Let's encourage each other and walk out smiling. Y'all come back now, hear? Let's try not to do any bad things and let's all try to do good things instead as hard as we can without, of course, being stressed out about it. No muss, no fuss, no demands on us!
Most television ministries I have seen are a waste of time. There are an awful lot of misguided and insincere and even plain evil folks taking on the name of preacher or pastor or apostle or priest broadcasting on the cable channels and seeking to grab a share of your money. The sincere ones are few and far between.
No wonder there are so many people who have a negative concept of God. There are so many churches and so many people who have slapped the "Christian" label on themselves that are so far away from His will for their lives they would need a GPS locater and a transcontinental flight to get there.
But the Bible stands as evidence. There are plenty of ordinary churches who are based on the Bible with no tongues, no legalism, no emphasis on endless giving and an abundance of actual Christian love, care and concern. There are several of these kinds of churches in my area and I go to one close to my home. Debbie and I joined it right after we married and we devoted ourselves to working for God in association with that church. We both work in the Youth ministry (I am giving the message next Wednesday, yay!) along with my son Rob and we have small groups within the big group to whom we minister and with whom we talk and pray and goof off with for about a half hour every week. Even when I am sick as a dog I drag myself to Youth Group. It is just so awesome to do something God wants you to do and know it. It is a lot of fun!
Hmm, drifting off topic. Now back to our movie!
There was a guy I worked with who knew I was a Christian and was annoyed that I talked about my faith with others. In 17 and one half years at that factory I helped bring five people to faith in Christ. That is only about one every three years. I am apparently not a remarkable evangelist? But then leading someone in prayer while on an assembly line in public, or while on break sitting on concrete steps is kind of different than being in a church setting. I saw big changes in these five people. Two of them saved marriages that were about to break apart. Another had been fired, but after receiving Christ and praying with me the company called her back and gave her another chance. One became an elder at a local church a few years after praying with me. One formed a Christian rock band!
Anyway, the guy? He kept confronting me about Jesus on breaks and during shift changes, loudly making fun of my Christianity and I kept my cool. But one day in the company lunch room he just pushed it too far and I told him the truth, to this effect (approximate quote, did not memorize this word for word):
"You can say anything you want. You can get away with calling me names because you know I won't do anything about it. You can get away with calling God names because He isn't ready for you yet. But you are just a grasshopper on the railroad tracks cussing the train. When that train comes it is going to run you over and as it hits you you will realize the truth. You versus God is no contest."
It was funny. The room went silent for a moment. The guy stared at me and said nothing, then walked out of the room. Everybody went back to talking again and I went to sit down and eat my lunch. That guy used to try to call me names to see if he could get a Christian to punch him but after that he just avoided me. I don't think I intimidated him, I think maybe he had a brief glimpse of an actual outcome that would involve God as train and him as grasshopper and being around me made him think about it?
I confronted him in the public area because I believed his comments needed to be refuted publicly and I hoped that perhaps he would rethink his belief system. I don't know if that happened but he wound up being fired within a couple of years and I lost track of him.
There was a woman who often made fun of me and laughed about me reading my Bible at break or the idea that I was a pastor at a church (assistant, not head) at the time. I never confronted her. You see, there is a portion of scripture in Proverbs chapter 26 that tells me this:
4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you will be like him yourself.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.
Sometimes God tells you within which situation is applicable. The guy fit the criteria of verse five and the woman seemed to be a verse four. Wisdom is understanding which verse applies to which situation. The guy was publicly challenging God. The woman was just personally mocking me because she hated God. But she didn't challenge God, she just made fun of me. Don't misunderstand, I did not go around whacking everyone with a Bible and most of the people I worked with liked me. I was elected to a leadership committee while I was in the Union and then promoted to the Audit department by management and then promoted into management and out of the Union. I was popular enough at the time. I knew both these people were not so much attacking me, they were unhappy with God. But they expressed this in different ways that called for differing responses.
–To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.1 The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt,
They have done abominable works,
There is none who does good.
2 The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
3 They have all turned aside,
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one.
Are you really going to tell me you have always done every good thing you should have, you have never done any bad thing ever in your entire life and are therefore completely and perfectly good?
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
So I think I have answered the question. Atheists and in fact deists and theists and non-theists and buddhists and islamofascists and every other ist deserves the same fate. On my own I deserve that fate. Only receiving the Atonement of Christ saves me from being a fool who will be cast into Hell. There is no religion that can suffice.
know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.