Thursday morning I was shaken out of my mundane weekday routine by a surprising question from my teenage daughter on the way to school. It surprised me for a couple of reasons:
1. In the past my daughter has not been open to conversing about spiritual matters.
2. None of us are morning people. No one is usually talkative, much less thinking about deep theological issues at 7:30ish. I’m certain my children’s morning moods are genetically assigned by their dear old dad. I am not conversant or even pleasant company until around 10:00 most days.
So, imagine my surprise when my daughter blurts out of the blue, “Mom got mad at me the other day.”
I only offered a muffled “Mmmph” as a reply: an indication for her to continue the thought.
“I told mom I didn’t believe atheists would ‘go down there'”, she pointed her finger downward ominously. “She got really mad at me for saying that. What do you think?”
I blinked hard a couple of times and opened my mouth but no words immediately tumbled out. She had taken me completely offguard. I didn’t expect this kind of question from her, but I knew it was a wonderful opportunity to present gospel truth. I tried to dissipate the morning mental fog that usually blankets my mind for the better part of the morning hours and form a cognizant reply. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit brought a scripture immediately to mind. “Well, to be honest, the bible clearly states that atheists will most certainly go to hell. Are you familiar with the famous John 3:16 passage?”
She shrugged, “I think so… ”
“it starts out, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’. Belief in Christ gives us eternal life. A couple of verses later the bible tells us what happens to those who don’t believe. It says that those who don’t believe are condemned already because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. Atheists don’t believe that God exists. It logically follows that they would not believe that God sent his Son into the world to save them, thus they will will not trust on him to save them from their sins. Any atheist who persists in his belief will perish.”
My daughter didn’t say anything for a few moments. I glanced over and could tell that she was pondering this profound truth. At last she replied, “But I have friends who are atheists. I’m sure God wouldn’t send them ‘down there’. Jenny’s an atheist, but she’s really nice!”
I had to be careful here because this was no longer a mere intellectual exercise; her emotions were now involved. “God looks at things much differently than you and I do. What we may judge to be nice may be judged as sin to God, who knows our every thought and deed. People sometimes mistakenly believe since God so loves the world that he would not punish anyone for a few little sins, but the truth is, little sins to us are a very serious matter to God. Every sin we commit is an act of open rebellion to the God who created us. Yes, God is loving, merciful and compassionate but he is also a just God and justice must be served. Do you think a judge who lets a murderer go free simply because he had compassion for him is a good judge?”
She shook her head. I continued. “Well, neither can God be good or just if lets sin go unpunished. To God every sin committed against him is as offensive to him as murder is to us.”
All this information appeared to burden her mind so I decided to stop at that point. I wanted her to seriously consider the holy justice and wrath aspects of God’s character before plunging into his infinite grace and mercy through Jesus Christ. I allowed the severity of God’s law to plow the untilled soil of her heart: to remove the thorns, thistles and rocks contained therein. When the Holy Spirit brings a strong conviction of her deep sinfulness, the gospel will suddenly become very precious to her.
Interestingly, my daughter attended adult church with me this Sunday as pastor wrapped up his series on Examples Worth Imitating with a message on the humility of Jesus. The very truths I had driven home with my daughter were reaffirmed by my pastor’s point concerning Christ humbling himself purposely so as to absorb God’s wrath and to secure God’s grace. He boldly preached the gospel and punctuated it by reiterating what I had said concerning atheists not being saved. My pastor said that faith in Christ is the only way of salvation and if you miss him you’ve just plain missed it! I believe the events of this week were divinely ordained and by God’s providence my daughter has both received the law that shows her need of Christ and the gospel call which commands her to repent and trust in Christ for the forgiveness of her sins. Saints, keep her in your prayers!
I remember going through a similar spell of angst for my unsaved friends when I was seventeen. Unfortunately for me I didn’t have anybody to give sound answers to my questions. I began to form my own ideas about God and his judgment. In the process I erected my own personal idol. My God had similar traits to the God of the bible but I threw out all the characteristics which made me uncomfortable. My god was not the one true God. I lived for several years clinging to my idol until the glory of the living God overshadowed me and changed my heart. Hopefully, by standing up for God’s truth, no matter how hard it may be to accept, I can help my daughter to resist the natural human tendency to manufacture idols instead of worshiping the God of the bible.
I’m not picking on atheists in particular in this post. I’m simply responding to a question posed by my daughter. In her mind, atheists are obviously anti-God so she earnestly wonders about their fate. Truth be told, agnostics, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and Secular Humanists all share the same dilemma with atheists. Yes, even professing Christians can share the same fate as atheists. The question is, ‘Who has called upon the name of the Lord? Who has believed our report that the forgiveness of sins lies only upon God’s grace through the spilled blood of Jesus, who loved us and gave himself up for us? All men, regardless of the belief system they have either been raised with or adopted as their own, are responsible to God for either rejecting or accepting the salvation that is only available by looking unto Jesus.