I think there are several pretty good reasons to be an atheist. Pain and the randomness of evil are the two biggest. Probably the hypocrisy of those who are religious is what clinches it for most people who identify themselves as atheists.
I almost became an atheist from reading the Bible. I decided when I was 15 years old that I was going to read through the Bible “objectively.” Three passages stuck out as being too hard to be believed. The first was the chat Balaam had with his donkey; the second was when a dead man was thrown into the grave of Elisha, “and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet.” II Kings 13:21. And the third is the whole gospel of John. Everything Jesus said just seemed too weird for me. I certainly didn’t want to be an atheist. I thought there must be something that I just didn’t quite get.
One day, while in my first year in college, I read the story of the Good Samaritan. Having been raised in a Christian family, I had read and heard it many times before. But, finally, I really read it—objectively. It was so clever, and written with such lack of drama. And the story was so true, so real. I knew people (not myself) who were the Good Samaritan type. Certainly it was a parable, for there was so much meaning in it, but it also was so true to life. And it was then that I understood that I need not be an atheist, for the story gave an answer to all my major atheistic questions.
If you were to ask the victim of the Good Samaritan story what was the best moment of his life, I know he would tell you it was when that very kind man came over to him and had pity on him and poured oil and wine on his wounds. He would tell you he never felt so at peace as when the Samaritan lifted him up on his donkey. He would say the kindest gift he had ever received was when the Samaritan gave the innkeeper a wad of money and then told the innkeeper, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” Luke 10:35 Was this outrageous beating this poor man took then worth it? Did the good balance the bad? With good and evil, there is no balancing, for the good is what gives meaning, and joy. Why do people act as good Samaritans? Their behavior seems so random. There are good Samaritans among every group of people; the rich, the poor, the religious, the criminal, the wise and the very simple, the old and the young. Where does there behavior come from? Why would they so put themselves out for someone from whom they can derive no personal benefit? It’s so…God like! That was it. There was no other way to describe what they did, for I knew it was true. God is so random in His kindness. When I’d least expect it, suddenly, there was something good, so far beyond what I ever hoped.
This eureka moment happened when I needed to find someone for a room-mate for the next school year. I thought, “How sad! I’ve spent almost a whole year at this Christian College, and I haven’t found one person who is a good enough friend that they would want to be my roommate. That afternoon I happened to sit next to a kid whose name I was pretty sure was John. I was so sure, I called him John. He answered to the name and we had a great conversation about nothing at all. Our sense of humor was an almost perfect match. He told me he had found a roommate, but since the college dormitories required three students, he wondered if I’d be willing to join them. I was, and John, whose name I later found out was David Harvey, became my good friend. Roxanne and I visited Dave and his wife Gayle this last week up in Grand Marais where he is the pastor of the Evangelical Free Church. We had such a good visit. The Lord is so good. Because of starting a new job, my life has been pretty stressful lately. A visit with such a friend was like oil and wine on a nasty wound.
As an addendum: The story of the Good Samaritan gives some answer to each of my atheistic questions.
Why random pain and evil? Here on this earth, it seems like what is really good comes out of what is really bad. Take Calvary, for instance.
Why such hypocrisy among the religious? Who knows. The religious are just people like the rest of us. But a better question is: Why are some people so Godlike as to be Good Samaritans?
Why these weird things in the Bible? I’d really like to get more information on Balaam’s talk with his donkey and the man who popped back to life when his body touched the dead bones of Elisha. But I do know, no one ever spoke like Jesus. I could write volumes on lessons I have learned from this one short parable. As the Lord gives direction, I’d like to share another of those lessons on my next blog