If you read my comments sections, you know that a lot of this year has been spent combating the atheist mindset, although admittedly this post could just as well apply to any agnostic, follower of another faith, or "who gives a poop". At a certain point in the battle, one gets to the point of saying, "Why does God allow such people in His world?" Christians will say look at the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matt. 13:24-30; the other side no doubt says, "Because there is no God!" Here, then, is what I say:
1. TO BE MERCY, IT MUST BE AT GOD'S DISCRETION. Mercy is not mercy if everyone gets it, by definition. In Romans 9:15, Paul quotes the book of Isaiah:
15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.”[a] 16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.”[b] 18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
So then, you say, how is it I'm sent to hell if it's God's choice, and not mine? Because you miss the basic point of being God- He is NOT human. He exists, as an omnipotent being logically would, outside the bounds of time and space. He knows at the moment of creation how you will choose, He does not force you to choose it. In 2 Peter 3:9, the Apostle tells us:
9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us,[a] not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
This tells us it is our choice, not God's, which damns us; we simply have to choose to eat from that other tree from Eden, the Tree of Life. Therefore, God proves His mercy by giving us a choice to have faith or not.
2. TO DEFEAT COMPLACENCY. Without an adversary to challenge us, human nature drifts us into being complacent about our faith. Debating an atheist is an excellent way for a thinking Christian to fend this off.
3. TO CONFRONT OUR DOUBTS. Critical thinking is the one big advantage atheists have over most Christians. To win an argument with a critical thinker, you must be free of doubt in your cause.
4. TO CHALLENGE OUR BIBLICAL KNOWLEDGE. Atheists know the Bible inside out sometimes. Note that I did not say "inside and out", because their knowledge of it is in searching ways to overthrow its wisdom. We need to sharpen our own knowledge based on faith in order to stand up against their arguments. This is why we need to know the scriptures:
6 That the generation to come might know them, The children who would be born, That they may arise and declare them to their children, 7 That they may set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments; 8 And may not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that did not set its heart aright, And whose spirit was not faithful to God. (Psalms 78:6-8).
5. TO SHOW GOD DOES WHAT HE SAYS. You can explain and explain to a committed atheist and get nowhere. There is a reason for that, explained in Isaiah 6:9-10:
9 And He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘ Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 “ Make the heart of this people dull, And their ears heavy, And shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed.”
and fleshed out in Romans 9;22-24:
22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
6. TO DEVELOP OUR OWN KNOWLEDGE OF SCIENCE AND NATURE. I don't believe there is anything in the Bible that disagrees with anything of science, with one exception. I think this is borne out in Romans 1:20:
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.
The one thing that modern science tends to believe (as opposed to geniuses such as Isaac Newton) is that science invalidates the existence of God. Or, at least, it can. Human science will always be limited as long as the goal disallows possibilities it does not care to conceive.
7. TO CHALLENGE OUR FAITH. Atheists can use logic like a sword. Of course, the other shoe of that is in 1 Cor. 3:19:
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.
The question becomes whether we can "hold fast until the end". Revelations 2 & 3 have seven examples of the attacks that face the faithful- seductions, tribulations, worldliness, sexual immorality, complacency, outright lies, and love of possessions- and tells us, "those who hold fast until the end" will receive a glorious reward. The more our faith is challenged, the greater our reward. So actually, we owe atheists and their ilk a debt of gratitude- if we act on it properly.
8. TO CHALLENGE OUR PRAYERS. Jesus tells us in Matt. 5:44-48:
44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
So, this is a perfect opportunity to obey our Lord. I remember when i went to Promise Keepers in Indy several years back. The "Ban The Bible " group was outside protesting, and I thought to myself,"Why would God allow these (people) to come here and do this?" Then I walked in to the sounds of 10,000 men singing How Great Thou Art, and I had my answer: where else could He lead them where they could have an arena full of faithful men pray for them? God gives the chances; those of us on both sides of the divide need to take advantage of them.
9. TO CHALLENGE OUR ACTIONS. This is my sticking point. I was raised to argue. I was NOT raised to argue civilly. It is a challenge I've failed over and over, but as long as I can still act, there is hope. Solomon tells us in Prov. 25:21-22:
21If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
22In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,and the Lord will reward you.
And Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15:
12Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.
So the point of the post is, in sum: the reason for atheist in our world is not about how "horrible", "mean", or "misguided" they are, but how we are in relationship to them.