Religious Unbelief

The Bible warns against unbelief but not against atheism per se.  How could the writers of the Scriptures have warned against atheism?  There weren’t any atheists.  I’ve heard commentators on a local Christian radio station aim Psalm 14:1 (“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”) at atheists.  Of course the implication becomes, “Atheists are fools.”  However, should you have met the 10th century B.C.E. Jewish citizen to which the psalmist referred, he would have confessed to a belief in the existence of God.  The psalmist was not saying that avowed atheists are fools.  He was saying that fools secretly (in their hearts) suppress their awareness of God.

So who are the fools?  The rest of Psalm 14 describes these religious unbelievers as those who elevate themselves by pushing others down.  Such people by their actions deny God as their source.  They may claim to believe that God exists, but they do not trust him to supply them with security, sustenance or self-worth.  They maneuver and manipulate to get for themselves what others have or might acquire.  Such people pray and attend religious services but they do not expect God to respond to their petitions.  Instead, they engage in these activities to further establish their superiority.

As a case in point, consider Jesus’ very telling question addressed to the religious elite of his day, “How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44 NIV)  These men who stood at the peak of the religious establishment of their day were unbelievers according to Jesus.  From their lofty perch they congratulated each other on their moral superiority and derided everyone else.  They traded genuine engagement with the Basis of their being for the illusion of relative worth.  Rather than find the favor of God, they fed on the “failures” of those whom they defamed.  “They devour my people as though eating bread; they never call on the LORD.” (Ps. 14:4b NIV)

Faith, real faith, is a foreign concept.  People will seek any alternative to humble reliance on God.  Each alternative counterfeits the genuine treasure of our existence.  The most dangerous counterfeits most closely resemble the genuine article.  Those who accept religious achievement as heavenly currency are among the most desperately deceived.  Beware religious unbelief.

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Posted in Bible, Church, Religion, Spirituality, Theology
7 comments on “Religious Unbelief
  1. jb says:

    Several years ago, an evangelist from Mexico said to me that whenever people come together for religious services, there are two kinds of people: believers and unbelievers. The problem is that you can’t always tell which is which.
    Instead of trying to assess other people, I regularly need to take a look at myself and say, Lord, help my unbelief.

  2. D says:

    How about those who live an honest and good life? Those who help others, love their families and friends, see the good in people, and try to make themselves and those around them happy. But do not believe in God. What do you tell those people? How can you show them what they are missing? Former believers or those who never believed in the first place that are happy and spiritually fulfilled without believing in an omnipresent higher power. How do you do this without seeming condescending or doubtful of their choices?

    • Well, I’m no expert and every situation is different. I can only tell you what I would do in the situation you described as I understand it. I would affirm everything good in that person and maintain a respectful dialogue regarding ideas as long as both parties were enjoying the discussion and being enriched by it. I would try to really listen to what they were saying rather than download “truth” on them or win the argument. Don’t get me wrong, truth exists and Jesus is the truth. However, at any given moment, I only have an imperfect understanding of the facts, so I need to hold my ideas and opinions loosely. I’ve discovered that I learn much about my own belief system when I honestly listen to those who disagree with me. Of course, if we love the person, we will want them to have a relationship with Christ. However, the person you described is not among those whom Jesus invites to himself. Jesus calls the poor in spirit, the hungry, and the overburdened. We cannot supply these qualities. Only God can. Jesus said that no one can come unless the Father draws them. Happily, God can and will help people discover their spiritual desperation. We only need to pray in faith. I have no biblical reason to believe that every person we persist in prayer for will come to faith in Christ but it has been my experience so far. Thanks for your question and for loving your friend. God is faithful who does not want any to perish but all to come to repentance.

      • D says:

        He says that he does things for the right reason, not out of fear of punishment. He says he works toward a brighter future for his family and the world because he knows that there is no one out there to take care of things for him. And he says that the reason God needs the weak is because they are more susceptible to religious ideology when poor in spirit or young in wit. I am worried that he has valid arguments. I suppose the best course of action is to keep on living the way I do, and love him the way he is. God is just, he will take care of those who are truly pure and good. I would hate to see eternal damnation be visited upon a man who is as wise and good-hearted as this.

      • Your friend does make compelling arguments but that shouldnt cause you to worry. It should cause you to pause and question your assumptions. An untested faith is not worth having. Many people accept naivete in place of genuine conviction. Such choices always have consequences. So here are some of the questions which your interaction with this person have stirred, “What does it mean to really be ‘good’?” “What legitimate reasons are there to believe in God?” “How could God be just and condemn ‘good’ people?” These questions exist in your mind and that is a good thing. However, if you suppress them, they will eat away at you. While Jesus walked the earth, he pushed people to confront their assumptions. It’s hard to truly believe in Jesus. He wanted people to do the hard work so that they would not accept a counterfeit faith. He wanted the humble, not the naive. There is a difference.

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