Often we encounter people who tell us:
- My life is just fine. I feel no need for God.
We Christians tend to respond, “Well, perhaps someday you won’t feel fine. So just remember that there is a God who loves you.” However, this response inadvertently reinforces this errant worldview. In essence, it says, “Your feelings are what matters. They determine what is ‘true’ for you. So, if you don’t feel the need for God, no one can blame you for that.”
Instead, our responsibility to seek God is not only about what we feel; it’s also a matter of what God feels. Paul had informed the Athenians on Mars Hill about God’s feelings in this matter:
- In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:30-31)
It wasn’t a matter of whether the Athenians felt like repenting. Instead, God required them all to repent.
For the Athenians, the big question was, “Before which god(s) do I repent?” I think that this question is still relevant today, although the list of possible god-candidates has changed. Today in the West, the main contender against the monotheistic God is an impersonal naturalistic god – a force like gravity, which physicist Stephen Hawking had surmised could create all else.
Paul challenged the Athenians to look at the evidence. He reasoned from the first cause:
- "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone--an image made by man's design and skill.” (Acts 17:29)
In all of our dealings with causation, the cause(s) is always greater than the effect. (An effect that lacks an adequate cause is, in some ways, uncaused – a bane to all science and reason!) Therefore, God has to be greater than man. He couldn’t be a mere carved object or impersonal force. He had to be greater than what He had created. The Athenians seemed to have no problem with this reasoning.
Paul then challenged them to explore the evidence for the resurrection. Of course, the Athenians had not seen the resurrection, but there existed much testimonial evidence. In effect, Paul was asking them to sit as jurors and evaluate the witnesses and their testimonies – testimonies we still have today.
Paul put forth these arguments, assuming that repenting and coming to God didn’t have to be feelings-based; it could also be reason-based, (although no one will receive either the feelings or the argumentation if their minds are closed.)
Humanity has a responsibility to use their minds and to seek explanations for their origin and purpose in life. One woman confided to me about her weighty and gladly-accepted obligation to take care of her parents. I explained that if she was willing to acknowledge her responsibility toward her parents, shouldn’t she also recognize her responsibility toward the Parent – God - of her parents (and of herself)? It is like receiving an expensive gift in the mail and refusing to open the card to see from whom it came, as if this would negate any moral obligation. This is moral irresponsibility.
She responded, “How do I know that there is a God?” I retorted that she had a responsibility to find this out by opening the card.
“Well, I’m quite satisfied with the explanation of evolution,” she replied. As gently as I possibly could, I asked her if evolution could explain the origin of the universe, its incredible fine-tuning, the laws of nature, DNA, the cell, life, consciousness, and moral truth. She admitted that evolution couldn’t even begin to explain these. I therefore returned to my original challenge:
- Well, don’t you think you need to explore these issues? If there is a God who has created you and given you everything that you’ve needed for life, don’t you think that you at least have the responsibility to seek to find out whether or not this God exists and what your obligations to this God might be?
We are morally bound to open the card that came along with the priceless gift. Sometimes, we are challenged with a variant:
- I have no interest in God whatsoever. I don’t feel drawn. I guess I’m just not one of the elect, the chosen of God.
This is a red-herring argument to lead us away from the true scent. Despite this man’s desires, God calls “all people everywhere to repent,” as Paul claimed. Whatever our feelings might be, we all know God (Romans 1:18-32; 2:14-15) and therefore are without excuse. Lovingly and patiently, we need to remind people that they are “without excuse” and must seek after God.
Paul told that Athenians that the true God is within their reach:
- “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. [Today, such a statement is highly controversial, but evidently not for the Athenians of Paul’s day.] God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'” (Acts 17:26-28)
According to Paul, it was not just the elect who had the responsibility to “seek him.” We all have this responsibility. And He is available! He is “not far from each one of us!”
If we all have the knowledge and faculties to seek Him, why don’t we find Him? Clearly, it is not because God has withheld the emotional and intellectual software from certain individuals. Rather, it is we who have freely rejected the light (John 3:19-20). If this is the case, then it is important that we recognize our culpability instead of blaming God, who has revealed Himself to all.
However, some might understandably protest:
- Your Bible claims that only those whom God chooses will actually come to Him and be saved. How then can God regard me as guilty!
However, we are all invited to God’s banquet (Rev. 22:17; Isaiah 55:7), but we willingly reject the invitation (Romans 3:10-18). His invitation interferes with our own agenda and interests.
In the face of this rejection, the Host then directed that others be induced to come:
- "Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them [“the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” – Luke 14:21] come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were [initially] invited will get a taste of my banquet.' " (Luke 14:23-24)
The fact that this latter crowd was chosen to attend in a special and more coercive manner, doesn’t let those who had turned down the first invitation off the moral hook. The Host had not been remiss in any way regarding them. The fact that the latter group had received an extra nudge in no way negates the moral culpability of the first group. In fact, He was understandably angry with them.
We do no one any favors when we affirm that, if they have no desire for God, they have no obligation to seek Him. This might represent an unwillingness to hurt feelings, but this isn’t love. A true love will warn of the dangers and also point the way to the answer.