Here’s a common atheist challenge:
- If God wants me to believe in him, her, or it – and your Bible says that God wants me to believe - then God, if he exists, should provide it. But there isn’t any evidence. If God would just appear before me, then I’ll believe in him.
There are several problems with this argument. For one thing, we all already have enough evidence, so much of it that we are “without excuse” when we refuse to believe (Rom. 1:18-20).
For another thing, even if God did appear to our atheist friend, he still wouldn’t believe. Miracles alone cannot produce a willing heart. This can only come from the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:8-9; John 6:37-45; 2 Tim. 2:24-26).
There are many illustrations of this principle. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead after four days in the tomb, some believed. However, others would not even consider the message of this miracle – that it was evidence that God the Father was working through the Son. Instead, they formed a huddle to plan to put both Jesus and the evidence of Lazarus to death (John 11:47-48).
How could they do this in light of such incontestable evidence? Several friends have admitted that they have had such evidence but turned their back on it. During one unguarded moment, a friend confessed:
- Danny, I used to be just like you, carrying my little Bible wherever I went.
I asked her what had happened since then, because she had become antagonistic towards the biblical faith. She explained:
- I came out of a liberal church. In fact, my father was the pastor. Every summer we’d go to church camp with several other churches. But the last time, things were very different. While my father was explaining the procedures to the campers, a couple of girls went up front to ask for prayer. This type of thing never happened! We didn’t pray and didn’t much believe in it. However, my father felt compelled to pray for them, but soon he was confronted by most of the campers who came to him for prayer.
But it didn’t stop there. During this week, we were literally bombarded with miracles. We saw all sorts of visions, experienced healings, and shed many tears of joy. No one could doubt what was happening. After camp was over, most of us found Bible studies and Christian home fellowships. I lasted about six months.
“Well, what happened then,” I asked. For a while, she was speechless:
- Well, I guess it just fizzled out? It was over.
How tragic! It is understandable that the excitement would abate, but not the memory, not the evidence of the presence of God. I was reminded of Jesus’ parable about the different soils and how one soil received the seed with joy, but the cares of life became weeds that suffocated the seeding (Mat. 13).
Jesus taught another parable about two men who died. The poor man Lazarus went to be with the Lord in “Abraham’s bosom.” The rich man went to a place of torment, from where he pleaded with Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers about such a horrible fate, which also awaited them. He reasoned that if they saw Lazarus risen from the dead, they would believe and avoid such a horror. Abraham’s answer is illuminating:
- “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Miracles alone cannot save or even convince of the truth. The heart believes what it wants to believe, even in the face of all the evidence in the world.
We marvel that others do not believe. We marvel that others can believe that everything – biological diversity, DNA, life, the cell, the fine-tuning of the universe, the immutable and elegant laws of physics, consciousness – just evolved out of nothing. We therefore argue to the point of exasperation, hoping that our skeptical friend will see the light of the evidence. But we find that there is absolutely no move at all!
However, we shouldn’t be surprised. This is the very thing about which Scripture has repeatedly warned us:
- Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:25-26)
Even after we have done everything evangelistically we are required to do, God must then “grant them repentance.” If He doesn’t bring about this heart change, there cannot be salvation.
Even the most perfect of arguments cannot win the skeptic apart from God granting salvation. Jesus had the best arguments, and He was crucified! I we believe that we have the life-changing arguments – and they may be excellent ones – we will become frustrated when the skeptic simply refuses to give them the weight they deserve.
We must be prepared to provide the reasons why we believe ( 1Peter 3:15), but we must also remember that we are very limited. We can plant the seed, but only God can give it growth.