Dear Closet Atheist,
I just read your letter and I have to say that I don’t think you realize exactly what it is you are arguing against. And I realize that this may have to do with a measure of rebellion on your part as a young person especially having been raised in a very conservative denomination like the churches of the Missouri Synod of Lutherans. I remember what it was like when I, as a young adult, began to question what it was that I believed as I reached maturity and began to desire to differentiate myself from my parents and attempt to set up my own belief system and sort it out. Please, don’t misinterpret this as some condescending retort, rather as someone who sees a lot of himself in you, at least from what I’ve read on your blog. Think of this as someone who has spent the last 20 years or so actually thinking about what I believe.
Suffice it to say, you’re simply in error, but not completely, just categorically. What do I mean?
Well, we have to define what is meant by the term “Christian”? It refers to a person who has been joined to Christ, and that person is, for all intents and purposes of God, a new creature. Does this mean that they’re somehow made perfect either in moral character or intellectual power? Unfortunately, and you’ve probably figured this out, the answer is a resounding, “No.” But does this mean that a person who thinks that walking the aisle, or getting baptized somehow gives a person a moral blank check to do whatever they want (being raised LCMS, which heavily sola scriptura) scripture most certainly contradicts such positions. But people believe a a lot of wrong things,probably because they’ve never really thought through what they believe or what things mean, even atheists. That’s why I find your letter so concerning, given your upbringing but I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and, because of my experience, realize that you may not have been taught truly or accurately what it is the Bible says about people.
Your letter begins with something that is simply a false assertion. You write,
You can do no good.
That’s not what the Bible claims. Even Jesus pointed that out because, in the context of prayer, he says,
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…(Luke 11:13, ESV, emphasis added)
Clearly, even being “evil,” people know what is good and can do what is good, by even a Christian metric of morality. Now, I realize that you direct this at Christians, and you’re right, we can do no good, at least no good that will merit us life, and that’s why we need Christ’s righteousness.
You also write,
You are not worthy of love.
That’s true, because in our sin and rebellion against our God and Creator we are wholly unworthy of his love, but
[…]God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, ESV)
By this we know love, that [Christ] laid down his life for us… (1 John 3:16, ESV)
as well as
[This] is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10, ESV)
Love has little to do with worthiness because love is a gift, even in human conditions. I love my wife, and I love my kids, and they have done nothing worthy of that love, because they’re aggravating and annoying, but I love them nonetheless and will continue to do so because I deem them worthy. God, in his sovereignty, deems some of us despicable, rebellious, sinful creatures worthy and demonstrates his love, and Christians respond in like manner. Why?
[Because He] has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3b-6, ESV, emphasis added)
Also, you write,
You should feel guilty for your constant sin.
Yes. And it should drive me to Christ because he has paid the penalty for that sin. It’s when we don’t “feel guilty” for our constant sin, that should make us question whether or not we are truly Christian. The Christian has, for all intents and purposes, been declared “not guilty” in Christ, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t sin or can’t sin, but that,
[We] have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, … [We] do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. [Which allows us to] draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16, ESV)
Lastly, for this portion of my response to your letter, and I’m going to cut off at this point simply because it is so late at night (when I’m writing this) and pick up later, but you write,
Everything in your life has been laid out for you and you have no control over it.
That’s simply not true. Now you probably say this because of biblical terms like predestination and foreordained and foreknowledge, but these are things that God does, or has done (depending on how you look at it) and there’s so much discussion on how these terms are to be understood and I could write an entire book on how I understand them. Suffice it to say, the assertion is refuted by the constant appeals that are found throughout the scriptures for God’s people to hear him and obey him. It’s true only in this sense: that the ends of all human lives have been fixed in either mercy or wrath. We don’t know who they are. I pray, and I say this sincerely, that God would fix your end in his mercy by your believing in Christ. God is free to do this, and can accomplish this. Now, what I can say is this, as a corrective: the fact that God fixes the end doesn’t erase the effect of your, or mine, choices and actions in this world. I point to the parable of the landowner in Matthew 20 as an example of this, in that whoever you’re working for at the end of the day will pay off. What you do while you’re laboring, well, that’s up to you.
As I said, I must end for now, so until next time: