The Necessity of Atheism?

By: Dev Menon

An article from ‘Theology Matters’, by Dave Bish

On Monday 25th of March 1811 the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was expelled from Oxford. His story interests me because we’re related, but more because he was expelled for his distribution of his pamphlet ‘The Necessity of Atheism’. Two hundred years later our most famous Atheists are retired Oxford Professor, Richard Dawkins and Oxford graduate Christopher Hitchins.

I’ll defend the atheists right to express his views on campus and I’m glad that today it’s possible.

The debate for God is on. On the face of it the question is ‘Does God exist?’ Shelley claimed that ‘the mind cannot believe in the existence of God’ but his objections were largely complaints against God’s character. The question isn’t so much is there evidence for God, but do we like him?

Many seem to think God is mean and distant and powerful and harsh. Hitchins portrays life in God’s universe as ‘like living in North Korea’. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dare I say we reinforce the misconceptions when we seek to impress the world with the awesome power of God, a strategy that may impress but which can lead to fear more than love.

Jesus speaks to his followers (Luke 10:21-24) and says

‘no-one knows the Son except the Father, and no-one knows the Father except the Son, and any to whom the Son reveals him’.

He is telling us that to know God is to know himself as he makes his Father known. As Athanasius noted in his conflict with Arius, we don’t firstly know God as creator who impresses us with his power (as Arius argued), but rather the Son signifies God as Father. I know God is Father because I know his Son.

When Mary sits at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-11:13) we know that he will have been presenting himself to her as the Son, and speaking of his Father.

Jesus’ disciples asked to be taught how to pray, he said ‘when you pray say: Father’. He drew an analogy from human fathers who when asked by their children for a biscuit don’t give a stone, and much more with the heavenly Father give good gifts. A father is a potent life-giver and that’s never more true than in the case of the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and our Father, who is the pattern that all human fathers struggle to imitate, and who pours out life and love to us.

Our God is Father, he has sent his Son to reveal himself, and when we ask of him he gives us his Holy Spirit to live within us (Luke 11:13). Far from being a powerful God who comes to oppress and subject us, he comes in weakness, in person, in love. He came to win our hearts, to give himself to us, to bring us into his life.

Look out the window and you might see an impressive world and conclude that God is impressive. But God isn’t just impressive. Look again and see a world in which a grain becomes fruitful by dying (John 12:24) and in which the sun walks through the sky as a bridegroom, burning himself out in love, chasing away the darkness and giving us life day after day (Psalm 19:1-3). The gospel is painted all over the Lord’s world. And that gospel isn’t an account of abstract and lonely power, but of a Father who loves his Son, and all who come to find their life in him with the Holy Spirit.

Our God can be known personally, and is very good to know.

And is there evidence that he exists? See the God who walked our streets in person.

 

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