He Has Not Forgotten
We’ve all heard it from someone we care about. One day they say, “I don’t believe in God.” It used to bother me. My first reaction would be to try to figure out a way to convince them they were wrong. Not because I felt it was my responsibility to persuade others to my way of thinking, but because I knew God was real, and the consequences of unbelief were tragic.
It was a tough battle from my position. I would try getting them to think in rational ways. I would point them to common sense. I would refer them to critical thinkers who had tackled the subject with great insight and perspective. If they couldn’t defend their stance, they would resort to things like, “That’s fine for you, but God doesn’t work for me,” or, “That is your truth, not mine.” Sometimes they would trek down a path of judging God, accusing Him of being unloving, unmerciful, and cruel for all the pain and suffering in life.
Several years ago, a section of Scripture jumped out at me. I’d probably read this a hundred times or more previously, but that particular day it resonated strongly.
Romans 1:19-20 (NLT)
They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. 20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
I thought to myself, “I’ve been working too hard. It’s not up to me to convince people God exists. He is every day making Himself known.” I was greatly relieved. The pressure was off. I no longer had to be smarter, or more convincing, or better at debating. Even those who claim there is no God have at least been made aware in some way about the reality of Him. This of course does not mean they’ll come to a belief in Christ, but at least there is a place to begin. Because God is always speaking to us. And I believe everyone, even the most atheistic of atheists, down deep knows He’s there.
You might be thinking, “But if they say and act like they don’t believe in God, how does this information help?”
Knowing certain information can affect how we communicate to others. It can affect our confidence to speak the truth in love. If a five-year-old child gets angry and tells you they hate you, your response to that situation will be much different if you see them as immature and out of control than if you truly believed they hated you. This morning they were laughing and hugging you. This afternoon they are speaking foolishness and throwing their toys. Ten years ago your loved one was singing in church and kneeling next to you to pray. Today they are saying “I don’t believe in God” and most likely making other poor decisions as well.
Understanding why they make their claim can be helpful. It usually has something to do with some combination of misinformation, fear, and rebellion. There is a lot of misinformation floating around out there, all of which begins with the mistaken premise that the created can explain the Creator better than the Creator can explain Himself.
Fear is a driving factor all its own. Once a person admits that God exists, then they have a responsibility to learn more about Him. Some people deeply fear what they may find, because they are riddled with guilt and shame over the things they’ve done, and are afraid God will reject them. Their fear is unwarranted, but it is still there.
Rebellion is the worst reason of all. It pits man against God. The eternal loser against the eternal winner. The foolish against the wise. The squishable against the un-squishable. Denying that God exists because of rebellion removes accountability. This is appealing for those who know how they are living is wrong, but they prefer not to change, and they prefer not to admit they are rebelling against God. “Removing” Him from the picture can make it easier to justify how they’re living—if only to themselves.
As you have probably noticed throughout your lifetime, people sometimes will say things they don’t really believe. We’ve all been guilty at some point in our life of believing one thing and saying the opposite.
So now when I hear someone say, “I don’t believe in God.” I don’t argue, I don’t make a fuss. I just keep my mouth shut and wait. I treat them with kindness, love, and patience. I do my best to imitate how God has dealt with me during my times of misinformation, fear, and rebellion. I pray for them, not from a position of judgment but of compassion. All they need to do is stop running, hiding, or fighting. By me knowing they really know God exists, I am inspired to pray for them with hope rather than despair.
I share all of this as an encouragement and a reminder not to give up on anyone. To pray and keep on praying for them. We may not live to see some of our loved ones make the changes we are praying for, but that does not diminish the effectiveness of those prayers or the faithfulness of God. He hears us. And He has not forgotten about them.