The Psychology of Atheism

“Man’s desire is not that Yahweh exists, but that he doesn’t.”

Study of Romans as given by Dr. James Montgomery Boice: Romans 1:18-20

18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Dr. Boice opens this topic up by going to a great source which is R.C. Sproul’s book titled “If There Is a God, Why Are There Atheists?”. This is a short title to read, but in a short 147 pages Sproul lays out the religion of atheism and the purpose of atheism. It is a work trying to answer why people become atheists. Sproul makes a distinction between two types of atheists, philosophical atheists and practical atheists. Practical atheists may confess a belief in God, but live as if there is no God. Philosophical atheists believe there is no God and try to argue against the existence of God based on intellectual arguments. Sproul will make the case that atheism “has nothing to do with man’s supposed ignorance of God–since all people know God, according to Romans 1–but rather with mankind’s dislike of him. People do not “know” God, because they do not want to know him”. As Sproul sees it, there isn’t enough evidence to convince people that there is a God. The problem is that people have a natural antipathy or hatred toward God. “Man’s desire is not that Yahweh exists, but that he doesn’t.”

  1. The Sovereign God

    1. Why are people determined to reject God? We looked at 3 previous reasons in past studies.

      1. The wrath of God which is directed against all godlessness and wickedness.
      2. Suppression by humans of the truth of God revealed in nature.
      3. Prior revelation of God’s eternal power and divine nature.
    2. If the truth of God is as plainly understood as Romans 1:18-20 maintains it is, why should anyone suppress it? Men and women reject God because they do not like him.
    3. People may like a god of their own “imagination” but they do not like the God that really is.
    4. Paul uses the words “godlessness” and “wickedness” to describe this dislike of God.

      1. Godlessness means that people are opposed to God.
      2. Wickedness refers to what people do because of this determined and purposeful opposition.
    5. What is it that people do not like about God? Nearly everything.
    6. The first thing people dislike about God is His sovereignty.

      1. If God is not sovereign then God is not God. Sovereignty is God’s most basic attribute.
      2. God shows his sovereignty over the material world by creating it and ruling over it according to his own fixed laws.
      3. God shows his sovereignty over people by their creation, therefore controlling the human will according to his pleasure (God hardened Pharaoh’s heart).
      4. God shows his sovereignty sometimes through miracles.
    7. Why is the sovereignty of God so objectionable?
      1. When man fell from grace in the garden we became rebellious toward God.
      2. We are in rebellion toward God because we desire our own autonomy.
      3. Adam was as free as ever to do what he wanted and to go where he wanted. He had autonomy, with only one condition. Do not eat of the tree. He could eat from anything else in the garden, but not this one tree.
      4. There was no greater irrational reasoning in the history of mankind than when Adam decided to eat from the tree.
      5. Adam saw the tree as a limitation on his own personal autonomy. He saw this one condition as diminishing his autonomy.
    8. We hate God’s sovereignty because we want to be sovereign ourselves.
    9. We say, “We will not have this God to rule over us.”
  2. The Holy God

    1. We oppose God for his holiness as well.
    2. We hate holiness because we are not holy.
    3. God’s holiness exposes our sin which we do not like.
    4. Holiness is the greatest of all God’s attributes.
    5. Holiness is the attribute that sets God apart from his creation. It has four elements.
      1. Majesty
        1. This means “dignity”, “authority of sovereign power,” stateliness”.
        2. It links holiness to sovereignty.
      2. Will
        1. The will of a sovereign personality.
        2. What is the will of God primarily set on? Proclaiming himself as the “Wholly Other”, whose glory must not be diminished by the disobedience or arrogance of men.
        3. This will is what the Bible is speaking of when it refers to God’s proper “jealousy” for his own honor.
        4. “Will” means that God is not indifferent to how men and women regard him.
      3. Wrath
        1. This is the natural and proper stance of the Holy God against all that oppose him.
        2. God takes the “business” of being God so serious that he will not allow no other to usurp his place.
      4. Righteousness
        1. It is what the Holy God wills in moral areas.
      5. Because holiness is not passive, but is an active, dynamic characteristic of God at work to punish rebellion and establish righteousness. The experience of confronting a Holy God is threatening.
      6. It is this overwhelming threat of confrontation for rebelliousness that causes people to deny God his existence.
  3. The Omniscient God

    1. God knows everything. This includes knowing every person created.
    2. The problem? We want to be recognized, but we do not want to be “known”.
    3. 4 examples of our desire to not be known.
      1. Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit”
      2. Julius Fast’s book titled “Body Language”.
      3. Desmond Moriss’ “The Naked Ape”.
      4. Soren Kierkegaard wrote of a human need for hiddennes or solitude.
    4. If we don’t want to be known by other people, how much more traumatic is it to be known by the omniscient God, before whom all hearts are open, all desires known?
  4. The Immutable God

    1. Why do we hate a God who never changes? Because He will never change means he will always be holy, he will always be omnipotent, he will always be omniscient, he will always be sovereign.
    2. If God never changes then we cannot “wait” him out. God will be the same tomorrow as he was yesterday and as he is today.
    3. Because God never changes, our need to be obedient to a sovereign God will always be commanded.
    4. It is this constant, never ending, command to be obedient to a sovereign and unchanging God that causes men to deny God.

Personal Reflection

When I first saw R.C. Sproul’s book “If There Is A God, Why Are There Atheists?”, I thought what an odd title for a book. As I thought about more and more I began to realize that this is an appropriate title, and question to ask. If God is sovereign, why does He even allow Atheists to exist. Why does God suffer those who deny His existence. I think there are a couple of reasons why God tolerates such behavior. First the obvious, so that his grace and mercy would abound even more. As we will study in a future look at Romans, God is long suffering. He is tolerant to a certain degree. He allows atheists to be atheists so that even to them he shows his mercy and grace. He shows this by allowing such behavior to exist. When an atheist does come to know Christ, God’s mercy and grace comes to fruition. You see, God’s mercy and grace never is returned empty. It is an example that his people should follow. Treat others with mercy and grace so that we give a glimpse of God. Which brings me to my second reason why God tolerates atheism. As believers in Christ, living a life of faith, we are held to the great commission given in Acts. We are to be emissaries of Christ, ambassadors and deliverers of the Gospel. God tolerates the unrighteous so that those that live by faith, you and me, can fulfill that great commission of being witnesses to them. Our most effective tool for fulfilling that commission is how we live our lives in front of them. We are called to be righteous so that the unrighteous will catch a glimpse of the holiness of God.

God tolerates, even allows the existence of, unrighteousness/atheism so that his patience and kindness can be on display. There is an appointed day though, when that patience and kindness will run out. There is an appointed day when God will no longer suffer the unrighteous, but instead will pour out the wrath that has been stored up, that’s for another study though. Don’t stand as an unjust person, before a just God.


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