A Losing Strategy

Q. A very bright professional woman who is very dear to me is an agnostic, bordering on atheism. She seems angry with God (or maybe it is fear, or a combination — God knows) and actively runs from all mention of Him because He allows the innocent to suffer, and because He will condemn the Hottentots and the Hitlers to the same eternal fire and brimstone.

I’m at a total loss of what to say to her. She was raised a Lutheran and learned not just to “fear” God, but to be terrified of him. She knows the Plan of Salvation but appears to reject the entire “God package.” God is not a loving Father but, if He is to be believed in at all, He is an angry, hostile, punishing being who is just waiting to get His hands on you and who will impose hideous punishment on all, even believers, in this life and the next.

I have to believe somehow that, although nonbelievers will suffer eternal separation from God, there must be places where the just God mitigates the kinds of “punishment” a nonbeliever will get. Or else, maybe He simply “snuffs them out.”

So what about the person whose entire social and cultural existence, the entire cognitive framework in which his personality develops, and by which he interprets all his perceptions, including what God reveals to him, and lives a “righteous” life, although he worships an “unknown god?”

How can I explain to my agnostic friend that a good, just, and merciful God will condemn such a person to have the “smoke of his burning rise up forever and ever.” I know that God takes no pleasure in this, so is our God so absolutist in his condemnation of all nonbelievers? I’m not writing of those who know God (as we think we do), and actively rebel and reject Him. I mean those who are unable to know God as we think we do.

Is it not likely that we attribute qualities to God that are not really His thinking and ways at all? After all, his thoughts and ways are far different from ours. We are able to know of him only the tiny part he has chosen to reveal.

What can I say to this dear woman? Is there any scripture (which is not really seen by her as a valid source) that can help? Yes, I pray for her.

A. So your friend thinks that God allows the innocent to suffer? What role does she ascribe to Satan in all this, or to sinful man who brings so much needless suffering on himself? The remedy for all this is so simple, to believe in the one He has sent, but it sounds like your friend would rather condemn God for things that aren’t His doing than accept His offer of pardon and be free. The whole Book of Job was written for her. You can advise her to read it. Maybe she’ll discover that her anger is misdirected, that she’s taken the word of others instead of learning for herself about God.

The Bible makes it plain that there is no one who is good, not one. (Romans 3:9-20) Until we realize that and accept ourselves for what we are, hopeless, helpless, worthless and useless sinners, there’s nothing God can do. He only offered one plan to rescue us. He died for us so that we could live with Him. (This was also the only time He was responsible for the suffering of an innocent man.)

The very best favor you can do for your friend is to show her what a losing strategy she’s adopted. The creature is going to defy her creator, justifying herself and condemning Him. And for what? This is exactly what Satan has done and it’s at the root of all suffering and pain in the world. He’s also hoping that eventually God will bend and cut him a deal. How do you think that’s going to work out for him?

And by the way, the only ones unable to know God are the mentally incapacitated, and God will save all of them, just as he saves little children. All the rest of us are accountable.

Your affection for your friend is obvious and admirable, but if she had a cancer that was going to result in a long and agonizingly painful death and you knew you had the cure, you’d stop defending her insistence upon putting herself through that and do every thing possible to change her mind. This is ever so much more important.

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