THE ROOTS OA ATHEISM

Written by Vladimir Moss

 THE ROOTS OF ATHEISM

 

     If we ask an atheist why he does not believe in God, we will generally receive one of two kinds of answer. God does not exist, he will say, because science – especially Darwinism – has demonstrated that we came into being by chance, out of dead matter, without the need for any Creator. Or because of the manifest injustice in the world, which proves that there is no such thing as a just and loving God. 

     The first objection is easier to deal with. For, as St. Paul says in the first chapter of Romans, the existence of the invisible Creator is clearly demonstrated by His visible creation, so that he who does not believe “has no excuse”. And indeed, the more we study the extraordinary complexity and perfection of creation, far beyond the capacity of man to explain or imitate or emulate, the more absurd the atheist hypothesis looks. Nor has anybody been able to answer the question of how the creation can come out of nothing. The fact is: nothing comes from nothing; there must be something that brought everything that we see into being, and that something is absolute Being, “He Who Is”, God Almighty.

     Intuitively, however, God Almighty must also be loving and just; He must be the height of perfection in order to bring all this perfection into being, and especially the crown of His creation – man, with his unquenchable dreams of love and justice. But then the atheist points to all the manifest injustices in the world: the babies who die young, or who grow up with crippling mental or physical disabilities; the wretched existence, even in our scientific age, of the majority of mankind; the continuing existence of genocidal tyrants, who die peacefully in their beds while their victims suffer bitter tortures to the end. “Can this be justice?” asks the atheist. “If God is almighty, why does He not bring the sufferings of the innocent to an end? If he can prevent such suffering but does not do so, does this not prove that He is neither loving nor just – and therefore that He does not exist?” 

     The believer is tempted to reply to these reproaches that in the life to come all these injustices will come to an end and the rightness of God’s ways will be demonstrated. Yes, there is no question about that.  But such an answer will not satisfy the atheist who does not believe in the life of the age to come.

     Nor did it satisfy some of the greatest saints who ever lived. It did not satisfy Righteous Job. His friends tried to convince him that he was suffering justly for his sins. He was not convinced, not because he was lacking in humility and did not see himself as a sinner, but because the answer was too pat, too superficial.

     Job accepts that all men are sinners and for that reason worthy of God’s wrath: “For mortal man born of woman is short-lived and full of wrath. He falls like a flower that blooms, and like a shadow he does not continue. Have you not taken account of him, and brought him to judgement before You? For who shall be pure from uncleanness? Not one. Even if his life is but one day upon the earth…’ (14.1-4). And yet when his friend Eliphaz says much the same thing – “For who is the mortal that shall be blameless, or who is born of a woman that shall be righteous, since He does not trust His saints, and heaven is not pure in His sight” (15.14-16) – Job says that “you are all bad comforters” (16.2). For “there was no wrongdoing in my hands, and my prayer is pure” (16.16-17).

    And yet we do not find an answer to our questions in the Book of Job. What we do learn is the following. First, Job is indeed a righteous man, who was not lying when he said: “I hold fast to my righteousness and am not letting it go. For I am not conscious in myself of having done anything wrong” (27.6). Therefore Job’s friends are wrong to seek some fault in him that would justify his suffering. At the same time, while commending Job against his friends, the Lord has something to rebuke Job for: “Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? He that reproveth God let him answer for it.” We cannot argue with God or contend with His judgements. The very thought of arguing with God is sin – which Job immediately acknowledges: “Behold I am vile, what shall I answer Thee? I will put my hand on my mouth. Once have I spoken, but I will not answer: yea, twice, but I will proceed no further” (40.1-5). How can the creature hope to understand the mind of His Creator? The gulf between the Creator and His creature is infinite. The only rational thing to do is shut his mouth.

     St. Paul expressed the same thought: “Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed I, ‘Why hast Thou made me thus?’ Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonor?” (Romans 9.20-21)

     It is only when Job finally stops arguing with God, recognizing the boundless distance between Creator and creature that he finally receives an illumination that gives him peace and prepares the way for his rehabilitation in the eyes, not only of God, but also of men: “I know that Thou canst do everything, and that no thought can be withheld from The. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? Therefore have I uttered that which I understood not. Hear, I beseech Thee, and I will speak: I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes” (42.1-6) 

     This passage from Job is read on Holy Thursday in the Orthodox Church, showing Job’s suffering to be a forefigure of the suffering of Christ. For if the suffering of the righteous Job was inexplicable to Job, how much more inexplicable must the suffering of the supremely righteous Christ have seemed to His disciples? And yet through the supremely unjust suffering of the All-Righteous One God’s justice was satisfied and His love manifested to the greatest degree…

     The atheist “hides counsel without knowledge”. He presume to know that God is unjust and unloving, measuring himself as if he were on a par with “the God, Who loves us more than we know how to love, and without Whom the very concept of justice would be inconceivable to us. Until he humbles himself, repenting in dust and ashes, he will learn nothing but only puff himself up in his insane belief that he has somehow humiliated God, put Him in His place, as it were, shown Him up for what He really is – supposing, of course, that He really exists, which the atheist claims he knows is not the case.

     It is pride that hides the unbeliever from the light of truth that surrounds him on all sides. The believer does not presume to know all the answers, or even a small part of them. But his lack of knowledge does not torment him; he finds it only natural, since he knows he is a man and not God. He knows that God in his infinite wisdom, love and justice knows, and that is all that matters. For like a child he does not presume to contradict his parents or ask them to explain things that are beyond his understanding. And so: “Verily I say unto you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18.3).

 

December 17/30, 2018.

Holy Prophet Daniel.

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