Why They Question the Existence of God
More people are doing so today. Do their reasons justify the conclusion that God does not exist?
IN THE February 24, 1962, issue of Ave Maria the Catholic Cardinal Richard Cushing observed: “For the first time in the history of mankind, atheism is on the march; and the Church is helpless to prevent the advance of anti-Christ.” It is spreading rapidly throughout the world. The idea that there is no God not only has engulfed a large proportion of the more than one billion people ruled by communism, but it has made amazing inroads upon the thinking of persons in noncommunist lands.
But why do so many persons today question the existence of God? Why is atheism now on the march, and the church unable to stop it? What is responsible for this unprecedented disbelief?
BELIEF IN GOD’S EXISTENCE
Philosopher Celestine N. Bittle wrote in his book God and His Creatures: “No people has ever been discovered which, in the strict sense of the term, is ‘atheistic.’ Individuals may be atheists; but a people, never. This universal belief is a tremendous fact.” It is strong evidence that man was originally created with the inherent inclination to acknowledge God’s existence.
In order to satisfy man’s quest to know about Him, God provided man with an inspired record about Himself. In this account God also explains man’s origin, why sickness and death exist and what hope there is for the future. The collection of these inspired writings is now generally known as the Holy Bible or Scriptures.—2 Tim. 3:16.
The Scriptures are in harmony with man’s inherent inclination to acknowledge God’s existence and go to support it. They attribute the beautiful starry heavens, the marvelous earth and intelligent man to the handiwork of God. They state: “God created the heavens and the earth,” also, “God proceeded to create the man.” Yes, the evidence of the Scriptures, the natural dictate of human reason and the law and order that govern the universe all testify to the fact that God does exist.—Gen. 1:1, 27.
WHAT ABOUT HUMAN SUFFERING?
However, it is because of the unparalleled human suffering in the earth that many persons question the existence of God. This was pointed out by a retired Anglican medical missionary, Marian Sherman, who said last fall: “I became an atheist very largely because of the terrible suffering of Indian women who had never done anything to deserve it. How could an all-loving God allow this to happen? And we’ve had two ghastly world wars. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Not a few persons reason this way. A loving God, they feel, would not allow human suffering; and since suffering exists, they conclude, there must not be a God who is loving. Is this conclusion justified?
No, it is not. The existence of wickedness and the suffering it has brought to mankind does not arbitrarily rule that a God of love does not exist. Such a view overlooks entirely man’s responsibility. It is like a patient who ignores a doctor’s instructions, and then denies the existence of the doctor because he is suffering. Or it is like a machinist who refuses to follow the manufacturer’s advice, and then, when his tools do not function properly, denies that the manufacturer exists. In such cases it would be foolish to question the existence of a compassionate doctor or a skilled manufacturer. The individual himself is to blame for the suffering and trouble.
It is similar with mankind today. The inspired Scriptures show that Jehovah God created the first human pair perfect, with the prospect of enjoying life in an earthly paradise as long as they lived. This provision was an evidence of God’s love. But when mankind refused to follow God’s instructions, they suffered the consequences. This did not mean a loving God does not exist. God had warned them in advance what would happen; so it was man, not God, that was responsible for the suffering, sickness and death that followed.—Gen. 1:27, 28; Deut. 32:4, 5; Eccl. 7:29.
True, it would not be loving to allow this suffering to continue indefinitely. And this God has no intention of doing. Human wickedness and suffering have been tolerated only because an issue was raised in the garden of Eden. One of God’s spirit creatures, identified in the Bible as Satan the Devil, influenced the first human pair, Adam and Eve, to disobey God. This called into question God’s creatorship and his justice in demanding obedience as a condition for life and yet seemingly not creating man with the capability of remaining loyal to God.
So God has allowed a set period of time to settle this question of whether men can remain faithful under test. This period is now about up. Very soon Satan and all the human suffering he has been responsible for will be eliminated. It is the loving Creator who will provide this relief by ushering obedient mankind into a righteous new system of things.—2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 12:12.
The churches of Christendom have not made clear to people why wickedness and suffering have been allowed to exist for a time on earth. Rather, they have taught lies about God, painting him as an unmerciful fiend who keeps humans alive in some subterranean lake of fire, where they cook and sizzle in excruciating pain throughout eternity. Such teachings have turned many away from God.
Many modern theologians and clergymen are even coming to terms with atheism. “I have preached more and more in the past decade on the values of atheism and agnosticism,” wrote Episcopal Bishop James A. Pike. “There has to be a large measure of agnosticism in true religion,” he asserted.a And Time magazine of June 9, 1961, observed that “Paul Tillich, America’s most eminent theologian, talks of God as ‘Being Itself’ or ‘Ultimate Reality.’” This characterization, however, says an article entitled “Is Modern Theology Atheistic?” appearing in the Protestant journal The Christian Century, “saves Tillich from the charge of atheism.” But is not this sort of theology that borders on atheism enough to cause a lot of persons to question the existence of God?
It is therefore apparent that the churches, instead of building faith in God, have been responsible for millions of persons turning toward atheistic communism. Their conflicting teachings, religious persecutions, warmongering and currying the favor of the rich and influential have caused many to reason that, if the churches represent God, then there must not be a God. Many responsible churchmen admit religion’s guilt.
“I know that it is we, we Christians alone, who are responsible for Communism,” admitted the dean of a European theological school. “Remember that the Communists once were Christians. If they do not believe in a just God, whose fault is it?”b And the dean of the faculty at New York City’s Union Theological Seminary acknowledged: “The very atheism of Communism is a judgment upon the churches, . . . which have usually been ornaments of the status quo, no matter how unjust it has been.”c
The failure of the churches to imitate Christ and to provide accurate knowledge concerning God has prepared the way for atheism.
Hundreds of millions of persons in Communist lands are being systematically taught that God does not exist, and indoctrination is being stepped up. “Atheism will be taught more intensively at party training centers and in special courses for teachers, doctors and journalists,” Time magazine reported recently. This constant program of indoctrination, especially of the youth, has caused many to question the existence of God.
Often this propaganda reaches the West in newspaper reports. For example: “‘The Bible says the Creator sent manna to the Jews,’ Premier Khrushchev said. ‘I don’t know whether this is true, I did not see it happen. I don’t know whether the manna was of first quality or whether the Jews got enough of it. To find out, we sent Gagarin up there to take a look. But Gagarin reported he saw nothing but emptiness. So we sent Valentina Tereshkova and told her if she finds manna she should cook herself a meal, but she found nothing. So there is no hope that we can get manna from heaven. This means that we must trust our hard-working hands.”—New York Times, April 7, 1964.
What a foolish basis on which to question the existence of God! But these persons did not first give up belief in God after the trips into space. Rather, in Communist-controlled countries, faith in God is undermined in youth by constant repetition by teachers and educators that there is no God. Others question God’s existence because of seeing human suffering, and not receiving a satisfactory Scriptural answer for it. And still others have been turned away from God because of the conflicting teachings and the atheistic leanings of religious leaders.
But there is at least one more vital factor that is responsible for so many questioning the existence of God. That is because they want to believe the lie that there is no God. God’s righteous law is an uncomfortable restriction. They want to be free to pursue their selfish course without the pangs of conscience that would gnaw at them should they be accountable to God’s law. And so, because they do “not accept the love of the truth . . . God lets an operation of error go to them, that they may get to believing the lie.”—2 Thess. 2:10, 11.
A wise person who loves righteousness, however, will never be turned away from God. He will regularly study the Bible, and will grow to love God for the marvelous provisions that He has made for life in a righteous new system of things. Indeed, it is the fool that “hath said in his heart, there is no God.”—Ps. 14:1, American Standard Version.
a The Christian Century, December 21, 1960.
b Harper’s Magazine, August 1960.
c Time magazine, November 10, 1961.