For some reason, I’ve recently been thinking about atheists. One online atheist I came across had a picture of a baby with a caption that read, “We are all born atheists until someone starts telling us lies.” Is this true? Do we only come to a belief in God (or gods) if someone tells us this? (Of course, this begs the question of who told the first people about God, but I digress.) Or, do we have an innate belief in God? In other words, does God make sure everyone knows He exists?
Thankfully, Scripture clearly addresses this. Romans 1 says, “18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”
In particular, notice vs. 19-20. God has made it evident to them. The word evident is phaneroo, which means to make known, to declare, to make visible that which is hidden. What did God make evident? That which is known about God: His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature. How did He make it evident? By His creation. Psalm 19 puts it this way: “1 The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. 2 Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. 3 There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. 4 Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world.” Again, notice that this is made evident without speech, without words. Thus, as Paul says in v. 20 above, God makes Himself known by what He has made, so that all are without excuse. Therefore, at judgment day, no one can say, “If only I had known you existed God, I would have believed in you.” Quite the contrary, everyone knows He exists.
Romans 2 also indirectly demonstrates our knowledge of God. “14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” Everyone has a conscience that tells us right and wrong. There can only be universal right and wrong if there is an absolute giver of morality, and that person is God. Therefore, the fact that everyone has a conscience and naturally knows right from wrong testifies to the existence of God.
Many people who say they are atheists will say those who believe in God are stupid, or foolish. Ironically, Scripture says they are the fools. Professing to be wise they became fools. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Their foolish hearts were darkened. Indeed, Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.””
So, when you speak to someone who says he’s an atheist, he is 1) lying, and 2) a fool. He is like a person who says he doesn’t believe in gravity. He sees how it works, he experiences its effects, but denies it exists. Truly, such a person is a fool.
How do we as Christians answer the atheist? I have come to the conclusion that we simply tell them that they really do believe that God exists, because the Bible says they do. Even though they may deny it, they know in their heart that they do believe it. In other words, there really are no atheists. We tell them that they are suppressing this truth in unrighteousness, just as Scripture says. They may call you names, mock you, and hate you, all because you are telling them the truth. Most importantly, we give them the gospel. We should never think we are better, because God tells us “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11) May the Lord grant the atheists we meet the same grace He has given us.