This was the sign on a church: God prefers kind atheists over hateful Christians.(found it on a Facebook page). I wondered, “Is this true?” Then I considered, “What is true about loving and hating and atheists and Christians?”
I think I understand that this pastor wants to be able to dialogue with those of differing faiths. I might be inclined to believe this. If I was an atheist, I’d feel safe in talking to this pastor about my beliefs. This is all good. But I’m also wondering what kind of conversation I’d have with Jesus on this topic. What would Jesus say to the kind atheists? What would Jesus say to the hateful Christians? What is Jesus saying to me?
Seems to me that we need to start with Romans 6.23 – the wages of sin are death. This means that sin in the life of any person disqualifies that person from impressing God with the other aspects of their life. According to the writer of Romans, sin is a serious problem for us (this is understatement).
Next, we need to look to the words of Jesus that most Christians believe to be instructions on right living: Mark 12.29-31. “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
The question I have for the atheist, is it enough that they love their neighbour?
And my question for the Christian, is it enough to love God?
This passage does not give us an option, though it does give us a ranking system. First, you must love God. You must love God first. There is no second love, because after you have loved God with , there’s nothing left. Love for God must win. Second place in a fight to the death, is dead. There is no SBFF (second best friend forever).
The second command, to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, puts everything in its proper place. Truthfully, we do really love ourselves quite a lot, which is why we must strive to love God above all. Loving our neighbour becomes a practical way to love God. Caring for the poor and marginalized is a way of caring for Jesus (Matthew 25 gives us this instruction). Wanting to be kind is further proof that Jesus is working in me.
But back to the kind atheist and the hateful Christian. It would seem that both have very serious problems.
- Both have a sin problem. They both hate something that God loves. The Christian hates a person or people who God made and loves, and the atheist hates God.
- Both think that their behaviour is all that matters. The Christian thinks that as long as they have good religious character and personal holiness, that God will approve of them. The atheist considers that kindness will make their life better here – but likely only considers kindness to be a pragmatic way to take care of their self. If they are trying to impress God with their kindness, they’re not an atheist.
- They do not love God. The atheist is honest and upfront about this. The Christian must take seriously the words of John who astutely recognized that Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4.7-12
So where does this leave me? I find that I am woefully lacking loving God and loving others. I certainly hold others to a much higher standard than I hold myself – Jesus recommended that we consider our own sin to be like a log stuck in our eye (everyone can see it and it’s causing a great deal of pain). Jesus also suggested that we consider other people’s sin to be like specks of sawdust (small and annoying, but certainly not worth ordering major surgery). Matthew 7.1-5
These 3 problems face me squarely.
- I have a sin problem. I must repent. I must face my sin and see it as Jesus sees it. I must, like the writer of Hebrews says, resist sin to the point of shedding blood (Hebrews 12.4). My sin is a big problem and I need Jesus’ help to overcome it.
- I believe that my actions will earn me God’s approval (or the approval of people). My actions are incapable of impressing God, because he loved us before we loved him.
- I do not love God. I don’t trust him and I don’t think that his ways are better than my ways. I resist his promptings to generosity and love. I make excuses for my disobedience. Jesus very clearly said, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” (John 14.23) First comes the loving, then comes the actions. Doing the work without the love for God is just empty religion – whether it’s Christianity or atheism.
So, when I consider everything, I do not choose the side of the kind atheist nor do I choose the side of the hate filled Christian. I have chosen a third way: Jesus. To love what he loves and to hate what he hates. I am beginning to understand that to love something, I must also hate. If I love kindness, I must hate everything that resists my kindness. If I love God, I must hate everything that comes between me and the One I love.
And neither kind atheists nor hateful Christians can come between me and Jesus. Jesus won’t allow it.