“…without God (Gk.: atheists) in the world.” — Paul
He laughed when the reply came, “We are going to Mt. Zion.” This, indeed, convulsed Atheist with laughter. To him Zion is nothing but a dream; “there is no such place in all the world.” No, not in this world, but, insisted Christian, in the world to come. Atheist’s argument was that he had been searching, but now no longer, being the wiser, for twenty yours, and had never found it. To this Hopeful answered, What! No Mt. Zion? Why, we have seen it from the top of Mt. Clear! With that they turned away from this fellow, “one of the flatterers.” We last see Atheist resuming his backward way, laughing to himself, and, turning to snap his fingers at them, with one foot poised in mid-air over an empty abyss.
Paul’s teaching is that all men are by nature atheists. That is, atheism is natural to men; not natural by created, but by corrupted nature. Atheism, in Paul’s meaning: without God, is against created nature, but a very natural outgrowth of sophisticated nature. Atheism is human nature infected with the serpent’s breath.
All sin is crypto-atheism. The main principle of every sin is atheism. The cup of iniquity fills at the fountain of atheism. Sin breaks out into the world through the sluicegate of atheism. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God!” Then he says, “Who is lord over us?” (Ps. 12:4). “We are lords; we will come no more unto Thee” (Jer. 2:31). From there on, a legion of demons streams out of man. He drinks iniquity like water. Lurking denial of God eases the sludge of licentiousness down the open sepulcher of his throat. Where there is no sense of God, lust and vileness go glibly down. Hardly less than naked honor will now satisfy the dark sucking passion of his heart. Lust becomes dearer than self, until the desires of the flesh become as “milk and water, toys for children … That serpent, faced with the true dragon, became a fangless worm …. It is idle to point out to the perverted man the horror of his perversion: while the fierce fit is on, that horror is the very spice of his craving. It is ugliness itself that becomes, in the end, the goal of his lechery; beauty has long since grown too weak a stimulant.” (That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis, 268-9.)
The very thought of sin is sin. Rebel against God and you deny His sovereignty. You disgrace His holiness when you throw your filth in His face. (You have never done that?) You insult His wisdom when you set up a rule of your own as a guide in place of His law. You show a contempt for God when you can find satisfaction in any sin in preference to happiness in Him alone. You loathe His goodness when you live as though it is not strong enough to attract to Him. By sin you deny God of all right, rob Him of His attributes, make God not God, as though He did not create you, or your being does not come from Him; as though the air you breathe, the food you live by, are your own by innate right and self-supremacy, and not by His gift.
Atheism is still worse. For sin implies that God is not worthy of Being. For every sin is a kind of secret cursing of God, an aim at the annihilation of His being. This may not be the self-conscious intention of every sinner, but it is the nature of every sin. What is it which brings a man to break God’s law? It is the love of sin. That same perverted love would incite him to murder God, if he could. Sin is the setting up of self-will and self-rule and self-glorification as man’s chief end, against the will and glory of God. If the sinner could have his way, God would have to go. Your sin, then, is a turning your back on God (Jer. 32:33), a kicking out against Him (Dent. 32:15), as if He were no more than a dog, unfit for so much as a word, unworthy of even a thought, nothing but a cast-off. “Israel hath cast off the thing that is good” (Hos. 8:3), a blank refusal of God. “As for the Word which Thou hast spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken” (Jer. 44:16). By your sin you turn from God and so naturally turn to your sin. There is no neutral zone. God is the one turned from; sin the thing turned to. The implication is that there is more excellency in the nature of sin than in the nature of God. The sinner does not like to retain God in his knowledge (Rom. 1:28). Ignorance of God is willful. It is a banishing of God, a hatred of God. That the world knew Him not is parallel to Jesus’ word to the reprobate, “I never knew you.” The world through its wisdom knew not God (I Cor. 1:21), never loved God. The world, like Cain, “went out from the presence of the Lord.” To abhor the presence of a man implies an utter carelessness whether he continue in the world. It is to treat him as if he had no being, as though we have no concern in it. (Drive your car in that spirit and you prove yourself an inherent murderer.) All men, like the prodigal, left the Father’s house and went into a far country, there to forget God, to enjoy and love anything but God. The Russian atheist is not the worst kind of atheist because the Russian or Communist atheist continually has God in his mind. He has to. His ideology is always ranting and raving in denial of God. It is unscientific to believe in God — he keeps saying and telling himself. But there is the man whose soul is not tormented with the ridiculous communist ideology, who simply blanks God out of his mind, to think and live as if there were no such Being. Neither of them believe in God or devil, but both of them, in effect, own the devil to be worthy more of notice than God.
I ask you, I ask myself, Did you ever please yourself, at any time, with the thought of how happy you’d be, how free to enjoy your pleasures, if there were no God? Such thoughts have occurred to me. You get it all the time now out of women’s “lib.” Such women say, We are lords of our own selves, subject to no law but our own to be led by no will but that of our own flesh. We are the uncontrolled and the uncontrollable. Did you, as they do, never so rage against God as to wish Him stripped of His own holy and sovereign will to command, and His righteous will to punish? That is the very thought of the natural man. You are not a member of a feminist or atheist movement. But you have secretly wished the Bible never went on record with certain principles, or that some of them were blotted out of the Bible, because they stand against your conscience, condemning lusts and pleasures you would rather enjoy with carefree abandon and delight. Some young people think this way perfectly openly. I know this because I have talked to such, and they have opened their heart to the extent of admitting all the above to be exactly their thoughts concerning God. What do they do with the Bible? They do not take it as the Word of God; but if they take it at all, they mythologize it, make a humorous and crazy fantasy (the ape ancester idea) the interpreter of it, in place of the Spirit speaking in His own Word. Then they try to de mythologize it by distilling out of it their own imaginations as the interpreter of God’s Word, and so they depose God’s law from being the rule of reason. There are students, within the Christian school system, sad to say, who cannot imagine any other rule than the rule of their own reason. When you do this, you deny such a thing as truth, and rifle it of its true mind and content. You then rip it from its context of divine revelation. It becomes, then, whatever comes out of man’s discovery. Whatever God may say in His Word, the Bible, means whatever the varieties of men’s imaginings make it to mean, and every man’s opinions are a law to himself. This is telling God He wasted His time producing that divine revelation. Man has an inborn unwillingness to acquaint himself with the mind of God as expressed in His own revelation, the Bible, so disowning God as his rule and so takes to an idolatrous enthronement of self-rule instead.
Adam became the first “atheist” of the human race. For he revolted from God, sought shelter among some flimsy bushes of error, and hid behind his own fig-leaf, spider-web righteousness. When he ate the fruit from the forbidden tree, he in effect said, I may do anything I please with my own body, my own mind, my own soul! Today, man thinks he may do just as he pleases with the material creation. Man kowtows before the Shrine of Self. For him that is the highest court of appeal. Adam came to have hard thoughts against God because he had such high thoughts of himself. The command, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, and thy neighbor, as thyself” became an insult to his “dignity,” or at least to his self-complaisance. The rich young ruler imagined that he had kept all the things of the law of God from his youth up. Quite a record! Then why did he turn his back on the law of Christ? You have no claim of bowing to the law of God when you ignore the law of Christ. Why did this man do that? because it interfered with the law of self. He felt that Christ had made truth a vulture to pluck out right eyes and gnaw off right hands. Why did the Pharisees, such strict hewers to the line of Scripture, mock and reject Christ’s stringent interpretation of the law of God? because it dethroned self.
This is all terrible truth, isn’t it? Atheism is really terrible! The atheist is such not only, as the term itself implies, because of distance from God, but because of defiance of Him. What we should do about our own natural and practical atheism we will have to take up next time, God willing. But if we do not see and lament this evil in us, we do not have the character of a Christian.