A famous atheist was once asked in an interview what it would take to convince him that there is a God. He chuckled, and responded something like this: “If one day I looked up and saw mile-high flaming letters spread across the sky spelling out the message: ‘This is God: I exist!’ I suppose I’d have to consider the possibility.”
That glib response was obviously intended to express disdain for the whole concept of a deity, and the man speaking it was voicing his smug self-confidence in his rationale for the denial. The assumption is that an all-powerful being with an interest in being known by humans would obviously demonstrate his existence with incontrovertible displays of power. So, by his logic: no dramatic demonstration means no God!
There are so many problems with that simplistic notion that it’s hard to know where to begin! The fundamental problem is that skeptics like our atheist friend visualize a deity who is just an enhanced version of themselves, and that leads to ridiculous assumptions about “how God would behave if He existed.” It is undeniably true that the natural human tendency would be to establish our own credentials when challenged, but as God Himself has said: “My ways are not your ways.” (Isaiah 55:8) In point of fact, the logic of extrapolating from human motivations to those of the Lord of the Universe is as flawed as predicting human behavior from earth worms – actually worse than that, since humans and invertebrates do share the impulse for self-preservation, which is meaningless when speaking of God. An encounter with a God worth believing in must necessarily be on His terms, not ours.
But, besides being illogical, a more fundamental problem is that the “flaming letters” response is dishonest. If such a spectacular atmospheric display were to occur, we can confidently predict that it would result, not in repentance, but in a concerted effort to develop a naturalistic theory to explain The Flaming Letters Phenomenon! You see, the skeptic’s rejection of God is actually not based on objective evidence at all, but on faith – faith in God’s non-existence – and that faith will not be shaken by ‘new evidence.’
Since the dawn of the Enlightenment in the 17th century, there has been a common assumption that mankind’s continued growth in knowledge would explain-away all of the mysteries of the cosmos and thus eliminate the need for a deity to explain existence. For several centuries, that agenda seemed to be on-track as scientific progress increasingly revealed the mechanisms of the universe and the machinery of life. Yet, far from ‘explaining’ things, our growing knowledge of these sophisticated mechanisms has made it increasingly improbable that they can be the products of blind chance. In recent decades this has led an impressive number of open-minded intellectuals to acknowledge the compelling evidence for a guiding intelligence – a Creator (see The Multiverse?).
But, the sad reality is that many people are close-minded to the evidence for God – be it His Written Word of scripture, His Created Word of nature, or His whispered messages to the human heart. For such persons the real issue is not evidence (or lack of it) but the terrifying prospect of being accountable to a Sovereign Being, and that is what drives them to ever more elaborate and vehement forms of denial.
Why does God tolerate such denial? Though we cannot read His mind, scripture suggests that His motivation is like that of the long-suffering father of The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32): a love that seeks a relationship based, not on coercion, but free choice, and to that end patiently allows His children to reject Him in the hope that they will freely return. But as scripture has also made abundantly clear, though God is long-suffering and compassionate, the option of rejecting Him will end when Christ returns to judge humanity and establish God’s eternal Kingdom. Then the “flaming letters” will be undeniable to all, and tragically final for some.
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” (Romans 14:11 quoting from Isaiah 45:22-23)