The Gospel and an Atheist’s Joke

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Last week several people sent me the same post on Twitter, a post several weeks old from an atheist making fun of Christianity. I rarely respond to Twitter outrages, which I think are not only a waste of time but also heart-rotting, but this one is different. That’s largely because the atheist’s argument actually makes the point, unintentionally, of why the gospel is such good news. 

Here’s what the Atheist Forum post said: “CHRISTIANITY: Belief that one God created a universe 13.79 billion yrs old, 93 billion light yrs in diameter (1 light yr = approx.. 6 trillion miles), consisting of over 200 billion galaxies, each containing ave. of 200 billion stars, only to have a personal relationship with you.” 

No doubt, the Atheist Forum thought they had hit upon a terrible problem for modern Christianity, one that would no doubt show why only naïve people could accept it. But the conundrum he mentions is one that the Bible itself poses all over the place. That’s why David sings in Psalm 8: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8:3-4). 

The New Testament takes this problem even further. The writer of Hebrews cites David’s awe-filled meditation, which concludes with “You have crowned him (humanity) with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” The writer of Hebrews writes, “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (Heb. 2:7-8). 

The vastness of the universe, the smallness of humanity, these things are not new conceptions, but were there long before Hubble telescopes and astrophysics. It seems absurd that God would care for tiny, frail human beings. And yet, the Book of Hebrews takes it even beyond all of that in its strangeness. “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of he suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). 

Not only does God create this vast and mystery-filled universe in order to have a personal relationship with humanity, but he does so through a particular human being (the incarnate Son of God himself) whose glory and honor is not seen in spectacular feats or accomplishments but in what everyone around would have viewed as a shameful and humiliating execution by the Roman Empire. As wonder-inspiring as the galaxies are, this is even more so, Christianity claims. 

And so Christianity claims, God holds the universe together not merely by impersonal laws of forces, but in a Person, in Jesus Christ, through whom and by whom and for whom he made it all (Jn. 1:1-14; Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:15-20). That means that the universe is more mysterious and wondrous than we even know or can comprehend (see God’s dialogue with Job). But is also means that the God who created and holds all this together in Christ is personally aware of and involved with the minute details of sparrows flying and falling, the growth of flowers in the field, and the number of hairs on each person’s head. 

God is not a syllogism or an algorithm. God is a personal God. In a time when people are treated like data-points, this reality, to which our deepest intuitions ought to point, is very good news. 

The strangeness of all of that is not a defect. The strangeness of Christianity from the seemingly will-to-power, red-in-tooth-and-claw nature of the universe, there’s another word. A word that is true, and that rings in truth above every quasar and black hole and star system and psyche: “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know; For the Bible Tells Me So.” 

Only when we see how lost we are, we can find our way again. Only when we bury what’s dead can we experience life again. Only when we lose our religion can we be amazed by grace again.


About Russell Moore

Russell Moore is Editor in Chief of Christianity Today and is the author of the forthcoming book Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America (Penguin Random House).