A response to an atheist’s question

Recently an intelligent and thoughtful ex-Mormon atheist asked a question. Briefly stated, he wanted to know why Christians would say a serial killer whose deathbed confession of Jesus could enter heaven, while a moral and decent atheist would go to hell.

Here’s how I responded to him (edited a bit for this posting):

Richard, I believe you to be a good man and an honest man. I approach answering your question with fear and trepidation. . .

Your question deserves an answer; and though I may not be the best one to answer it, I’ll try.

There are millions of people who believe in the God of the Bible, and they have their reasons. Whether they’ve thought them through or not, they have reasons. All those reasons are based on two premises. The first is the premise that God is a good, kindly-intentioned God. The second is that He created each human being and knows each person deeply and intimately.

Christians see Him as a Father. If this were couched as a parable or fable, He would be a genius inventor parent with advanced degrees in physiology, psychology, all the physical and social sciences plus the ability of a supercomputer to see and process information (even that of the future) at an infinite level. Because He knows what “works” in the long run, He says, “don’t do this, it’s not good for you.” “Choose this instead, it will lead to greater mental peace and stability for you and the society you’re part of.”

Sometimes He steps in and stops injustice. That’s what He did sometimes in the Bible – some of the “exterminations” spoken of by another poster here were against nations whose practice was to offer their own newborns and children to be burned alive. But most of the time (and any analysis of history proves this to be true) He stands back and lets what any parent does when their children mature; what in childrearing is called, “natural consequences,” in hopes that people will learn from the mistakes. (One way of looking at the Bible is as a record of what happens when people make bad choices and how that affects not just individuals making those choices but generations afterwards.)

But, again, the history of injustices in the world show He doesn’t force people into doing what He says. (And I believe that this is an aspect of His character that people on this board really, really treasure.)

What does this Person who has invested all mental energy for an eternity in crafting and interacting with people want? A relationship.

In Christianity, that means some sort of acknowledging that He created among other things all the magnificence of mountains, the process of photosynthesis to produce food, and our own precious flesh – and even the ability to refuse his friendship.

Now here is the best part. You can spend your whole life saying you don’t want a relationship with him. You can commit heinous acts against other people. Or you can be a kind person and advance humanity and only have a few things you’ve done that you wish you could undo.

At least for the people who are reading these words, sometime before you leave this sequential existence here on earth and pass into a timeless dimension, He gives you a chance to say, I am really, really sorry for the things I did that have caused damage in this life. And yes, I’d like to spend that dimension with you and others who are likeminded. At that point, all is wiped clean. (Richard, I’ve never killed anyone. But I’ve done some things that make my face burn with shame. I wish they had never happened and would do anything to undo them. That’s why I want my slate wiped clean.)

Not all Christians believe that people who reject that choice go to any sort of physical place, nor that they suffer eternally. (However, it’s absolutely proven in sociology that some people are motivated best by the fear of bad consequences of selfish actions.) Many Christians believe exactly what most atheists believe – someone who doesn’t want that relationship just ceases to exist.

So the bottom line comes back to the two premises, actually. If He created each of us and knows us personally, we make the choice to have a relationship with him, lopsided as it is given all he did in creation and sustaining of our lives. And if he’s good and has this unbounded intelligence combined with kind intentions toward us, he’ll give us slack, to the point of wiping his hard drive clean of even memory of what we each do that makes our cheeks burn with shame. If we don’t want that relationship, He’s a gentleman and won’t force Himself on us.

So he’s good – and he’s fair. I’m not afraid of how this Father will relate to good people or bad people. He’ll be fair.

That’s why I have great peace now, and hope for later.

For more information, see The Mormon Mirage 3rd Edition:  A Former Member Looks at the Mormon Church Today(Zondervan, 2009). Also available as an audiobook and as an expanded-text E-book for Nook, Kindle and other reading devices.

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