The Atheist and the Reality of God
March 20th, 1967 @ 12:00 PM
IN DEFENSE OF THE FAITH:
THE ATHEIST AND THE REALITY OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-20-67 12:00 p.m.
God bless all of us who are here in this beginning service, the forty-eighth consecutive year our dear church has conducted these pre-Easter noonday services in a downtown theater. They were begun forty-eight years ago in the old Jefferson Theatre. And when this Palace Theatre was built, they were transferred here and have been conducted here ever since. Dr. Truett, our far-famed and illustrious predecessor, conducted these services for twenty-five years. And this is now the twenty-third year it has been my high privilege to preach here at this noonday hour.
Now it is a lunch hour, and practically all of the people who attend this theater service are busy somewhere. So when you feel you must leave, you do so. We shall all understand, and most of all will I. Somebody said to me day before yesterday, “But if I were to come, I would have to leave in the middle of your message and that would disturb you.” I said, “My dear friend, it would surprise you how little that would disturb me.” You leave anytime and all of us will understand, and it will not bother me in the least.
Now the services this year are built around the theme “In Defense of the Faith.” And they are prepared because of the bitter, and merciless, and ruthless onslaught that has been made in newspaper, and in magazine, and in pulpit around this world against the Scriptures, against God, against the Christian faith, against everything that as a boy I was taught to hold dear. So I thought, “Down there in that theater with no particular circumscriptions at all, I’m just going to turn loose and say things that are in my heart as I read what these infidels, and atheists, and agnostic atheistic so-called Christians are saying about our beloved Lord and this precious Book.
Now today it is The Atheist and the Reality of God. Tomorrow it will be The Liberal and the Deity of Christ. Wednesday, it will be The Communist and the Living Church. Thursday it will be The Materialist and the End of the World. And Friday, Good Friday, the day our Lord was crucified, it will be The Sinner and the Sacrifice on the Cross. Now today, The Atheist and the Reality of God.
Opening my Book to the fourteenth psalm I read: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” [Psalm 14:1]. And that is the only reference and the only statement made with regard to an unbelieving, blaspheming atheist in all of that Book. I have searched it from cover to cover. I have read it time and again and there is not another reference, there is not another passage, there is not another verse, there is not another Scripture regarding the atheistic unbeliever except this, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” [Psalm 14:1].
The Scriptures begin, Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” And the Christian message begins as in John 1:1,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made.
Whether in the Old Covenant, in the Old Testament, or whether in the New Covenant, in the New Testament, the avowal is just the same. It is never argued. It is never discussed. It is never proved. It is just presented. “In the beginning God” [Genesis 1:1]; or, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” [John 1:1]. Now I have sat down with myself and I have thought, “Why is it that God looks with contempt and disdain upon an atheist? Why is it God does not deign even to discuss it, or to prove it, or to argue it?” All God says is in the passage that I have read: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” [Psalm 14:1]. And as I turn that over in my mind, why does God not speak of this except this one passage? I have come to three conclusions.
The first is this: God doesn’t discuss it because of the bankruptcy of the character of the atheist. He lives like a fool. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” [Psalm 14:1]. And the Lord describes him as bankrupt in character and disregards him. He lives as a fool lives. Now we have here in the state of Texas a very famous character who is a refugee from the arresting police in the state of Maryland. And I have these newspaper articles that I have clipped out. Headline: “Atheism, Topic set at University of Houston…The nation’s most notorious atheist, Madalyn Murray O’Hair”––she became O’Hair here––“will speak at 8:00 p.m. tonight in Ezekiel Cullen Auditorium at the University of Houston.” Then the other:
The graying matron of American atheism, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, decried in bombastic tones the dogma of Jesus Christ and His followers in a speech at the University of Houston last night. Mrs. O’Hair opened her forty-five minute address by reassuring the atheists in her audience that they were not alone. ‘As of June 1965,’ she said, ‘there were 6,000,811 admitted atheists in this country, and another 75,292,551 people who said they do not belong to any church. And many of those seventy-five million were actually atheists, but would not admit it.
My! So I picked up a magazine, and here is the picture of Madalyn Murray, self-proclaimed atheist. Quote, “This would be the best of all possible worlds if everybody were an atheist.” Then the article: Madalyn Murray,
I am an atheist because religion is a crutch, and only the crippled need crutches. Religion is irrational reliance upon superstition and supernatural nonsense. Perhaps this sort of claptrap was good for the Stone Age, but we are a grown-up world now. I began my attack against Bible reading and prayer in the public schools because of my children. One day in 1960 my son Bill came to me and said, “Mother, you’ve been professing to be an atheist for a long time now. Well, I don’t believe in God either. But every day in school I’m forced to say prayers and I feel like a hypocrite. Why should I be compelled to betray my beliefs?” He pointed out to me that if I were a true atheist I would not permit the public schools of America to force him to read the Bible and to say prayers against his will. He was right. So we began the suit and finally we won it, Judge Davidson. We won it when on June 17, 1963, the Supreme Court upheld my contention that prayer and Bible study should be outlawed in the United States public schools.
That’s not quite true but that’s what she said.
Then she continues in this magazine interview:
I describe myself as a sexual libertine. I will engage in sexual activity with any consenting male any time, any place I damn well please. Sex is where you find it. I’ve had five affairs, all of them real wing-dings.
I just wondered, did this boy Bill ever ask his mama, “Mama, just which wing-ding did I come out of?” Isn’t that a noble mother?
I’ve had five affairs, all of them wing-dings. I have enjoyed every damn minute of them. I think young people should be able to have their first sexual love affair whenever they feel like it. In the case of most girls, this would be around thirteen or fourteen; with most boys, around fifteen or sixteen. And whenever they want to try it, they should be allowed to go at it without supervision or restriction. In their parents’ bedroom, on the grass in a park, in a motel, it doesn’t matter.
“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” [Psalm 14:1], the only reference God makes to it. And in my wondering why the Lord never discusses it, never argues it, it came to my mind first: because of the bankruptcy of character in the infidel.
She is right. She is absolutely right. She is eminently correct, for character is rooted and grounded in Almighty God. And if there is no God, then there is no ultimate right or wrong, and there is no final goodness. Everything is relative. You say you don’t believe in stealing? Well, if I am an atheist that may be just your idea. I may believe in getting what I can any way I can get it. You say you don’t believe in murder? If I am an atheist, that’s just your idea. I may believe in murder. And I have as much right to my idea as you have to yours. You say you don’t believe in rape? Well that’s just your idea. I may believe in rape.
And when we forget God––you can count on it––the streets of the cities of America will be no place where any woman anytime can walk down without fear. For values without God are relative. You may not believe in rape but if I am an atheist and an unbeliever, I may think it all right. You don’t believe in riot, and pillage, and civil disobedience. If I am a practical atheist, that may be just your idea. I may be in the pulpit and I can avow a support for riot, and pillage, and disobedience of the law because not only in the pew, but in the pulpit have men denied the ultimate absolute in Almighty God.
All values are relative outside of God. But to us it is God that makes right, right and wrong, wrong. And as long as time lasts, whether in the beginning or whether in the consummation, right will always be right, it never changes. And wrong will always be wrong, it never changes. Because right and wrong are not grounded in man, but they are grounded in the character of Almighty God, and God doesn’t change [Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8]. What was right yesterday is right today and shall be right forever. So God said, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” [Psalm 14:1], and God disregards him because of his bankruptcy in character. He lives like a fool. So in my thinking, “Why does God not argue this? He never debates it, He just presents it. And He has one thing to say about the atheist. He is a fool. He says in his heart, “there is no God” [Psalm 14:1].
Then it came to me, a second reason why God disdains and disregards it: second, because of the futility of his sterile speculations, he believes like a fool. Oh, how many times is this changing, ringing chord heard in the Bible? Over, and over, and over again, “The beginning of wisdom is the fear, the reverential awe of God” [Proverbs 1:7, 9:10]. Ah! So it is a part of wisdom, insight for a man to believe in God. And it is the fool who rejects that spiritual insight, that deeper, profounder knowledge.
A student came home from college, and in his self-importance he went up to his eldest brother and said, “Say, what would you think if I should tell you that in ten minutes I can absolutely annihilate and demolish all of the arguments in the Bible?” And the brother said, “Why, what would I think? I would think the same thing as if a gnat were to crawl up the slopes of Pikes Peak and say, ‘Watch me, I am going to annihilate this mountain with my left hind foot.’ That’s what I’d think.”
A hoptoad and a lizard were standing side by side in far West Texas watching the express train hurtle by. And the hoptoad said to the lizard, “You know, there are fools who actually believe that somebody made this train. What nonsense! Nobody made it. It just happened. It just got together and away it goes.” And the lizard turned to the hoptoad and said, “And do you know there are other fools who say that there is a locomotive engineer who drives this thing? What stupidity, what nonsense. Nobody drives this train. It just runs by itself.” And a red ant over heard the conversation and he climbed up on top of the corner of a spike and he said, “They tell me there is somebody who runs this railroad. If there is anybody who runs this railroad I defy him to come down here and strike me dead.” And God disregards it. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” [Psalm 14:1].
The atheist has never given an intelligent answer to the vast mystery of the universe. And the atheist has never given an intelligent answer to the meaning of a man’s life. The atheist denies intelligence, and will, and personality in this universe. But I see it everywhere. Intricate, infinite, order, and arrangement, and design, all of it controlled by invisible laws of gravity, and motion, and physics, and chemistry, and a thousand other depths of intelligences in design and movement that we’re just now beginning to see to figure it out.
Oh! So it is by seeing the invisible that we enter into the realities of life, and matter, and being whether in the world, whether in the mind, or whether in the soul. Seeing the invisible, the law that shapes and holds all destiny, whether in matter, or whether in history, or whether in a man’s personal life; God, God!
But the answer of the atheist is of all things empty and sterile. It’s like drinking water that doesn’t quench the thirst. It’s like eating food that doesn’t satisfy hunger. It’s like building a house without a pattern. It’s like living a life without purpose; like reading a book without meaning. It’s like riding on a train without an engineer. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” [Psalm 14:1]; and God disregards him because he believes like a fool. His speculations are empty and sterile.
I have one other. Why does God not argue this, discuss this, prove this? In all of His Word, just that one passage, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” [Psalm 14:1]. Why does God disregard him in disdain and contempt? Because of his ignoble death; he dies like a fool. Oh! If I were to name his name, there’d be no intelligent audience in the world that wouldn’t know him, a far-famed professor and physicist in one of the great universities of northeastern United States. And he grew old and he said, “I want it understood”––I read all this in the daily paper, “All I know about these things is what I read in the papers,” Will Rogers said––he said, “I want it understood that I am an atheist. I do not believe in God, and when I die,” he said, “I want my body burned. And I desire no service of any kind over my dead corpse. And when I am dead, burn my body and scatter the ashes to the winds.” So I read in the paper, he died. They had no service. They burned his body and they scattered his ashes to the wind. The nobility of human life, oh, oh!
Before every soul there is opened a high way and a low;
And the high soul climbs the high way,
And the low soul gropes the low,
And every one decides which way his soul shall go.
[“In The Ways,” John Oxenham]
O God! For us we choose the way to glory, and to God, and to heaven, and to home. And our Lord, in the persuasion that there is Somebody outside our souls, there is Somebody beyond the stars, there is Somebody beyond death and the grave who waits for us [John 6:40]; O Lord, in that comforting hope may we live our lives and give ourselves to Thee as long as breath shall last [Titus 2:13]. In the Spirit of our blessed Lord and in His precious name, amen.