Cultural Atheism, the Fear of God, and Eternal Judgment

by Bob Bradley

From a letter sent to prisoners — April 2010

I want to begin my thoughts by quoting Psalm 53:1 "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, and have done abominable iniquity. There is none who does good." Modern man has no fear of God, and to suggest that he should respect God would be to risk being called a troglodyte (cave dweller). Most educated people who are not believers are convinced that the God of the Bible received mortal wounds from the Renaissance of the 16th century and the Enlightenment of the 17th century. To use a modern phrase, the "death of God" as Creator was subsequently celebrated by Darwin’s theory of evolution. And the death of God as the Supernatural Sustainer of the Hebrew nation was accomplished by the Higher Criticism of German scholars in the second half of the 19th century.

The God of the Bible, who is supernaturally involved in the affairs of men, was no longer a viable concept among unbelievers. One of the most brilliant philosophers of the last century, Alfred North Whitehead, countered the skepticism of his day with a new concept of God. According to Whitehead, God is not infinite or all-powerful, but is rather in a process of growth. God is in the process of developing, and he rather impersonally invites us to join Him in his struggle with evil. A number of theologians have followed Whitehead’s lead, and they have founded a trend in theology known as Process Theology.

Most modern skeptics (and that includes the vast majority of college and university professors) are self–described agnostics (God cannot be known). In fact, they are better described as atheists (God does not exist) in terms of what they actually believe — or don’t believe! They would find even process theology to be intellectually unacceptable. Most university professors subscribe to what is known as Postmodern philosophy, which at its core denies any objective or universal truth. All truths are relative, and thus there cannot be any God, who by definition is universal. Nor is it possible to speak meaningfully about God. In a diabolical stroke of genius, modern academics have put God outside of the realm of rational discourse. Any talk of God merely reflects the private delusions of a particular subgroup of people, who use their God-language to dominate and oppress others. Any attempt at religious dialogue will be viewed as an attempt to subjugate others to one’s delusional system. American universities, which ought to be havens of free inquiry, have become fortresses of political correctness, and are among the most repressive of our institutions.

I can vividly remember my last contact with a good friend, with whom I had worked closely on a major university testing program for many years. He was an agnostic Jew with a Harvard Ph.D.—and also an elder in his local Presbyterian church. I knew it would probably be the last time I would see him, because he was retiring and moving out of state. Knowing that he was agnostic, I tried to talk with him about some evidences of design in the universe, but he immediately began to counter my observations with postmodern rhetoric about the relativity of all truth. I could hardly get a word in edgewise. I left feeling very sad, because my friend had rejected my effort to bring him into a conversation about the Lord.

There is probably no point at which the bias of Postmodernism against God is more evident than its hostility to any implication of design in the universe. About 15 years ago God raised up a number of scholars who wrote persuasively about the influence of design, particularly in biological mechanisms. The best known of these scholars was Michael Behe, a biochemist. The number of scholars who argue for design (and by implication a Designer) has multiplied over the years, but the hostility they have encountered has increased almost geometrically.

In Romans chapter 1 Paul clearly states that "since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse….(v.20)" The unbelieving agnostics in our culture are not the poor victims of a Postmodern culture that has seduced and overwhelmed them. Rather, they have been willing respondents to a ready-made atheism that supports their selfishness and protects them from any serious thinking.

I have taken the time to describe the current intellectual climate in our country because this kind of distortion filters down to affect the people we relate to on a daily basis. You may never have heard the term Postmodernism before now, but we have all been troubled by the relativism in moral standards that has chewed up the lives of people we know. I think it goes without saying that the vast majority of our political, industrial, and economic leaders have absorbed the pragmatic atheism that is the hallmark of Postmodernism. These cultural leaders are not atheists in their own minds, but they are atheists in effect because they reject the God who reveals His character in the Ten Commandments. In every age, the political leaders of this world have sought to redefine Biblical values to suit their own objectives.

The first step in learning to fear God (in the sense of reverence) is to entertain the possibility that He may exist. All philosophies resist the concept of an all-powerful, personal God. You must go beyond philosophy.

The second step is to acknowledge that He may be a communicator, and that He may have spoken in a way that you could comprehend.

The third step is to explore the claims of the Bible, with particular attention given to Scriptures that are prophetic in terms of the coming of the Messiah. What do the Scriptures teach about the power and character of God? What is the role of the Messiah, according to the book of Isaiah?

The fourth step is to acknowledge the righteousness and goodness of His law, and to acknowledge that you have repeatedly grieved God by breaking His commandments.

The fifth step is to embrace Jesus as the Lamb of God, the Incarnate One who carries away your sins. This fifth step is only completed when one has turned away from his sin, and submitted his life to the direction of the Lord Jesus.

Having laid the above foundation, I want to explore some of the reasons that we should have a reverential fear of God. The Scriptures have some amazing things to say about God. Traditionally, we have learned that He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and everywhere present. Jesus made it very clear to Phillip in John 14 that in the person of Jesus we see the person of the Father. Thus we say with confidence that God is humble, because we see in Jesus that He is not concerned about pressing a selfish agenda. God is not a tyrant, and he is "no respecter of persons." Because he is infinite, he can give all of Himself to any number of servants, no matter how many. It does not strain God to intimately care for seven or eight billion people, any more than it strains Him to care for hundreds of billions of galaxies. He is the One who is utterly there for us.

He particularly prizes faith. Faith can best be described as trust. Biblical trust can best be described as confidence in the goodness of God when our personal circumstances would suggest that God had abandoned us, or when general circumstances would seem to suggest that God is unjust. When you stop to think about it, trust will always be required of us. A finite person trusting in the infinite God will always have questions. We cannot say to God, "Justify to me all the decisions you have made from the beginning of time, and then I will make a decision to trust you, or not." Like Abraham, we are permitted to say to the Lord, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" But at some point we must trust in his goodness and resist the accusations of the Adversary that God is unjust and selfish in His decisions.

The Scripture clearly and repeatedly teaches that character is solidified in this life. Men either become righteous by God's grace or they become hardened and unbelieving. In Matthew 7: 17–20, Jesus says "Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them." Introducing the ministry of Jesus, John the Baptist said "His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out his threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

There is probably no biblical doctrine that is more despised by unbelievers than the doctrine of eternal judgment. Unbelievers typically perceive God as tormenting his enemies and delighting in inhuman cruelty toward those who have rejected his Son. God is viewed as a cosmic sadist, wholly unworthy of anyone's trust and worship. Such a hostile view of God is typical of those who do not understand His ways. The Scripture teaches God's love for the righteous and his opposition to the wicked. Psalm 1:6 says "for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish." This passage could be better translated "the Lord is intimately acquainted with the way of the righteous." The Old Testament saints were made righteous by their faith in a redeeming God. Like Abraham, they were accounted as righteous by their faith alone, but God subsequently worked tangible righteousness in them. This corresponds to the sanctification of the believer in this day of grace. God's love for the righteous is one of the prominent themes of the Old Testament. So also is his judgment of the wicked. Psalm 11:6, 7 says "upon the wicked he will rain coals; fire and brimstone and a burning wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness; His countenance beholds the upright."

The above passage from the Psalms shows that the doctrine of hell is an Old Testament doctrine. It is based on the concept of a righteous God who will not tolerate the activity of the wicked beyond a certain point. I would suggest that this point is defined as the point at which a man's heart is so hardened that he will never repent. Only God in his infinite knowledge and wisdom can discern that point in each man's experience, but we can rest assured that God knows perfectly when that line is crossed. In other words, the wicked person has made an eternal decision. He will never repent, not in a billion years. He has systematically rejected all the overtures of God's kindness, and he is locked into eternal unrepentance. God cannot indefinitely continue to extend patience, because the reprobate man will continue to oppress others and create a circle of rebellion and unbelief around himself. So God has to put him into solitary confinement, where he can bring no more grief to the universe.

And what a solitary confinement it is! The unrepentant man has determined that under no circumstances does he want God in his life. And God simply says, "I have spoken to you 1,000 times and you have always pretended that you didn’t hear Me. Now have it your own way. You are going to have an existence without My presence. As a consequence you're never going to see light again, you'll never hear birds singing, you'll never see a tree or a forest or a mountain or the ocean. You'll never have anything to do, and you will never have any respite in sleep. You will never hear another human voice, and you will never see another human face. You will never be able to serve anybody, or do anything of value. You will never do anything creative, except in your fevered mind. You will always bear the guilt for every sin you have committed, and you will never receive atonement for your sins. You will never even be able to say 'I am sorry' to people you have wounded. You will never again hear the voices of the people you love. You'll only be able to continue sinning in your mind, because I will not allow you to corrupt My universe any further. You will burn with passions that ever become more inflamed. As a mercy to you, you are going to a place that's very hot. The agony of your pain will partially moderate the horrible internal conflicts of your wretched existence. And your crowning shame will be the constant awareness that the Benevolent One, the One who gives away all His power and glory to His friends and servants, could find nothing in you worthy of commendation…nothing!"

The above description of hell is based on Biblical revelation and upon the logical consequences of extreme isolation. Jude 12 and 13 spells out some frightening aspects of eternal judgment with powerful metaphors of the damned: "They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever."

The psychological and spiritual needs of man insure that hell breaks out wherever God removes His manifest presence. There is one very real sense in which every man creates the content of his own hell, by the idolatry and passions which have been his own expression of rebellion. This comment should not be construed to mean that there is no objective hell, no flames and no place of isolation. There will be all of this. But the great tragedy will be that men in hell will clearly understand that it could have been different, if they had humbled themselves before God, and received His redemption through His Son. For all eternity, they will bear the weight of the realization that they chose their own destiny, and that God merely enforced their decision.

God is also to be reverentially feared because of His immense goodness. I don’t have the space in this letter to develop a teaching on the goodness of God, but Scripture says that "eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Cor. 2: 9)." In John 17:24 Jesus said "Father, I desire that they also whom you gave me may be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory which you have given me; for you loved me before the foundation of the world." The sense I get from Jesus’ statement is that of an intimate sharing of His glory, up close and personal. He is saying in effect, "Father, let them see and experience the full revelation of the glory you have given me, something that not even the angels understand. These are My friends and I want to share with them everything I have inherited. I want them to experience the love you had for Me before the beginning of time. Because they are human, as I am, they are uniquely qualified to grasp the wonder of the glory you have given Me." Paul says in Romans 8:17 "and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ...." Have you ever reflected on the meaning of the term "joint heirs"? We are joint heirs with Jesus. In the present hour we share in His testing and suffering--but in an hour to come we shall share in everything He inherits.

Hints of our destiny are given to us in the book of Revelation. Jesus says to us, "he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations....And I will give him the morning star (Rev.2: 26 – 28)." And in Revelation 3:21, Jesus says to the overcomers at Laodicea "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne as I also overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne." (All Scripture references in this essay have been taken from the New King James version of the Bible).

Learning to fear God,

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