Today a Facebook friend of mine shared a snarky meme from an atheist page. It was that popular painting of Jesus holding a toddler in a rose garden and pointing playfully at something. It looks like one of those kitschy pictures you find in Mormon pamphlets. I don’t know its origin. Whatever the case, it was the caption that caught my attention.
“Do you see that man over there, Timmy?” asks Jesus. “That’s the man that murdered you and your family while you were sleeping. He repented and asked for forgiveness. Now he’s here in paradise with us. Go say hello.”
The image is supposed to provoke a visceral sense of injustice and, presumably, illustrate the absurdity of Christianity. The idea that such a scenario would actually play out–that an innocent child would be asked to forgive his family’s killer–is outrageous. It’s offensive to people. It just strikes at our common decency. That man belongs in the fires of Hell, or at least (the atheist reasons), he would if either place or the God who sends people there were real. The fact that such scenarios would play out if Christianity were true shows, in the unbeliever’s mind, that Christianity must be false. No child-murderer deserves to be in Paradise alongside his tiny victim.
As my friend put it, “to be a Christian, one must actually believe this.” And that is one major reason why the Gospel is so offensive. Why grace is so scandalous. Why “small is the way and narrow the gate that leads to life.” The Christian Gospel is serious business. It isn’t a self-help program for touching up flawed but well-intentioned folks. It’s a resurrection project, recalling corpses from the dead. There is no one too bad for God’s forgiveness. Jesus wasn’t messing around up there on the cross. He was paying for the worst of the worst.But many who raise this objection or objections like it have decided ahead of time that they won’t accept Christ or His forgiveness. They have hearts of sub-zero, diamond-laden granite, and so they try to wrap the Gospel up in all kinds of catch-22s and duplicitous objections.
On the one hand, they insist that Hell is unjust. That a loving God would never create people only to torture them for all of eternity. With the other hand they charge God with being unjust for not sentencing the worst of the worst to eternal damnation. They posit a universe devoid of moral absolutes or ultimate meaning and then howl with rage at the Christian God for creating a universe full of evil and suffering. These Stephen Fry-types speak out of both sides of their mouths. Because, as Doug Wilson likes to say, there are two principles of atheism: 1.) There is no God. 2.) I hate Him.
Militant unbelief, wrote C. S. Lewis, turns out to be too simple. One cannot attack the justice or goodness of God using principles that derive from a belief in God. You have no right to chide God for not meeting your moral standards when your view is that reality lacks moral standards. If the atheistic worldview is true, then the child and his murderer also both end up in the same place: the ground. There is no dividing line, and there is no distinction between good and evil. The child never gets justice and the murderer’s crime is never paid for.
Christianity, meanwhile, makes a sharp distinction. But as Tim Keller observes, it is not between the moral and the immoral–the well-behaved and the ill-behaved. It is between the repentant and the unrepentant. There really will be child-murderers in Heaven. And rapists, Nazis, and Rwandan genocide perpetrators. And there will be people like me, whom Jesus said are guilty of these very sorts of crimes, in our hearts if not in reality.
If you find that scandalous, I can’t do a lot to help you. But I know God can change your heart. He’s changed worse.