It was early in the morning, late in 2004. Very early. Most people in the airport looked as though they could have done with an extra week or so in bed.
I was flying back from New York to Los Angeles waiting to board a plane when a tall man asked me, "What rows did they call?" I answered, "First class… the rich folks." He smiled and said, "Yeah. The ones who should be going on their own Learjet." I handed him a Million Dollar Bill tract and said, "Here's the down payment on your Learjet."
When he smiled, I passed him a Department of Annoyance tract, and said, "And here's my card." He turned it over and to my horror began to read out loud the gospel message on the back--despite the fact that the text was printed in reverse to give me getaway time. When I quickly added, "It's a gospel tract," he mumbled "I'm an atheist."
While atheism is the ultimate intellectual suicide, I can understand why some people are tempted to believe that there's no God. The previous night I had listened to a CNN report that scientists had discovered why human beings are more intelligent than animals. I was intrigued with their assumption, and listened to how scientists believed that 20 million years ago we developed larger brains. They predicted that the human brain will continue to grow, giving us larger heads. This will mean that future generations will see more Cesarean births. I admired the newscaster's ability to remain straight-faced.
A few minutes later, CNN reported that after a giant tsunami in Southeast Asia killed multitudes, authorities could hardly find any animals that died in the flooding. They surmised that the animals had some sort of intelligence that caused them to move to higher ground when the tsunami-causing earthquake struck. It was human beings who stayed on the beach to take pictures of the wave as it approached.
Cheese Sandwich Bearing Resemblance to the Virgin Mary
As I stood in line at the airport, the morning newspaper showed a picture of a ten-year-old piece of grilled cheese sandwich which was said to bear the likeness of the Virgin Mary. It was sold on eBay to an “intelligent” human, who paid $28,000 for it.
It is information like this that should help anyone with any intelligence to realize that humanity isn't as intelligent as we are led to believe. While most Christians are too smart to bite into the error of Virgin Mary toast, they profess a faith that makes no sense. While watching TV in my hotel room the night before, I saw a well-known pastor talk about his book, which has sold a phenomenal 20 million copies. He said that God's agenda for humanity was to “make our lives better.” That was a summation of his message.
Tell that to those who were burying tens of thousands of human corpses after the tsunami hit. Tell that to the fathers who hold the dead bodies of their beloved children in their arms, or to the relatives of those who died of horrific diseases. It doesn't take much intelligence to realize that if there is a God who created all things, He must be all-powerful. Nothing is impossible for Him. He therefore could have easily prevented unspeakable agony by simply lifting His finger off the earthquake button. But He didn't.
Yes, there is plenty of evidence (from cheese sandwiches to tsunamis) for a thinking person to conclude that a God of love who is all-powerful and wants to better the life of humanity doesn't exist. If He did, He would immediately get a supply of good food to the starving in Africa so that their lives may be better, or at least provide some rain to grow their crops.
During that same day the tsunami hit, 150,000 other people died around the world--about 40,000 of starvation. If He wanted to make our lives better, perhaps He could also halt the parade of killer hurricanes that line up to regularly devastate the U.S., or He could slow down the hundreds of terrifying tornadoes that take precious human lives each year. Maybe He could even whisper to us a cure for the cancers that are killing millions annually, including innocent children.
How Could a Loving God Allow Suffering?
A quick look at Jeremiah 9:21-24 gives the answer to this intellectual dilemma. How could God be loving and yet allow suffering? The Bible tells us that He is in control, and that He does send judgments to this earth. God is love, but He's also just and holy and if He gave us what we deserve, the tsunami of His holiness would sweep us all into Hell.
Imagine you have knowledge that a bridge has been washed out by a terrible storm, on a dark and moonless night. You stop all approaching cars and say, "The bridge that spans a thousand-foot chasm has been washed away! Please turn your vehicle around." The violence of the storm itself is enough to convince any thinking driver that you are speaking the truth, and those who have the sense to believe you do turn around.
Tsunamis, terrible diseases, agonizing cancers, massive earthquakes, devastating tornados, killer hurricanes, awful suffering, and death itself are very real and violent storms that should be enough to convince any thinking person that our warning is true.
The message of Christianity isn't one of God wanting to better this life for humanity. It is one of warning of a terrible fate in store for those who continue on the road of sin. We are told by God's Word that there are two deaths on the highway to Hell. The first death is when we leave the storms of this life and pass into timeless eternity. The second death is the chasm of eternal damnation. It is the terrifying justice of a holy God.
So with the cheese sandwich insanity, and the confusion about the message of Christianity, I could sympathize with my atheist friend in the airport. When he professed atheism it gave me the opportunity to humbly cite my atheist credentials.
I said, "I wrote a book called God Doesn't Believe in Atheists: Proof the Atheist Doesn't Exist." Then I told him that I was a platform speaker at the American Atheists' national convention in 2001. I offered, "It's really easy to prove God's existence." He replied, "It's not healthy for me to talk about God." I said that I could understand that, and added, "But you are a reasonable and open-minded person, so you can listen to me for two minutes."
He gave me the okay, so I told him how he could know for sure that God existed, that God had given him a conscience and that if he even lusted after a woman, Jesus said that he had committed adultery already with her in his heart. I also mentioned that if a criminal was given a death sentence and he said to the judge, "But I don't believe in the electric chair," it didn't change reality.
He politely listened, and said, "Well, I'd better board the plane." He reached out his hand, shook mine and said, “My name is Pat.” I told him my name, watched him board, and prayed that he would read the literature that he still held in his hand… and that he would have the intelligence to believe the words of warning.