“I don’t believe people are naturally good.”
That comment caused quite a debate in my senior seminar course. My Marxist-atheist professor mentioned that he’d never met anyone who actually believed people were evil at the core. Not wanting to pass up an opportunity, I sent my professor an email offering to explain my beliefs if he was interested. Amazingly, my professor took the invitation and we met on a rainy Friday morning.
I have to confess, I’m not exactly sure how to summarize a three hour conversation. I’ll hit the highlights.
My professor and I began tackling the very question at hand, Are people naturally good? He (I’ll call him Dr. College) argued that my question was the wrong one to be asking. Dr. College suggested that determining truly good or truly bad is impossible, but only observing if people are misguided or not. He suggested that complicated series of historical events are far worse than people themselves ever could be. He questioned me as to whether or not I was observing human nature, which to Dr. College seemed a hopelessly arbitrary term, or the mere results of cultural constructs. Being a Marxist he argues that people are twisted and made crooked by institutions, primarily the institution of capitalism.
Jeremiah 17:9 reads,
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
This notion is echoed throughout Scripture in various passages. I can provide a list of references if anyone is interested. Humans are born wicked, evil, corrupt, dirty, sinful, and displeasing to God. Has it always been that way? No. Adam and Eve were perfectly created and they chose sin and death over God and life (Genesis 3). Now, humanity bears the stain of their lethal decision. Will it always be that way? Not for those who claim Christ; their hearts are made clean and lives made new (Ephesians 4: 20-24).
Our talk went quickly, and naturally, to the existence of God. Dr. College, being an atheist, denies the existence of God. Dr. College cited a work, which I’ve not read, by Karen Armstrong called History of God. Armstrong apparently comes to the conclusion that for the concept of God to truly “work”, he cannot actually exist. She puts God analogous to the concept of Justice; we know when Justice is practiced but cannot point to a single item which is Justice. Hence, Justice does not exist. Yet, Dr. College claims that he is an atheist in good faith. He says he is open to new ideas, has concerned all the evidences, found the testimony of science and history robust, and believes in good conscious that there is no God.
I was struck with how easily this man dismissed the existence of what I firmly believe is the Creator of all things. Just as Dr. College can say he is an atheist in good faith, I am a Christian in good faith. (On a minor note, I would recommend The Reason for God by Timothy Keller, which I’ve only begun reading, as a counterargument to Armstrong’s book.) Not only do I see evidences of God in Scriptures, which themselves are the very words of God to us, but also in this vast and intricate world in which we live. I understand that using Scripture, to explain Scripture, to argue the nature of God is unfathomable to an atheist. The basis for all my authority in speaking and arguing for God, or anything else, comes from The Bible. In the course of this conversation I realized that unless God truly, writes his law upon our hearts, our eyes will remain blind (Romans 2:15). To pull from Ephesians again, unbelievers, “walk in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God.” (Ephesians 4:17-18) If what I believe about God and His sovereignty is true, then it is His working which calls people unto salvation. I have the privilege to share the Gospel, and God will share Christ as He wills (1 Peter 1:13).
We continued to speak about human nature, being made in the image of God, what it means to say I love Jesus, the reality of Hell, the validity of Scriptures, the hypocrisy seen in many Christians, the morality of Marxism, and whether or not all of life and events is owed to chance. Dr. College said to me very graciously that he was sorry to have argued with a student, when he’s had years to prepare ammunition. I found his remorse interesting. If God doesn’t exist, why would disagreement be so upsetting? Our conversation was as intellectually stimulating as it was spiritually heart-breaking. I pray for the salvation of Dr. College, and many of my other professors who do not believe in the existence of God, existence of the God-man Jesus, or the work of the Holy Spirit.
In closing, I invite all Christians to be open to discourse with non-Christians. We need to be intentional to share the Gospel, to be mission-minded. Don’t fear discomfort or inadequacy. “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscious, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)