From an exchange today in the comments in the Daily Telegraph

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One Daily Telegraph reader wrote under the article about Richard Dawkins actually being only 6/7 sure in his mind about atheism, despite his mockery of the religious and outrageous atheistic dogmatism in most of his lectures and books:

No just God would ever judge a man by his beliefs rather than his actions.

So a believer believes and does bad things and evil things and can still be admitted to heaven whereas an unbeliever can spend a lifetime of doing good things and deeds and is still consigned to eternal torment because of his unbelief. A paedophile catholic priest who has committed the most henious of all crimes can still enter the kingdom of heaven if he believes

My answer:

You say “no just God would ever judge a man by his beliefs rather than his actions”.

You could actually not be more wrong. There is no more just way of judging those whose actions could never make the grade. The only difference between the worst sinner and the greatest saint is often only opportunity. Or fear. Or pride.

Therefore God in his justice made faith the yardstick by which he would measure a soul’s readiness to be with Christ in eternity, and that is whether that person believes that Christ died for his sins, and that he was so sinful that no other way would have saved him.

Please dwell on this with an open and prayerful mind.

10 thoughts on “From an exchange today in the comments in the Daily Telegraph

  1. So what you are saying then is that in God’s/god’s eyes, the priest who committed heinous acts against defenseless individuals, acts that destroy lives, is seen as worthy of a blissful afterlife simply because he believed, whereas an atheist or agnostic who has done nothing but good works and even improved or saved lives through his charitable selflessness, maybe the life of a committed Christian, is considered unworthy?

    That doesn’t seem right somehow.

    1. I have to agree with Andrew on this. Not only does it not seem right it isn’t right.
      My understanding of the the term “worship” is that an entity worthy of being worshipped is perfect in every detail. A creator God whose creation is not just and acts in ways likely to harm or offend other members of the created group has surely created something that is flawed. If the creation is flawed then the creator is not perfect and hence not worthy of worship. If not worthy of worship then (by human definition at least) the entity is not God.

      Is not Jesus supposed to have advocated treating others as they would wish to be treated. Then surely He would not see child abuse,murder,rape,torture,theft and hatred as being treatment that victims actually want from their agressors ?
      And to think that all reprehensible action will be forgiven and all is nulified by belief is surely a cop out. If this is the sort of God we are faced with then I’m afraid I shall have to suffer eternal damnation for my unbelief whilst trying my best to act justly and kindly to all sentient beings in this earthly life. Believing something does not make it true.
      p.s. I am not a proponent of all that Prof. Dawkins has to offer. His need to promote atheism can, at times, border on the type of hard sell often associated with the less tolerent wing of the evangelical movement within Christianity.

      1. It’s not that sin is OK. It never is. However, we have all sinned, and justice demands punishment for sin. God Himself came in flesh and took the punishment upon Himself, so that all those who confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead will be saved.

        If God measured us by our actions, nobody would measure up, no matter the amount of good deeds.

    2. Dear Andrew, and also Pekadewa who says the same thing.

      It is very true that the Gospel doesn’t seem right and doesn’t seem fair and all sorts of other objections. The Gospel, when it is properly explained and not a rewriting of it to say the same thing with different characters as you get in all the other religions, is counterintuitive at best and downright offensive to people at worst.

      You see we as humans always have the limited view. We judge by appearances, and we judge by a partial understanding of the facts.

      For example, you may say that Hitler was the worst criminal who ever lived. Or Stalin, or put in whichever person you think is the worst person ever, worthy of hell. For the purposes of this let’s allow that it’s Adolf Hitler. How many more people would have been the same or worse given the same opportunities? Nobody would admit to it – same as you can barely find a German these days who will admit that his family were avid supporters of the Third Reich at the time. Every single person you’ll meet, with a small handful of honest exceptions, will claim that their family voted against the Nazis, that if they only could have they would have joined the resistance, etc etc. Given Hitler’s particular upbringing, given Germany’s grievances after Versailles, given a whole load of other things, maybe the emergence of this monster is not so surprising and maybe he’s not quite so much different to the average man in the street as we first thought?

      There is atruism that power corrupts, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. This saying would fail to have achieved its near universal acceptance if we could easily point to exceptions, where absolute power has been vested in any man or woman and they have not turned into monsters of one sort or another. That means I suppose that we all would. You would, and I would. So why do we judge another?

      There are people enough out there who frown at the promiscuous, but they themselves would be actually at it all night if opportunity ever actually presented itself. Maybe they don’t even know themselves, but God knows, you see. That’s right, God is well able to extrapolate from your and my reactions to small temptations how we would react to big ones and doesn’t really need to send the big ones along to some people as they are already moral write-offs over failed tests they may not even realise they’ve flunked!

      A priest is tempted by being given absolute power over some young people and also told by a Church infiltrated with Satan’s errors that he cannot marry. And he fails the test. Let those say that he is unworthy of God’s forgiveness if he repents who took that test and passed it, or who passed all their particular tests. Let those who did not receive that test be humble and thankful that they were spared it, and let us look to God and not to ourselves for strength to pass the tests that are daily put in front of us, just as surely as some blessings are each day put in front of us.

      We all have sinned, and if we don’t know ourselves as corrupt yet, let us pray that God shows us our corruption gently. Sometimes the only way that God can finally break a man’s pride is to allow him to be a monster. And when the monster repents, at least he knows how much he is forgiven, and loves much accordingly.

      The people who think that they are righteous and thing that they achieved this all by themselves are actually a spiritual danger to themselves, and need to have their eyes opened. When their eyes are finally opened, not only will they see the full extent of their hopelessness, but also more than hope – the certainty of forgiveness and acceptance by God in the form of Jesus Christ, with arms outstretched, having died for them, risen anew, and able to wash away their sins in his own blood and save them to the uttermost when they knew tht they could not help themselves.

      And therein lies the Glory of God and His salvation, and the closeness of a saved person to his Sviour, a closeness that Adam knew not before the Fall nor ever angel has experienced. We became partakers of Christ and sharers of His glory in eternity.

  2. Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”. We would never measure up and become “worthy” no matter how much we tried.

  3. I am an atheist. I have nothing to be ashamed of and there is nothing for me to be saved from that your so-called perfect god didn’t supposedly invent for me.

    One question: why would an all knowing, all powerful, omnipresent perfect being need to create anything, let alone ‘test’ it and require worship from it’s creation? Doesn’t strike me as perfection, it strikes me as a self-serving and self justifying excuse.

  4. The eternal problem with the faith versus no faith argument is that it can never be free from human prejudice in all its forms. As a species we can only ever know (and the word “know” could take up volumes of paper in its definition) a fraction of what can be known. Both theists and atheists can put forward endless argument for their respective viewpoints but there is not much progress beyond these initial differing beliefs.
    Many extremely erudite and articulate proponents can be cited as we take one side or the other in the endless debate. It might be more helpful to ask WHY we take one position or the other or none.
    I understand the thrust of what David James is saying about the tendency that we all have to judge others when we all have the potential to fail in the same way as the person we judge. However, I do not agree that because we all have the *potential* to act in the same way as a Hitler or Stalin, we would necessarily act that way given the opportunity. Nor do I believe that we need a theistic belief system in order to resist any temptations that come our way.
    Just to take a small instance. I do not steal software from the internet by visiting “warez” sites for “free” software or to obtain hacked registration keys. I don’t act in this way because I fear being found out by man or God but simply because it is logical and reasonable to expect to pay a writer of software for their time and skill. Similarly, I don’t engage in killing humans or animals or any living creature because, like me they want to continue living and I have no right to deprive them of life. Like many of us I get very angry from time to time, but I do not let my anger lead to harmful actions because to do so will always lead to negative repercussions.
    I cannot see how any of these negative human characteristics can be attributed to original sin. Equally, many ardent theists have committed heinous crimes in the same way as the atheist and agnostic perpetrators of crime have. Human action is all to often at variance with human beliefs.
    We need to remind ourselves also of the fact that a belief in a creator God does not automatically equate to a belief in Christian gospels, though it often does. The problem with Christianity for me is that it sets up impossibly high standards for humans to live by condemning them as guilty from birth in effect. The only salvation from the Christian standpoint is belief in Christ. Would an omniscient, omnipresent and all- compassionate God offer such a restricted way to “know” Him ? I would have thought that if the premiss that an all-knowing God exists is accepted, then He would want his creation to become aware of it through as many channels as possible.
    Question for David. How do you define holiness ? Much hinges on our understanding of that term I think. Do you see it as separate and distinct from ethical and moral behaviour or does it encompass this and much more besides ?
    Thanks for an interesting post.

    1. Holiness refers to being set aside. In the root in the original term and also in many other languages, such as “svyaty” you can see that “set aside” is the term. It is a term referring to being dedicated to God, being in a sense separated from the world, although we live in the world. That’s why the opposite of “holy” in many New Testament passages is “worldly”.

      There are many people who are very worldly but who follow a code which is right in their own eyes and also which in many respects is in line with much of what God expects from them also, but it does not mean that these people are holy in a Christian sense. Whereas every Christian is a “saint” or a holy one, by virtue not of saintliness as described for some exemplary men and women but by virtue of Jesus’ blood, having washed them from their sins and made them kings and priests unto God, as the Word puts it.

      The interesting thing about being a Christian believer, I mean that in terms of having a living faith in Jesus rather than be an adherent of some church and following its outward observances in a robotic way, (which is the way some behave in all religions and which is deeply valueless), is that many things are said of such people in the New Testament. We are called Children of God, Friends of Jesus Christ, Brethren, kinsmen, witnesses, prophets, priests, kings, joint-partakers of glory, adopted, reconciled, and many things besides. Many Christians do not even realise one fraction of the power that is vested in them by grace.

Your thoughts welcome, by all mean reply also to other community members!