Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Real Sorrow of Atheism

The Real Sorrow of Atheism

          Last week I was listening to Catholic Answers Live on Immaculate Heart Radio, and it was a rather unique program.  They hosted a two-hour forum for atheists and agnostics to call in and have questions answered.
          I was quite edified by both the charity and respect both sides displayed.  But by the end of the show, there were two things that particularly struck me.
          The first is that, although “professional” atheists like to use very intellectual-sounding language, the arguments for atheism are shockingly weak.  I have long known that a man’s degrees usually have no relation to his intelligence, and sadly often they are inversely proportional to his wisdom.  But to hear intellectuals argue on either side of the existence of God, it is almost unbelievable how one-sided the debates are.  (I am not here speaking of the callers to last week’s show, but rather the “intellectual” atheists who usually fuel their world views.)
          The second thing I came away with was a profound sadness.  The callers all came from unique personal backgrounds, and some were more clearly hungering for God than others.  But the one thing that can be said of every atheist and agnostic is that they have no idea how much they are loved.
          The love God has for us is completely unfathomable.  If we really understood it, it would probably overwhelm us to the point we would literally die of love.  I doubt our weakened human nature could contain that kind of love this side of Heaven.
          But those of us who are Christian do have a profound, if limited, understanding of the love of God.  We are sons and daughters of a Father Who loves us more than any human father ever could.  We are spouses of a Divine Bridegroom who offers a self-giving Love greater than the most romantic and sacrificial unions any husband and wife has ever experienced.  We have been called “friends” by One who was willing to humble Himself more than any human being ever could and then give His life for the very people who killed Him.
          This knowledge changes everything.  It changes everything about who we are, what our purpose is, and the entire meaning of life.  And all of us have friends or family who deny that this God who is Love even exists.
          They go through their whole lives trying to find intellectually satisfying justifications for their atheism, as if that’s the only angle to the question.  Or they wallow in anger over some quarrel with the Church or some sin of which they are not willing to let go.  And they go on living, completely unaware of how much they are loved.
          What a tragedy.  The only greater tragedy is if one rejects this Love for all eternity.
          What can we do?  Certainly we need to know how to answer the intellectual challenges of atheists.  Some are honest intellectuals who, when presented with intelligent arguments for Truth, will embrace it and rejoice in it.
          But more than that, we need to be images of the Love of God.  We need to be willing to help heal the brokenness caused by sin or some other pain, and we need to love them, deeply and unconditionally.  Then, when they experience divine love, even dimly through us, their hearts may be softened to the Divine Lover who pursues them unceasingly.
          There is a story about Mother Teresa which I particularly like (and may have referenced before):
          It seems she took in one of the many people she picked up off the streets of Calcutta.  This was an older man, dirty, diseased and dying.  Mother Teresa cleaned the filth off of him, dressed his wounds, and provided him with food and a bed, all with the pure and humble love that was so unique to the saint. 
Finally, she asked him, “Would you like to hear about Jesus?”
“Is Jesus like you?” the old man asked.
“No,” she replied, “Jesus is not like me.  But I try to be like Him.”
“In that case,” he responded, “I want to become a Christian.”