Daily Archives: January 16, 2010

The New Old Atheism

Watching the news reports of relief efforts in Haiti, I couldn’t help noticing the prevalence of Christian ministries. They’re everywhere. And they didn’t just arrive, they were assisting Haitians before the earthquake.

But strangely missing from the news reports is any mention of atheist relief efforts. Assuredly (and thankfully), atheists have been contributing, but were they helping the people in Haiti before the earthquake?

Contrary to recent surveys that indicate the percentage of atheists have remained the same (at 4%), atheism is in vogue. But you may be surprised to discover that atheism isn’t a new idea. It’s been around for centuries.

In our reading this morning, we’ll look at what Scripture says about the new old atheism.

Sorry for the delay in posting today’s installment—WordPress gave me problems putting my post online.


Genesis 32:13-34:31
Matthew 11:7-30
Psalm 14:1-7
Proverbs 3:19-20


Genesis 32:13-21. The Bible Background Commentary adds some interesting observations regarding Jacob’s preparation: “Jacob’s gifts to Esau demonstrate that he is as shrewd as ever. Besides being an attempt to gain Esau’s favor through generosity, the continuous arrival of the herds of animals will wear out any schemes for ambush and deflate any degree of military readiness that Esau might be planning in his encounter with Jacob. Additionally, traveling with the animals will slow Esau down and make his company much noisier. Finally, the plan adds Jacob’s servants to Esau’s retinue—a decided advantage if there is to be fighting.”

Genesis 32:22-32. E.M. Bounds, who wrote some very inspiring books on prayer, once wrote about this passage: “Prayer in its highest form and grandest success assumes the attitude of a wrestler with God. It is the contest, trial, and victory of faith; a victory not secured from an enemy, but from him who tries our faith that he may enlarge it; that tests our strength to make us stronger.”

Genesis 32:29. Notice that the person with whom Jacob is fighting doesn’t answer Jacob’s question about his name. In the Old Testament, God’s name is never spoken—partly because in that culture, knowing a person’s name gave a sense of mastery over the person.

Genesis 33:2. Notice that Jacob places Leah (his unloved wife) ahead of Rachel and him. If the family was attacked, Leah would have suffered first.

Genesis 33:4. Put your self in Jacob’s shoes (sandals?). You bow down to honor the brother you deceived (and fear), and he starts running toward you. What would be running through your head? I’d be terrified.

Genesis 33:10. I love this line. The night before, Jacob wrestles with God and names the place Peniel, which means “face of God.” Then he looks at his brother Easu and says, “For to see your face is like seeing the face of God.”

Genesis 34:9. Remember, Abraham was adamant that their clan avoid marrying Canaanites. By intermarrying with the locals, their clan would be absorbed into the surrounding culture and the blessing would be lost.

Matthew 11:28-30. I love what the New Bible Commentary says about this passage: “A yoke was intended to ease the discomfort in carrying a heavy load. But it also symbolized obedience and the acceptance of responsibility. The rabbis often spoke of taking on ‘the yoke of the Law’, and under their direction that burden could become heavy. Jesus’ yoke, by contrast, is easy, not because his call to discipleship is less demanding…but because it makes us pupils of one who is gentle and humble in heart.”


The beginning of Psalm 14 is pretty direct:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.

Reading this Scripture today, I realized that atheism isn’t new. It dates back thousands of years.

But the deeper realization that occurred to me was the outcome of atheism: “They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.”

Obviously, the vast, vast majority of atheists aren’t criminal reprobates. In fact, atheists can do very good things.

But I’ve always wondered: who or what serves as their reference of authority?

As a follower of Jesus, I seek to live in a way that reflects the way he lived. Unfortunately, other followers of Jesus have committed some pretty atrocious acts that don’t reflect Jesus. They can also treat atheists in ways that embarrass me.

And, I continue to fall short in my attitudes, thoughts, and behavior. Nevertheless,  Scripture—with the conviction of the Holy Spirit—acts as a restraint on evil and corruption.

But what acts as a restraint on atheists? If every person is “the measure of all things,” then everyone is free to live as they please. What do you call a group of people who do whatever they want without regard to a higher authority? Chaos.


  1. Have you ever wrestled with God? What was the outcome? Were you changed? Did the wrestling match leave you walking with a limp?
  2. Describe a time when someone showered you with forgiveness like Esau did to Jacob.
  3. Read Matthew 11:12. What does this say about the kingdom of heaven?
  4. What kind of yokes do people take on that don’t come from Jesus?



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