MOSCOW, July 25, 2011 — A person dear to my heart told me a riveting story recently.
A few years ago he began to suffer from severe back pain. As days and weeks went by, the pain increased to the point of being nearly unbearable. The doctors could not pinpoint the cause and disagreed on diagnosis. Even the strongest painkillers became ineffective.
At last he had to be taken to a hospital. As he lay in bed wracked by pain, he doubted he would survive the ordeal.
In the depths of pain and despair, he suddenly began talking to God. In his agony he vowed to do good, if God would only heal him and let him go on.
What startled me about this story was that this man was an unbeliever. Some 55 years of age at the time, he had been an atheist all of his life.
Yet in his moment crisis, he knew that God is there. He in fact grasped God’s nature and characteristics with surprising percipience. He knew that God is a being who is supreme over Creation and over the fate of His creatures. He knew also that he had failed to live up to the standards God requires.
That story brought home something I had previously pondered, and which the Apostle Paul speaks about in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans: Every human being knows there is a God.
We know God, Paul contends, because God has made himself explicitly known to us: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.”
I can relate to this myself. Even during my many years as an atheist, I experienced vivid flashes of intuition of God. I had moments when I clearly felt – I knew – that there must be a God who created the universe and all the wonder I saw around me.
But I did not purse those intuitions to their inevitable conclusion. After the moments of insight had passed, I dismissed them. I coldly rejected God who was pulling on the strings of my heart and consciousness.
The apostle Paul explains why we humans react in this fashion to God’s revelation. It is because of “unrighteousness” that we “suppress the truth.”
How true. In retrospect I can see that it was the pride and the falleness of my heart that kept me from acknowledging God. Absurd, isn’t? The creature refusing to confess his creator who make himself evident in everything we see. Like a truculent child, I refused to acknowledge the reality of the parent who gave me life and being.
This brings us to a crucial point: There is really no such a thing as an atheist or an agnostic. If you think of yourself as such, you are self-deceived. Deep down you know that God exists. We all do.
If you look into your past experience, you will find that this is so. You will undoubtedly remember instances when you had a sense of divine presence. In such moments we feel there is something more than just this material existence and that the world in which we live now is only a reflection of something far grander and greater.
Such an epiphany may be triggered by a sight of a flower, or a newly-born child, or perhaps a setting sun. Whatever it may be, we suddenly sense that all this is not a mere accident. We know there is something that has brought this wonder forth. And we know that that something is glorious and majestic and powerful. In such moments we know God.
But when those moments pass, the natural inclination of the human heart is to reject this knowledge. We refuse to acknowledge the creator and instead keep our own person at the focal point of our universe. Rather than being humbled by the grandeur and majesty of what we see, we place ourselves at the center of our world. This error has lamentable consequences.
The apostle describes this process with characteristic insight: “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.”
Alas, this is the the painful story of unredeemed humanity. The rejection of God – of his love and of his precepts – has been at the root of some of our most profound and intractable problems both as a society and as individuals.
But God’s mercy is boundless. Even though we may have repeatedly rejected him in the past, God comes to us again and again with his offer of redemption and communion.
So the next time you have that intuition of divine transcendence, do not suppress it. Instead open your heart and accept that which you already know to be true: There is God who created you and all things, and we cannot live rightly until we accept this fact.
Born and raised under communism, Vasko Kohlmayer is a naturalized American citizen. He has lived in several countries under various forms of government, but he still marvels at the goodness of God and the wonder of life.
He has written for a number of newspapers, magazines and internet journals. Vasko currently lives in Europe with his long-suffering wife and two beautiful daughters. He is the founder of The Christian Writers Foundation.
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