“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.
Atheism and “Functional” Atheism
David, in the Psalms, labels people who stifle the knowledge of God which comes from the created world as “fools” (Psalm 14:1; 53:1). Many people who continue in their sins try to banish all memory of God from their minds. It’s hard to remove, however, and this knowledge of God often comes flooding back through a person’s “hardwiring” by God. The Psalms label these kinds of people—who try to banish the knowledge of God from their minds—as atheists. Now, it’s not these people are atheists in the technical sense, because they probably wouldn’t even formally deny that God exists. Rather, they are “functional” atheists—they live as if God does not exist, and that He does not rule over the universe, and that He does not uphold justice.
Such a view of God, however, is completely contrary to who God actually is. To think that God would allow the world to be run by “chance,” or that He would turn a blind eye to the crimes of the wicked (and thus encouraging them to do more evil!) is nonsense. Consequently, every person who lives in security but does not fear God’s judgment virtually denies that there is a God. After the wicked close their own eyes to the light of God’s knowledge, God will justly punish them by further hardening their hearts. Although they see with their physical eyes, they do not “see” with spiritual sight—they do not have any love for God. David labels the wicked as having “no fear of God at all” (Psalm 36:1). Furthermore, the wicked think that, “God isn’t watching us! He has closed his eyes and won’t even see what we do!” (Psalm 10:11).
Therefore, although the wicked are forced to acknowledge that some God exists, they rob Him of His glory by denying His power over the world. The apostle Paul writes: “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is” (2 Timothy 2:13). So those who make for themselves an idol, which is by definition unable to speak or hear, are truly deny God because He is an active, involved God.
Now, although some people would want to ban all knowledge of God, not only from their own minds but also even in the spiritual realm, their mind is never completely shut to some knowledge of God. Sometimes, they can even feel guilt for disobeying God’s divine standards of right and wrong. Nevertheless, because they don’t want to think about God, their “default state” is to be oblivious to God.