January 12, 2023

Unbelief: A Moral Issue

Sinclair Ferguson
Unbelief: A Moral Issue

At some point, everyone who claims to be an atheist will give themselves away. Their rejection of God is ultimately a moral issue, not an intellectual one. Today, Sinclair Ferguson discloses the relationship between unbelief and a hatred of God.


We’ve been thinking this week about God’s revelation of Himself in creation, His “creation apocalypse” as we might say, and we’ve been seeing just how all-embracing that revelation is. It not only surrounds us in the created order, but it also invades us because we are part of that created order, and especially because we’ve been created as the image of God.

Now, the Bible teaches us that even though we’ve distorted that image by our sinfulness, it hasn’t been destroyed. We can try to suppress that fact—the fact that we know that God is and that we are made as His image and likeness—but we can never ultimately destroy it, so there’s no escape from revelation. We’re spectators of it, and we are participants in it. Everyone who claims to be an atheist will somewhere, somehow, sometime give themselves away. Somewhere along the line it will become clear that the atheism that they claim is simple intellectual honesty in fact has deep moral roots because deep down, as Paul says in Romans 1:30, they are haters of God.

Don’t you sometimes think to yourself, “Why do so many of these people who tell me they don’t believe in God get so angry about Him? After all, they’ve just told me that He doesn’t exist.” I remember coming across what I thought was a very powerful illustration of this in one of the British quality newspapers, The Daily Telegraph. It carried a report of a service of tribute that had been held in St. Martins-in-the-Fields Church of England in London, a memorial service for the famous English novelist Sir Kingsley Amis. Kingsley Amis, as you may know, had been knighted by the queen for services, I think, to literature. His son, Martin Amis, who was also a successful novelist, gave an address about his father, and in that address, he told the following story.

On one occasion—these are the days of the Cold War when I suppose every Russian thought that every Englishman was a Christian—on one occasion, the Russian poet and playwright Yevgeny Yevtushenko met Martin Amis’ father. And he said to him, “Sir Kingsley, is it true what I hear about you, that you are an atheist?” And then Martin Amis said something that apparently prompted an outburst of laughter in St. Martins-in-the-Fields. “Well, yes,” said Kingsley Amis, “It’s true I’m an atheist, but it’s more than that. You see, I hate Him.” People thought it was funny, like seeing a cartoon of someone who says something when it’s quite clear that what they’ve said is self-contradictory. I’m sure Kingsley Amis’ son meant people to laugh, a great moment in the service. But you know, what he said was not so much funny as tragic. I wonder if any of the A-listers in the congregation that day thought, “How desperately sad.”

How stunning an illustration of what Paul says in Romans 1:18–32. Kingsley Amis denies the existence of God and yet hates the God whose existence he denies. He’s simply living, and now dead, proof of what Paul says in Romans 1. He has suppressed the truth he has known, and he’s done it not because of intellectual honesty, but because of unrighteousness. You know, if Yevgeny Yevtushenko had been a Christian, I think he might have wanted to pull on this loose thread that was so obviously sticking out of the poorly woven garment of Sir Kingsley Amis’ bravado and pointed out the inconsistency between what he professed to believe and what he really deep down believed.

I imagine that would’ve taken not a little courage, and sometimes it will take not a little courage for us to do the same with people who are supremely self-confident and hate the hubris of their sinful hearts being unmasked, but we do need to look for and listen for these loose threads. Some of them will be less obvious. Some of them will be very obvious. So let’s ask the Lord for eyes to discern them and courage to begin to pull them so that we may help people whose foolish hearts, as Paul says, have become darkened—help them to see their need and to point them to Jesus Christ. And let’s not forget to thank God daily that we see His handiwork in everything He has made, and that He has made us as His image. And in Jesus Christ, He’s transforming us back into that image so that we may be like Him again.