I’ve written some reflections about the nature of apostasy and the spiritual causes of it here. The main idea there was that an important cause of unbelief involves believing lies about God’s character, believing that God is somehow against you or dishonest, which is an important factor in the Serpent’s temptation of Eve in Genesis 3. It is very interesting how people respond to the story of Adam and Eve. More than once, I have heard Western apostates side with Satan in the story. Sometimes the Serpent in Eden is portrayed as a Prometheus who rebels against God to show humans a better way. Why is that? The dilemma that faces the reader of Genesis 2-3 is the same as the dilemma that faced Adam and Eve. Can you obey a rule simply because God says so? Can you obey a rule that you don’t understand out of submission to a higher authority, or will you want to decide for yourself what is right and only obey what you understand or have judged in your own mind to be right? That is the test. So it is not surprising that people who have already refused to obey God will tend in favour of the Serpent, because they have faced that exact dilemma and that exact temptation and have failed, but without recognizing that they were wrong. Many atheists couch their atheism in moral terms, insisting that God is a villain, and contend that even if the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob could be proven without doubt to exist, they would still refuse to worship him as God.
As soon as you say that there is some rule that you will never obey even if God commands it, you have already started down the road to apostasy. You may doubt that, as a result of the content of the rule, that it really came from God ( which can be legitimate), but if you believe it came from God, but choose not to obey it ( regardless of what it is), your soul is in danger. If you adhere to false teachings sincerely because you really believe God taught them, you can be saved. But if you believe in false teachings or do wrong actions, however minor it may seem, because you don’t want to believe it is wrong even if God teaches that it is wrong, then you are in great spiritual danger. And it will show in your doctrine and actions eventually. That attitude becomes a “root of bitterness” (Hebrews 12:15) that will undermine your devotion to God in many ways and eventually destroy your faith. God is by definition incontrovertible. As soon as you question God’s command, you have made God accountable to your own decisions about right and wrong. This means that you no longer believe in God. You may still go to church, confess all the doctrines, pray, have religious experiences, but the supernatural being you believe in is not God, because he is not incontrovertible. You only recognize your own comprehension as incontrovertible. You are now an atheist, because even though you believe in the existence of a powerful supernatural being, even one who is omnipotent and omniscient, you do not believe in the existence of God. What makes God God is the fact that he is the highest and most excellent standard, which means that to question him is to commit yourself to absurdity. There is no means by which to question him, no standard you can hold him accountable to. If God cannot legitimately do as he pleases, even if humans think from their own perspective that it seems wrong, then he is not God.
Genesis 3 tells human beings to recognize their place. We are creatures. We do not decide what is right. We heed the decisions of our Creator who has decided for us and our only legitimate decisions about the Good are about discerning what God has decided, not to make our own determinations ( except about matters that are left open to us by God). Both Jesus’ command to forgive, to refrain from vengeance (Matthew 18) and his command to not judge (Matthew 7:1) steer us away from an attitude where we get to decide good and evil. We are to leave it to God. We are to have toward God a posture of absolute submission, the posture of faith, and we must approach the Bible with this posture.
In Genesis 22, Abraham is told by God to go sacrifice Isaac, his only son. Abraham sets out that morning to do just that. But just before he does the deed, the Angel of the Lord stops him, saying:
But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not reach out your hand against the boy, and do not do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”
Genesis 22: 11-12
This account shows how absolute our submission to God must be, that it must take precedence over those relations that we most naturally hold most dear to ourselves, our family. We must not let family relationships, even the ones closest ones, such as our relationships to our parents or our children, come between us and God and we must rather cut off a relationship with a family member than allow such a relationship to compromise our devotion to God. These close family relationships tempt us to give them priority and our natural affections even condemn us for not giving them priority, but we must not do so. And if you abandon devotion to God for a family member, you may well find, if God decides to show you, how quickly family can be a curse rather than a blessing, how investing your worship and meaning of life in another human being is a folly that will be rued with many tears, how a relationship can be co-dependent but loveless.
If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.
“Hate” here is being used idiomatically, to indicate a relationship of priority, not actual ill-will (otherwise, it would obviously conflict with Jesus’ command to love neighbour as self).
An attitude similar to that of Abraham can be found in Mary. When an angel tells Mary that she will bear Jesus, she responds:
And Mary said, “Behold, the Lord’s bond-servant; may it be done to me according to your word.”
No account of this posture of absolute submission would be complete without that attitude of Jesus himself in the Garden fo Gethsemane:
“Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”
Could Satan not have whispered to Jesus, “What father would sacrifice his son? How is that love? Is not the love of your father inferior to the love even of the fallen humans?” But Jesus submits to the will and comprehension of his Father, confident in his love and his goodness. When tragedy befalls you, how will your faith survive unless you believe that God’s goodness is not beholden to your own intuitions and feelings and ideas about what is right and what should be? When everything you see in your life and your understanding of them, seems to cry out that God is not good, then you must defiantly declare to it all that God is good, because we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). We will live our lives by the unseen, not by the seen, because the unseen is eternal, but the seen is temporary ( 2 Corinthians 4:18). How will you do what is right at a crucial moment, when all your emotions steer you away from God’s command and where those around you even embolden themselves to judge God’s command as evil and unjust? Nothing less than absolute surrender is required.
The atheist here might respond, “So if God asks you to do a horrible thing, would you go ahead and do it?” Yes, because that is what it means to recognize God as God. But this question presupposes a better vantage point, a standard apart from God whereby an action that God commands can be evaluated as “horrible”, which is by definition impossible if God truly exists, because if he exists there can be no standard beyond him to which he is accountable and by which you can judge his command, because then he would not be God, but the standard beyond him would be God. It is not surprising that this better vantage point is located in the self. Your own powers of reasoning and grasping the Good is now your authority. The question could equally be put, “What if your powers of reasoning leads you to commit a horrible action or leads you to believe such an action is right?” Why do you think that God’s goodness can be evaluated apart from reference to his own nature, but your own way of grasping morality, moral intuition, cannot be evaluated outside of its frame of reference? That means your argument is circular. You have presupposed your own authority in arguing against God’s authority. But your authority is the judgment of a fallible human being, based on moral sentiments, which are highly variable from culture to culture and age to age. And you are confident in your judgment? You are then imputing to a being who is omniscient and omnipotent a greater degree of fallibility than your own powers of reasoning and moral intuition, which is very unreasonable. You may respond, “I would never think a horrible thing right!” Realize the enormously inflated view of self that this entails. You are saying there is no possible world, no possible scenario, where you’ll come to believe that an evil thing is good. This means your goodness is metaphysically necessary, which would make you very much like a god. If your own comprehension is your standard to which you hold everything accountable, then it is right to say that you worship yourself as god, because only your own decisions about the Good are incontrovertible to you.