About the atheist

A Letter to My Doctor

Dear George,

First of all, thank you for allowing me the privilege of calling you by your Christian name!

Most of all I write to express our deepest gratitude to you for the care, compassion and skill you have shown to us now over many years. We don't take it for granted! We also realise to some degree just how difficult your job is. When dealing with patients, so many of whom are terminally ill, you can't allow yourself to get too closely involved in their lives. However, you have allowed us that privilege as well!

Then I wanted to say how much I felt with you last year when you lost a doctor friend who was an avowed atheist. I was greatly honoured when you shared your feelings about that grief with me, and asked me if I thought God would allow an atheist into heaven. Hard though it was for me to say, I felt I had to share with you my firmly held conviction that would not be possible. I remember saying at the time that that which to man is the plainest of duties to God is the profoundest of problems!

When we offend one another - although it may be quite a big hurt which we experience - it is a personal affront and, as we pray in the prayer which the Lord himself taught us, we are required to forgive. During nearly fifty years in the Christian ministry I have often been deeply hurt by many so-called Christians. Forgive them I must - and have done so!

But the very fact that I can recall such incidents now shows that we human beings cannot forget!

I discovered a long time ago the magnificent truth that when God forgives He also forgets!

This is an indescribably great comfort - especially when I think of what goes on in the realm of my thoughts! As someone has said, adultery in the head is the same to God as adultery in the bed! And that's just one example! It says in the Bible that when He forgives He places our sins as far from Him as the east is from the west! That's an infinite distance!

When we think of a person who is convinced that there is no God - in spite of the mountain of evidence to the contrary - bo thin creation, and in the existence of conscience (have a look at the Book of Romans, Chapter 1, verses 20-22), it is simply logical to deduce that if such a person lives without God in this life God will honour his choice, and he will be without Him in the next! What else could he expect?

But why is it that I say that forgiveness to God is the profoundest of problems? Well, I remember saying when we were chatting that God is the Creator and Upholder of all the laws and principles of the Universe. If a man is determined to jump out of a 34th story window God cannot suspend gravity for his benefit and save him from certain death at the bottom! It is the same in the spiritual realm.

I am being exceedingly presumptuous in writing to you like this. And I am aware of the busy-ness of your life. But please hang in there with me for one final thing. Over the years I have tried to put this argument into the most succinct for possible.

This is how I sum up what the Bible teaches

God can only do things which are consistent with His nature. He cannot readily pardon a sinner like me, because He is a God of infinite justice. But neither can He readily punish a sinner like me, because He is also a God of infinite mercy.

Very reverently we may say that this is The Divine Dilemma! This is the profoundest of problems!

How could God pardon the sinner without opposing His perfect justice? Yet, how could He judge and punish a sinner who is guilty in His sight without frustrating His love? How, in the face of human sin could He be at one and the same time a God of love and a God of justice - for such He must be!

How could He both pardon the sinner and punish his sin?

In the mind of God in eternity He devised a rescue plan. He was not taken unawares!

But there was only one way to solve the problem. In His infinite justice He would exact the full penalty for sin, but in His infinite mercy He would pay the penalty Himself! In this way He would express and satisfy both His love and His justice.

So, in the Person of His eternal Son He entered the world which He had made. We know Him as Jesus Christ. He identified with us in all our need in the womb of Mary His mother, and in 33 years of life as a real man in this world.

God channelled Himself down into our human situation through the medium of a woman who herself confessed after His birth that she needed a Saviour, thus implying her own consciousness that she too was a sinner (Luke 1:46,47), and needed forgiveness! In her womb God took upon Himself our human nature.

Then - and here is the genius of God's rescue plan - on the Cross of Calvary He took upon Himself our sins.

He was first made flesh (John 1:14). He was then made sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Then in the silence and darkness of those terrible hours on the Cross, the sins of the whole world, of every place and every generation, were laid on Him. In His own Person He accepted the penalty and endured the consequences which our sins should have brought upon us.

Only Jesus Christ could have done this.

Why? Because He was both sinless man, and God. Because He was a real man He could represent me and pay for my sins. Because He was sinless He had no sins of His own for which a penalty needed to be paid. Then, because He was God His life was of infinite value. It availed for me!

But it also avails for all people, and for all sins of every generation! So when I contemplate the Cross of Calvary I cannot tell which is the most apparent - the implacable antagonism of God towards sin, or his inextinguishable love for the sinner. Both were fully satisfied at the Cross!

This is God's great rescue plan!

This is why the Cross is so obviously the symbol for Christianity! And this is why Christ is the exclusive way to God!

There remains one question.

What must I do?

It is certainly not enough to believe that there is a God. The Bible actually asserts that the devil believes in God and shudders (James 1:19). It is not even enough that Christ died. Forgiveness is not automatic. Nor is it enough to believe in my head that Christ died for me!

Christianity is not an intellectual acquiescence in a fact. No! I must actually personally receive Jesus Christ into my life as my Saviour, commit myself personally and unreservedly to Him as my Lord and Master, and ask God for His sake, and because of what He has done, to take my sins away.

This is the heart of authentic Christianity! Put in a nutshell this is what the Bible teaches.

Like you, I am disappointed with my own denomination, and in other denominations.

I do hope I have not presumed too much on our friendship to expand on our brief conversation in your surgery in this way!

Yours very sincerely,
(Canon) Reg Hanlon

1418 Modified: 14-10-2022
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