The God-Fearing Atheist

Nate PickowiczChristianity1 Comment

It has been said that there is a “God-sized hole” in every person. In other words, the human heart was designed to want and need God. It’s a kind of fingerprint that God leaves on the souls of those created in His image (Gen. 1:26-27). Here’s the rub, not every person acknowledges or believes that God exists. How then do we explain this?

In John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, he makes a case for “the knowledge of God implanted in the human mind”.1 Because it is often argued that religion is a man-made invention to subjugate the masses, Calvin points to indigenous tribes of people who are fully convinced of the existence of God. Furthermore, almost uniformly, these tribes worship blocks of wood and stones as gods rather than believe in the absence of deity. They are naturally prone to worship.

Calvin then addresses the atheist.

He writes, “The most audacious despiser of God is most easily disturbed, trembling at the sound of a falling leaf.” He’s referring to the abject fear within a person when one comes to the end of himself. We’ve all heard the recently deemed politically incorrect phrase “there are no atheists in foxholes.” This is what Calvin is talking about. Intellectually, one can deny God all day long, but placed into a situation which appeals to a person’s instincts, that “God-sized hole” becomes a gaping, aching chasm. In conclusion, Calvin writes, “If all are born and live for the express purpose of learning to know God, and if the knowledge of God, insofar as it fails to produce this effect, fleeting and vain, it is clear that all those who do not direct the whole thoughts and actions of their lives to this end fail to fulfill the law of their being.”

Did you catch that? Because we’re hard-wired to acknowledge God; if we don’t seek Him, then we violate our own nature!

Where did Calvin discover this idea?

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul builds a case for the innate knowledge of God. In Romans 1 we learn that God makes His existence evident in nature so that humankind is without excuse (vv. 19-20). By ignoring what is obvious about the Creator from His creation, humans harden their hearts. Then, in chapter 2, Paul deals with this issue of foreign peoples who have no expressed knowledge of the Judeo-Christian God. Paul writes that “the Law is written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness” (v. 15). In other words, without ever reading The Ten Commandments, they are naturally bound to this Law in their heart.

Why is this the case? Because God has placed His moral compass within them. That is precisely why objective moral truth exists. Torturing a young child is wrong no matter what culture or in what time period you live. It’s universal. It’s clear. It’s objective.

Again, why? Because God has made it so.

God did not create humans in order to enslave them as so many fear. God made us in His image and likeness so that we would be in a joyful, loving relationship with Him. He desires worship, not because He’s narcissistic, but because He is glorious and is worth our adoration.

When we stand at the precipice of an astounding natural beauty, we pause in awe of such a wonder. We give proper honor to the majesty of its splendor. Should we not also then give greater reverence and honor to the One who created it?

Nate Pickowicz

Nate Pickowicz

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Nate Pickowicz is the pastor/planter of Harvest Bible Church in Gilmanton, New Hampshire. After being called into ministry in 2009, he led a team to plant in 2013. He and his wife Jessica have two children.


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  1. Book 1, Chapter 3.