After listening to a few of Christopher Hitchens’s debates with Christians, one quickly sees (because of how many times he returns to the subject) that his core problem with Christianity is that he finds the Christian God petty, tyrannical, spiteful, unjust, hateful, and unreasonable. In short, he hates Him and wants nothing to do with Him. I’ve been finding that this is not at all unusual for atheists.
Those of us interested in apologetics spend a lot of time learning to defend the reality of God and Christianity, but not nearly enough time learning to deeply understand the beauty and goodness of His character and actions. But we need to be able to do this if we are to present God to someone else as a person—someone worthy of devotion and trust.
Why is it necessary to demonstrate God’s goodness in addition to merely arguing for the truthfulness of Christianity? Consider this quote from Future Grace:
When you believe merely on the basis of a testimony you might assent to the truth without delighting in it or seeing it as spiritually beautiful. But when you believe because you have had a spiritual “taste” or “apprehension” of spiritual beauty, then the faith itself is permeated by this taste of spiritual beauty. [Charles] Hodge says, “We may believe on the testimony of those in whose veracity and judgment we confide, that a man of whom we know nothing has great moral excellence. But if we see for ourselves the exhibition of his excellence, we believe for other reasons, and in a different way....”
What makes faith saving faith is this “different way” of believing that comes from a different (not alternative, or contradictory) way of apprehending or tasting the reality behind the testimony we affirm...[Hodge:] “It is a faith which rests upon the manifestation by the Holy Spirit of the excellence, beauty, and suitableness of the truth...”
In other words, as apologists, it’s necessary but not enough to argue well for the existence of God; after all, even the demons believe this and are no better off for it, for they still do not see God as beautiful and love Him. We need to spend enormous amounts of time reading the Bible, thinking through the character of God in light of every aspect of that character as presented in the entirety of the book. How can God be good in light of Hell or the destruction of the Canaanites? Is God a tyrant? What does His justice look like? His mercy? His love?
Prove to an atheist that a God that he finds hateful and ugly exists, and that atheist will still find Him hateful and defy Him. But describe and defend the beauty and goodness of that God, and perhaps the Holy Spirit will move him to love.