Truth was dead.
God had never lived.
Life was filled of pain.
And death was the end of life.¹
These beliefs formed my worldview as a young atheist: I sincerely believed that there was no God. When people hear my story, they often tell theirs with something close to agony in their eyes: a son, a daughter, a brother, a mother, a spouse, a colleague—someone they love denies God’s existence. “Your journey from atheism to faith,” they whisper, “gives me hope that one day they will know God.”
Hope and atheism? Yes, indeed! When you love an atheist, you have great reason to hope. Their words may wound you. Their actions may confuse you. But the God in whom you hope is mighty to save and relentless in his loving pursuit of their souls. To complement your prayers for their salvation, I offer you five “Be’s” for those who love atheists.
1. Be Respectful: People Rarely Choose Atheism Lightly
I like atheists. Without exception I have enjoyed the company of every authentic atheist I have met. (Authentic, however, is a key adjective because occasionally pretenders don the cloak of atheism to satisfy their addiction to arguing, and I have a painfully low tolerance for posers of any variety.) In general, atheists are thoughtful, witty, and deeply committed to their perceptions of reality.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, respect means “consideration” and “regard,” not agreement. Respect invites us to remember that people have a reason for what they believe. Some inherit atheism from their families or cultures. Some turn to atheism to make sense of the planet’s insanely inequitable distribution of health, wealth, and safety. Some choose atheism for scientific or (like I did) philosophical reasons. And some default to the belief in the wake of painful disillusionment with God and his people.
Reasons matter. In fact, what your loved one believes is simply the outcome of why they believe. Like a good doctor, instead of being distracted and distraught by the fruits of their beliefs, focus on discerning the roots of their beliefs. Respectful listening can reveal root causes, and root causes can give us specific direction for intercession. So as Peter advised, “If someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way” (1 Peter 3:15–16).