What with both of us having been active in Christian activities as youth, our conversation invariably turned to some of our experiences in our younger days. Then, somewhat hesitantly, my friend told me he had stopped believing in God.
Frankly, I was not terribly surprised, given the trajectory of his life in recent years, which had drifted farther and farther away from God and the church, and, along the way, included divorcing his wife and marrying a woman twenty years younger. It is the old, old story.
If you have ever spoken with some of the leading "new atheists" such as Richard Dawkins or the late Christopher Hitchens, they have been known to concede (in their more candid moments), that a part of their rejection of Christianity is a rejection of the moral claims that believing in God places on one's life. This fits a pattern that I have seen time and time again as I have talked with people about Christian faith.
It happens like this: Over time, one comes to realize that if God exists, and especially if he has spoken to us in the Bible, then there are things he has told us to do that (gasp!) infringe on our personal autonomy. Often this realization happens on a subconscious level. And so, subconsciously, one begins to find the notion of God's existence and of the truth claims of the Bible to be, for lack of a better word, distasteful. Consequently, people in this situation begin to use their intellects to find objections—excuses for not believing what they have already decided they don't want to believe.
For example, when God says, "do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth," or when he says, "I hate divorce... because the man who divorces his wife covers his garment with violence,” (Malachi 2:15-16) or when he commands us to "rejoice in the wife of your youth" (Proverbs 5:18), there is a moral claim being made so that, if I believe in God and believe the Bible to be his Word, then, yes, my personal choices are being directed and my autonomy is being limited.
But—and this is where skeptics miss the boat—God's commands are not aimed at robbing us of our freedom or denying us pleasure; in fact, quite the opposite is true. God wants men and women to have loving, lifelong companionship. He wants children to have stable and loving families where they can be brought up "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). He wants families that endure over generations and are the building blocks of a society and a people who love and honor him.
Feminists (among others) need to recognize that divorce is not liberation and marriage is not slavery (at least it should not be, if is lived according to God's intention). God's injunction, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord" (Galatians 5:22) comes within the context of all of us "submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ" (5:21) and is balanced by the injunction, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (5:25).
When God commands husbands to love their wives or all of us to love one another, he doesn't mean for us to do so if we feel like it. But neither is he telling us to do something objectionable, or contrary to reason or nature. He is telling us, (in the words of the currently popular song by John Mayer) that love is a verb. As with Anselm's faith seeking understanding ("I believe in order that I might know"), love is something we do in order that we might feel, not something we are supposed to wait to feel before we do. But love is something that, once we do it, can have (in the words of the old prayer book) innumerable benefits—for ourselves, for each other, and for the whole human race.
All this is merely one more illustration of the fact that God loves us and that his commands are for our good and for our joy. As the Psalmist says,
The law of the Lord is perfect,"In keeping them there is great reward." There is a transcendent dimension to life that the skeptics will never know unless they come to believe in God and trust in his Word. It is only when we have faith that we know the experience of the Psalmist as he prays to God,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward (Psalm 19:7-11).
You will show me the path of life;Heavenly Father, for all those we know and love, grant that they might come to know you as you are revealed in your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
in your presence there is fullness of joy,
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore (Psalm 16:11).