From “Saved by an Atheist” by Rob Moll, who returned to faith in Christ in part through reading The Plague by Albert Camus:
Yet the biggest influence on my spiritual journey was the novels and philosophy of Albert Camus, a French existentialist of the 1940s and ’50s—and an atheist. C. S. Lewis warned, “A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.” Camus should have been safe territory for me, but as I like to say now, I was saved by an atheist.
Though atheists may argue that the existence of a supreme being is impossible, their arguments often reveal a belief that God just doesn’t behave as they think he should.
Camus was right, I knew, and I, too, had plague. I was sick and in need of a Physician. Camus’ willingness to accept the truth that human beings are fallen allowed me to do the same. Camus held a mirror to my face—in a way that no pastor, preacher, or professor had—and I knew I needed salvation.
Certainly not all atheists lead readers to such Christian conclusions. And just as certainly, not every atheist writer deals as honestly with himself and with God as Camus. But, at their best, atheists show Christians how our teaching or our practice is failing our society.
In The Plague, Camus describes Father Paneloux, a priest who has no real answer to suffering but nevertheless thunders that the plague is God’s judgment on a wicked city. The epidemic is the fault of the people, he says, and it will remain until they repent. But Camus presents the death of a child as a counterargument: a good God would not punish an innocent child with such suffering.
The church’s inability to answer the problem of suffering is still atheists’ most common complaint against God, and it teaches us how we may be setting people up for spiritual disappointment and failure. Maybe the modern church puts too much emphasis on better living through God. Or perhaps we don’t adequately explain that God suffers with us and redeems our suffering without eliminating it. Whatever the cause, atheism remains an attractive worldview for those who have witnessed suffering or been in pain and can’t reconcile the idea of a good and powerful God with the reality of life on earth.
Atheists may have an arsenal of arguments against God or religion. But at heart, rejection of God seems not to be a purely logical choice against the possibility or desirability of God. Rather, it is often a rejection of God’s people. Atheism’s recent popularity should serve as a warning to us. Apologetics conferences and passionate rebuttals may have their place. Certainly we should be ready with reasons for our faith. But before we begin dueling on blogs and arming ourselves with television talking points, let’s learn to see atheists not as deniers of God, but as wrestlers with him. And let’s remember that their deepest arguments against belief are the people they’re arguing with.
Grace and Peace (from one who also has the plague)