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Tag: Luke 16:19-31

Don’t Believe in God? Pray and Ask Him to Reveal Himself to You.

god reveal himself to you

When confronted with my unbelief in the Christian God, Evangelicals will often ask me to pray and ask God to reveal himself to me. Evangelicals have even given me scripted prayers to pray on more than a few occasions, telling me that if I “sincerely” pray these prayers to the triune God of Christianity, he will reveal himself to me. On days when I am filled with 100-proof Gerencser snark, I will pray the prayers and then report back, “Nope, God didn’t reveal himself to me!” Their reply? “well, you didn’t “sincerely” ask God to pull the rabbit out of the hat.” I am always to blame, not God, when he fails to show his work, speak to me, or do anything that would lead me to conclude he is real.

Evangelicals who take this approach with me are ignorant of their Bibles — the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Evangelicals believe every word in the Bible is true, written by holy men of old as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. You would think Evangelicals would follow the Word of God instead of asking unbelievers to pray. Don’t they know that the Bible says that God doesn’t hear the prayers of the unsaved, that libertarian free will is a myth, and the only way that someone can be saved is if God chooses to save them? Don’t they know that lost people are dead in trespasses and sins, alienated from God, and unless God grants them the faith to believe, they will never be saved? What drives this notion of praying and asking God to reveal himself to you is bad theology. Shocker, right?

Take the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16. (Please see Luke 16:19-31: The Rich Man and Lazarus.) Towards the end of this story, we have a dialog between Abraham and the Rich Man:

Rich Man: I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house. For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment [Hell].

Abraham: They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.

Rich Man: Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.

Abraham: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

The Rich Man, facing the torments of Hell, was rightly concerned about his family, particularly his five brothers. The Rich Man asked Abraham to resurrect Lazarus from the dead and send him to preach to his brothers. Abraham replied, no, they have the Moses and the Prophets, the Old Testament; let your brothers read and hear their words. Knowing the Bible wasn’t enough to convince his brothers to believe in Jesus, the Rich Man pleaded yet again for Abraham to resurrect Lazarus and send him up top to witness to his unsaved loved ones. Abraham’s response is germane to this post: if they won’t hear the Bible, they won’t be persuaded if someone rose from the dead and preached to them.

Evidently, Abraham didn’t know Jesus would soon die and three days later resurrect from the dead. This leaves me wondering, if the Bible is written by God, surely he knew Jesus would soon be crucified, placed in a borrowed tomb, descend into Hell, and resurrect from the dead. Evangelicals believe that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the linchpin of their religion; that Jesus’ resurrection is the one thing that should convince unbelievers of the veracity and truthfulness of Christianity. However, Abraham didn’t think such magic tricks were useful. Instead, the Evangelical Abraham said: Read the Bible!

For those of us who are atheists and agnostics, neither appeals to the resurrection of Jesus nor reading the Bible have convinced us that Christianity’s central claims are true. Perhaps this is why some Evangelical zealots ask us to pray and ask God to reveal himself to us. They believe that a supernatural encounter with their God will surely cause us to fall on our knees, repent, and embrace Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. If only believing was that simple, right?

Before asking us to pray to their God, Evangelicals must first provide evidence for the existence of said God. I assume Evangelicals would think it silly for me to pray to any other God but theirs. All deities but the Christian God are no gods at all. There is one true and living God, and Jesus is his name — well, he’s called the Father and the Holy Ghost too. I am quite willing to pray to the Christian God sincerely, but before doing so, I ask Evangelicals to give sufficient evidence for their deity’s existence, that he is whom Evangelicals say he is.

I walked away from Christianity twelve years ago. Since then, I have heard from and, at times, interacted with thousands of Evangelicals trying to “save” me. It’s been years since I have heard a new argument for the existence of God. Solomon rightly said that there is nothing new under the sun, which can certainly be said of Evangelical apologetical arguments.

I don’t get as many emails or comments from Evangelicals trying to “save” me as I did in the past. I suspect Evangelicals have decided that God has given me over to a reprobate mind, that I have crossed the line of no return, or have committed the unpardonable sin. This allows them to attack my character, revealing their lack of character, respect, and decency. After scores of such attacks and deconstructions, I am immune to their words. Twelve years of interacting with such people have given me a thick skin. I am still open to new evidence for their God’s existence, but the incessant playing of William Craig Lane’s greatest hits really doesn’t work with me.

Does the Christian God really need me to pray before he will reveal himself to me? Doesn’t he know everything beforehand, including the words people pray and how he will respond? Why doesn’t God skip the theatrics and appear to me at my home? If, as the Bible says, with God nothing is impossible, surely Jesus can stop by and have lunch with me, and while he is here, heal me of bile reflux, gastroparesis, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and peripheral neuropathy.

I hope this post puts an end to the notion that if atheists and agnostics would just “sincerely” pray to the Evangelical God that he would reveal himself to them. There is no evidence that this has ever taken place.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Luke 16:19-31: The Rich Man and Lazarus

rich man and lazarus

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.

But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.

Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.

And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. (Luke 16:19-31)

Anyone raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement has heard numerous sermons from Luke 16:19-31. Over the course of 25 years in the ministry, I preached from this passage many times.

The first question this passage raises is whether it is meant to be taken literally. Many Christians, increasingly uncomfortable with the notion of Hell and sinners being tortured by their God for eternity, say that this story is a parable. However, it is clear from the text itself that Jesus did not mean for this to be taken as a parable.

In all the other parables uttered by Jesus, he never mentions anyone by name. In this parable, the three main characters are:

  • A certain rich man (Dives?)
  • A certain beggar named Lazarus
  • Abraham

Jesus tells us the rich man was:

  • Clothed in purple and fine linen
  • Fared (ate) sumptuously every day

Lazarus, however, was:

  • A beggar
  • Crippled
  • Afflicted with sores that the dogs licked
  • Fed with crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table

Both Lazarus and the rich man died:

  • The rich man went to Hell and was tormented in the flames of Hell without a drop of water to drink
  • Lazarus was carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom and was comforted

Generally, Evangelical Christians believe Hell is in the bowels of the earth — a scientific absurdity, in and of itself. In this passage of scripture, Hell is a place separated from Abraham’s bosom by a fixed, impassable, great gulf. This gulf is not so great though that a person in one part cannot see the people on the other side of the gulf. The rich man was able to look across the great gulf and see Abraham.

This story details the concern the rich man had for his five brothers who were still alive. He wanted to make sure that they didn’t end up in Hell. He begged Abraham to send someone to warn his brothers about Hell. Abraham refused, and told the rich man his brothers had the Word of God (Moses and the Prophets). If they wouldn’t heed the Word of God they would perish. The rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to warn them, but Abraham told the rich man that if his brothers wouldn’t heed the Word of God they would not heed someone who rose from the dead.

I find it interesting that Abraham says the living brothers should heed Moses and the Prophets, yet the Old Testament says little to nothing about Hell or Heaven. I also find it interesting that Abraham told the rich man that his brothers would not be persuaded even if a resurrected dead man, Lazarus, came to warn them about Hell. Isn’t the linchpin of the Christian religion – the resurrection of a man named Jesus from the dead? What better way to authenticate the Christian religion than Jesus physically revealing himself to the world? Think how much better it would be for Christians if every 20 or so years Jesus could make a brief appearance to remind people that he is still alive and kicking and is still busy building them Trump mansions in the New Jerusalem. Instead, Jesus has been dead-as-a-doornail silent for 2,000 years.

We are told by Evangelicals that we must believe what the Bible says about the living, dead, now living Jesus, the son of God. As Luke 16 makes clear, the Abrahamic religions have always been text-based religions. The Bible says is not just the mantra of Evangelical Christianity, but also Liberal Christianity, Catholicism, Islam, and Judaism. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism cease to exist without their respective religious texts. Simply put, no Bible, no Christianity.

According to many Christian sects and pastors, when Jesus died, he descended into Hell. 1 Peter 3:18-20 says:

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:  By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

Ephesians 4:7-10 says:

But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)

Many Christian sects and pastors also teach that Hell and Abraham’s bosom were in the bowels of the earth. These were temporary holding places for the just and unjust. When Jesus resurrected from the dead and ascended to Heaven he took the just with him. Those in Hell remained there.

The early church believed Jesus descended into Hell. The Apostles’ Creed says:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.  And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.  I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.

A Third Century Syrian creed says:

“who (Jesus) was crucified under Pontius Pilate and departed in peace, in order to preach to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the saints concerning the end of the world and the resurrection of the dead.”

Luke 16:19-31 raises all kinds of sticky questions for Christians.

  • Why did the rich man end up in Hell? The text seems to imply it was because he was rich. The New Testament makes it clear that few rich people make it to heaven (Luke 18:24-25)
  • Why did Lazarus end up in Abraham’s bosom? The text seems to imply it was because he was poor and suffered. Jesus reinforces this belief in the Beatitudes.
  • Christian orthodoxy teaches that when a person dies their body goes to the grave to await the resurrection of the just and unjust and the final judgment. How then, could the rich man see and know Abraham and Lazarus and Abraham and Lazarus see the rich man?
  • If, as some Christians believe, it is the soul or spirit that goes to Heaven or Hell to await being united with a resurrected body, then, according to Luke 16:19-31, the soul has corporeal properties. Why then can we not see the souls of people when they die?
  • How was the rich man able to withstand the flames and torments of Hell without being burned up? This is a question many Christians run from since it suggests God specifically fits non-Christians with a soul/spirit and body that is especially suited for endless torment in the flames of Hell. (This is the point where the praise band begins to sing, Our God is an Awesome God.)
  • The Word of God, (Moses and the Prophets) teaches that salvation is through obedience to God’s law, and not by grace. If this is the case, what ultimately determined where Lazarus and the rich man ended up? If Jesus (God) is the same yesterday, today, and forever, why is salvation in the Old Testament and the gospels different from salvation in the post-gospel New Testament?

The easy (and lazy) answer to these questions is to say that Luke 16:19-31 is a parable and is only meant to be an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. However, I think it is intellectually dishonest to suggest that this story is a parable. When compared to the parables uttered by Jesus, it has little in common with them. The real issue, then, is that an increasing number of squeamish Evangelicals don’t like what the Bible says about their unsaved families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers, so they invent ways to explain away THUS SAITH THE LORD.

Do you have a story to tell about a sermon on Luke 16:19-31? Was preaching on Hell a prominent part of your or your pastor’s preaching?  Please share your experiences in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Bruce Gerencser