J. Warner Wallace looks at what Jesus says the most important commandment is, and then asks whether atheists can be justified morally if Jesus is right.
I was an atheist for the first thirty-five years of my life. While I was a committed (and often aggressive) non-believer, most people who knew me would probably have described me as a “nice guy”. My behavior wasn’t all that different than many of my Christian friends. I worked with many other atheist police officers. We were often suspicious of the Christians in our midst and the people we arrested who claimed to be Christians. Even as atheists we were familiar with Jesus’ directive to “love your neighbor as yourself.” My partner, Tim, used to say, “If there is a good God and a good Heaven, I think I will be there when it’s all over. I’m a good person. I try to ‘do the right thing’. I’m not a bad guy; I put bad people in jail. So I’m not worried about it.” Tim held a “works based” moral worldview and he was sure his good deeds would earn him a spot in Heaven if he was wrong about the existence of God. But Tim (and I) were unfamiliar with Jesus’ teaching in its full context, and now, years later as a Christian, I’ve come to understand why the first part of the “Greatest Command” is even more important than the second.
When approached by a skeptic, Jesus affirmed the greatest commandments of God in the following way:
One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Most unbelievers recognize the value of the second half of this command (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”) but deny the value of the first part (“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”) There’s a reason, however, why Jesus listed these two commands in this specific order. The first command (loving God) is the “great and foremost commandment” because it is required to achieve the second command (loving others). You can’t truly do the right thing unless you understand the relationship between these two commands:
Read the rest at Cold Case Christianity.
I’ve made the same point here many times, but I have never been an atheist and I don’t make the point in the same winsome way that Wallace does.
I think his post is worth sending along to any atheists you may know who think themselves justified. I think it is a mistake for people to derive their own version of morality based on the time and place where they are, and then think that picking and choosing the parts they like will justify them with God. Remember, a recent survey of atheists found that 97% of them favor abortion rights. I think this is consistent with the atheist view that there are no human rights, including a right to life. Moreover, in my experience, I have found that most atheists have no problem with the government stomping all over the consciences of Christians when it comes to things like gay rights. It’s important to show them that there is a standard independent of their personal opinions, justifications and rationalizations.