I’m often struck by the similarity between the response to Jesus of both the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and atheists down through history.
Both of course reject His claims to Godhood.
Both doubt His ability to forgive sins.
Both doubt His need to forgive THEIR sins.
The greatest similarity however is highlighted in a story that I’ve been bouncing back to from time to time; the story of the man whose sins Jesus forgave, and as evidence to prove that He had the authority to forgive someone’s sins, Jesus told this man to pick up his mat and go home. All this took place in a house filled with people listening to Jesus teach. This crowd included some Pharisees who'd come to observe. When the man was instantly healed, it provoked very different reactions in the people present.
The man who was healed naturally went home “giving glory to God.” We aren’t told specifically what this looked like but put yourself in his position. You can imagine how you might express your joy of going from paralysed, possibly from the neck down to running and leaping and getting your life back.
The people in the house who saw this amazing miracle were seized with astonishment. While atheists think that they are smarter than the average person living today and most certainly smarter than anyone living 2,000 years ago, the people of Jesus' day knew that diseases don’t disappear at a command and paralytics don’t start walking just because someone tells them to. Those people also praised God. “We have seen strange things today,” was the best way they could describe it.
And then there were the Pharthesists, or athesees. Someone has just been healed physically. Instantly. Completely. Permanently. A wonderful turn of events has come into a man’s life. He has gone from being a beggar to being able to work and to enjoy his body. Do the Pharisees care? On a different day they might have said something positive but today something unconscionable has taken place. Today, something terribly unfair has been allowed to happen. Today, someone has had his sins forgiven.
Both Pharisees and atheists alike seethe with anger when apparent justice has been denied. The more forgiveness someone needs the angrier it makes Pharisees and atheists that someone has been forgiven. The more desperate the sinner's behaviour the more that these people want to see that person punished.
That’s too bad because some day Pharisees and atheists are going to need forgiving as much as the most heinous criminal who ever walked the earth. And it will be too late. We can know that it will be too late because this side of heaven, neither the Pharisee nor atheists see their need for forgiveness. Don’t you know? They’re good people. Too good to need God. Too good to need forgiveness.