As Christians who know the love of God and have the assurance of eternity in heaven, it’s hard to understand why anyone would want to be an atheist. But when we realize the sin nature and its strong influence on the mind and the heart, we begin to understand where the atheist is coming from. Biblically speaking, there is no such thing as an atheist. Psalm 19:1-2 tells us that the heavens declare the glory of God. We see His creative power in all that He has made. Romans 1:19-20 follows up on this idea, telling us that what may be known about God has been made plain to us through the creation, and anyone who denies this is “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18). Psalm 14:1 and 53:1 declare that those who deny the existence of God are fools. So the atheist is either lying or he is a fool or both. So, what is it that causes someone to deny God?
The main goal of those under the influence of the sin nature is to make himself a god, to have complete control over his life, or so he thinks. Then religion comes along with obligations, judgments, and restrictions, while atheists presume to define their own meaning and morality. They do not want to submit to God because their hearts are at “enmity against God,” and they have no desire to be subject to His Law. In fact they are incapable of doing so because their sin has blinded them to truth (Romans 8:6-7). This is why atheists spend most of their time complaining and arguing not about the scriptural proof texts, but about the “dos and don’ts.” Their natural rebelliousness detests the commandments of God. They simply hate the idea that anything—or any One—should have control over them. What they do not realize is that Satan himself is controlling them, blinding them, and preparing their souls for hell.
In terms of evangelizing atheists, we should not hold back the gospel from someone just because he or she claims to be an atheist. Do not forget that an atheist is just as lost as a Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist. God certainly wants us to spread the gospel (Matthew 28:19) and to defend the truths of His word (Romans 1:16). On the other hand, we are not obligated to waste our time trying to convince the unwilling. In fact, we are warned not to expend excessive effort on those who are clearly disinterested in any honest discussions (Matthew 7:6). Jesus told the apostles to go and preach the Word, but He did not expect them to stay anywhere until every last person had been converted (Matthew 10:14).
Perhaps the best tactic is to give each person the benefit of the doubt, at least at first. Every question, honestly and truthfully answered, gives that person a chance to hear the gospel. But if that person is just arguing, being hostile, or otherwise not listening, it’s probably time to go somewhere else. Some people are totally and absolutely hardened to the gospel (Proverbs 29:1). They may be rational or irrational, but there are scriptural reasons to believe that some people are willingly immune to the influence of the Holy Spirit (Genesis 6:3). When we have made a good-faith effort to talk to someone, and he or she is unreachable, then we are commanded to “shake the dust off” of our shoes (Luke 9:5) and spend our time talking to those who are more spiritually open. As in all things, the wisdom of God is crucial. God has promised that wisdom to us if we ask (James 1:5), and we should pray for it and trust God’s prompting to know how and when to end the dialogue with a hostile atheist.