Summary: Two ways God speaks to people, and how people investigating the Christian faith can respond to his voice.
Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are great opportunities to gather together with the people we love the most and tell them how much we appreciate them. On Mother’s Day and Father’s Day we receive love and appreciation from our children, and we shower our moms and dads with appreciation.
But for some people Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are painful reminders of a childhood that they’d just as soon forget. For people with parents who died when they were very young or with parents who abandoned them when they were kids, these holidays can be painful. For people who were raised in abusive homes, these holidays are annual reminders of the hell they escaped from. And for many people who were adopted, these holidays cause an inner yearning to know their birth parents.
Having parents who abandoned us, abused us, or left us when we were very young can have a profound effect on our lives. Recently I ran across a fascinating book by a professor of psychology from New York University named Dr. Paul Vitz. Dr. Vitz’s book "Faith of the Fatherless" looks at the psychology of atheism. Vitz looks at the lives of 27 famous atheists throughout history, and he finds that all of these atheists came from homes where their father died, abandoned them, or was abusive during their early childhood.
For example, perhaps the most famous atheist in history was Friedrich Neitzsche, who in the late 19th century proclaimed that God was dead (20). What many people don’t know is that Neitzsche’s father was a Lutheran pastor who died when Neitzsche was just five years old (Vitz 21). David Hume is another famous atheist, and Hume’s father died when he was just two years old (25-26). Bertrand Russell, the author of the 1957 book Why I’m Not a Christian, lost his father when he was just four years old (Vitz 26-27). The French atheist Jean-Paul Sartre lost his dad when he was just fifteen months old (Vitz 28). The father of atheist Thomas Hobbes was a compulsive gambler who abandoned his family when Thomas was very young (Vitz 34-35). Sigmund Freud’s dad Jacob Freud was unable to hold down a job and provide for his family, and according to Sigmund his dad molested several of Sigmund’s siblings (Vitz 47-48).
All of these figures were impacted greatly by their early experiences with their parents. Now granted atheism has never been very popular. Only 3-5% of the U. S. population identify themselves as atheists or agnostics (Gallup 23-24). However, many people are affected by their early relationship with their parents in more subtle ways.
In fact, many people believe that God exists but they believe God to be an absent God, a God who’s distant from the daily affairs of life. These people view God in a way similar to how a person who’s been adopted views his or her birth parents. They know God exists, just as an adopted person knows he has biological parents. But they don’t know God personally and they’re not even sure they’d recognize God if they encountered him. As someone who was adopted when I was about 8 years old and who hasn’t seen my birth father in 25 years, I wouldn’t recognize my biological dad if I bumped into him on the street. Many people feel that way about God; they believe God is real, but for them God is an unknown God, someone who’s unknowable and inaccessible.