Letter to an Atheist

The following is a letter to an atheist friend. I sent it moments ago. It is a real letter to a real person. The following is exactly what I wrote, with only one word omitted.

Dear Tim,

You’re probably right about the weak points in ______’s book. I honestly think many of your points are valid.

Still I would like to talk to you for a moment about God. Not condescendingly, you deserve better than that, but from my heart. Please allow me to have my say.

Is there a God?

Yes and no.

“There” (the adverb denoting place and location) is no God. For God to be God, in the sense of an eternal, self-existent being responsible for all that we call existence, the one thing he cannot be is “there.” God is of necessity invisible. There is a place called Timbuktu, there is planet called Neptune, there is a cup of coffee sitting next to me, but in that sense, there is no God. That would be to place God within the universe as another object. That is what he cannot be. Unless he were to choose to in someone way join creation. (This is what Christians believe concerning the Incarnation of Christ, but that is beyond this discussion).

Can I prove that God exists? I don’t think so; at least not in the way I might prove that I have three cats living in my house. I’m confident that God can prove his own existence, but he doesn’t seem to be inclined to do so. At least not at the present moment. Though, without trying to persuade you to believe me, I do believe that God will, in his own time, erase all doubt of his reality from the mind of every intelligent being. But, as C.S. Lewis said, “When the author walks onto the stage, the play is over.”

So “there” is no God.

But I believe God is.


Certainly not because I can necessarily make an ironclad argument for his existence, but because I know that when I try my best to not believe in God, I know I am lying to myself.

Do I want there to be a God? Perhaps. But I can tell you what I want even more than the existence of God, and that is this: the Truth. And when I have experimented with thinking God out of existence, I know I have lied to myself. Is this a persuasive argument? Probably not for you. But it is for me. Perhaps the most persuasive. I know there is a God because I know there is a God. Circular? Yes. But I can’t break out of the circle and remain true to myself. I can’t unknow what I know and be true to myself.

That’s not much of argument for believing in God, but I wanted to say it anyway. (Remember, I’m speaking from my heart .)

On to other things.

An atheist doesn’t believe in God. What doesn’t an atheist believe in? God. Let us be absolutely clear on this point. What is it that an atheist is convinced doesn’t exist? GOD. Hmm? Most atheists I have had conversations with seem to think about God nearly as much as I do. Most people don’t believe in lots of things: Unicorns, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster among them. But they don’t bother to identify themselves as a-bigfootists, etc. God is because God is. Even atheists know what God is. God is utterly unique. A class unto himself. This is the one thing God must be…or we wouldn’t even have a word for it. Unicorns may be a fable, but there are horses and animals with horns. Bigfoot may not be in the woods, but there are large mammals in the woods. Nessie may not be in the loch, but there are strange creatures in the sea. But God is utterly unique — not a variation on a theme. To insist that one does not believe in God is an absurdity. (Strong words, but yes, I believe that.) By the very use of the word you have acknowledged the reality of this utterly unique being. And so, as G.K Chesterton quipped, “Without God there would be no atheists.” I’m reminded of the recent debate at Oxford between Richard Dawkins and Alister McGrath and how Dawkins exclaimed during the debate, “My God!” Yes, the crowd laughed.

Here is a question. And, really, a serious one. Why is there something instead of nothing? We are here after all. Why? For a long time the standard atheistic reply was something like, “Well, why not? That’s just the way it is.” In itself that seems pretty weak, but then something happened that made that argument no longer tenable. The discovery of the Big Bang. We now know that 13.7 billion years ago something happened that began time, space and matter. Before that there was…well, nothing; nothing in the most literal sense of the word. There was not even a “before” there was just n o t h i n g. And out of nothing…bang…the beginning of time, space, matter. Why?

Here is another question. What evidence would you accept as proof for the existence of God? What would you require of God to be persuaded of his existence? He would have to do, what? Speak to you? (I’ll get to that in a moment). Appear to you? But then of course you could doubt the validity of this experience. Perhaps it’s an hallucination. Or how would you know it’s not an advanced alien with what appears, but only appears, to be divine attributes? How could God prove himself to you? Is there anything you cannot doubt? You know, it’s possible to doubt even your own existence. So is one an atheist simply because it is impossible for one to believe that God is, no matter what evidence is presented? What if God did appear to you and you were convinced that God existed? How would you convince another human of God’s reality? An interesting question to ponder.

Alright, back to bigfoot. Suppose you knew me to be a generally truthful person. And suppose I told you that there was a bigfoot living in the woods behind my house. And suppose that several other generally reliable people told you the same thing. And suppose they said that if you were to go investigate the woods yourself, that although they could not guarantee that you would see bigfoot, they nevertheless stated there was a high probability that you would see bigfoot for yourself…wouldn’t you at least bother to go have a look? In other words, these generally truthful people were not merely asking you to take their word for it, but were asking you to investigate the situation yourself. Wouldn’t you do it?

I would like to tell you about the woods where I think you might possibly find God.


Pray to God and see if anything happens. Ask God if he is real, and if so, to in some fashion let you know. Ask sincerely, even though you will of course ask skeptically. What have you to lose?

You at least know that there are intelligent, sincere people who claim to have met God in the woods of prayer. Perhaps they are mistaken, but why not examine the evidence yourself?

Is it scary to meet bigfoot in the woods? I can only imagine. Is it scary to encounter God in reality? I have found it so (and many other things). The implications are enormous. But when I told you that what I want more than anything is the Truth, I told the truth. Of course I may be an evil alien out to deceive you, who knows? For everything can be doubted. We all make decisions based on faith all day long.

I will not directly try to convince you that God is. Even though I have raised these questions, I think it is beyond my ability to convince anyone of God’s existence. And neither do I really feel it is my job to do so. But I will point out the woods where many people claim to have met God. And some of them were what you would call very reliable people.


I think it’s worth a look.

Tim, these are not patronizing words. I respect you. I respect you as a fellow human being, a genuine seeker and as a remarkably intelligent man. I am simply sharing with you my experience with God. And I do so in hope that you might have a similar experience. It’s not really an argument I am offering (though I have made some weak points and raised a few questions). What I am offering is the possibility of an experience. No guarantees, but the possibility of (as unlikely as it may seem!) — experiencing God.

I wish you all the best.

Your friend,

Brian Zahnd