Although I have often found that those who do not believe in God have not read the Bible or have read and simply misunderstood its teachings, there have been times when I have come across those who have read and understood the Bible while still rejecting it. The first time I came across this I was baffled and amazed. I had no idea how to respond. In fact, my first response was denial and anger. I found it difficult to believe that anyone could know and understand the Bible and still reject the joy that God’s word provides. But the Bible shows us that this happens.
My favorite example of this in the Bible is in Matthew’s Gospel when we are told about the reaction of those who were guarding Jesus’ tomb during his resurrection:
…some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had happened. They assembled with the elders and took counsel; then they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him while we were asleep.’ And if this gets to the ears of the governor, we will satisfy [him] and keep you out of trouble.” The soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed… (Mt. 28:11-15, NAB)
The guards clearly know the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. They were keeping watch over Jesus’ tomb at the time of the resurrection. And still, they reject the truth, take the money offered to them by the chief priests and go out to preach what they know to be a lie.
At the same time, the chief priests were also rejecting what they knew to be true. Unlike the soldiers, who did not know Jesus before his death and resurrection, the chief priests did. Additionally, they knew the scriptures that foretold Jesus’ death and resurrection. For them to pay the soldiers to suppress the truth, demonstrates that they knew the truth, and still, for their own reasons, rejected it.
While these examples show us that people can know the truth and still reject it, how are we to respond when someone is rejecting the truth to our face?
The Bible shows us this too. There are many instances in the Bible that demonstrate this, but the one that comes to my mind is when Saint Paul and the disciples are expelled from a city in which they are preaching:
… the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealously and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul had said. Both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the world of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles… So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. The disciples were filled with joy and the holy Spirit. (Ac. 13:44-48, 51 NAB)
Paul and Barnabas’ words to the Jewish people are also for us who want to spread The Good News. They tell us that if someone does not want to receive or hear the truth, we need to move on to someone who will. We should not waste our time or the time of others by continuing to speak while being rejected.
While it is true that not everyone who understands the Bible will accept its teachings, we should not give up our hope and joy. The reading above says the disciples left the city in which they were rejected filled with “joy and the Holy Spirit.” Why is this? How could they have such a strange reaction to being expelled?
The joy of the disciples leaving the city in which they were rejected shows that they are not motivated by success or personal accomplishment. They are motivated by the demands of the Gospel. In the face of refusal, they do not give into hatred. Instead, they demonstrate their love and respect for others by accepting the free will of other people. They do not force their beliefs on anyone, and neither should we.