The Christian faith has sometimes been characterized as the murky water far below a cliff edge. Some shout, “Just jump in!”
But before we take that plunge, most of us are interested in what lies beneath. What are we getting into? Thankfully, God also invites you to ask that question.
This is a Christian blog and I’m a preacher, so when it comes to faith, I won’t make any pretensions of neutrality. I’ll say it like the Apostle Paul said it.
During a court trial, Paul’s answers about Jesus became so impassioned the interrogator stopped and asked him, “Do you try to persuade me to become a Christian?” Paul said, “I wish to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today might become both almost and altogether as I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:28-29).
So much for calm, detached, and disinterested.
You tend to get intense when someone’s soul hangs in the balance and they’re close to a life-saving, life-enriching, life-altering realization. Whenever I talk to anyone about the faith, I never argue from a purely impartial standpoint.
But when it comes to who God is, passion rises and I’ve often hit the road searching for folks to engage.
For years I was a campus youth minister. I’d stroll the grounds of a university looking for some bored student who was slouched on lobby furniture. Then I’d walk up and try to initiate some faith-friendly dialogue. Most of these characters gave me the brush-off. Some added colorful language.
But a scant few said to themselves, What the heck, I can’t afford a movie, so I’ll spar with this weirdo for a little entertainment.
We would end up volleying ideas and objections back and forth until, with the end drawing near, he’d lay down his trump card. It would be that deciding moment when he would prevail over the “preacher dude” and discredit theism once and for all.
“Prove God exists right now and I’ll believe,” he would say.
Naturally, his challenge meant I should make God appear, as though I were pulling a gargantuan rabbit out of a hat. Only that miracle would convince his skeptical soul of the existence of an all-powerful eternal Being. And it had to happen in the lobby next to the snack machine.
Our intelligent conversation would come to an end, with me being unable to prove God the way he wanted.
But you can’t really prove much of anything on the spot. Most people know the difficulty of doing so. That’s why in a debate about the existence of God, the opponent of theism usually saves this card for last.
If the student had asked me to prove at that very moment the existence of Madagascar, I wouldn’t have been able to do it, either. Imagine the hardship. I could cite common knowledge (everyone knows there’s a place called Madagascar), but then he’d say it was a common delusion, something everyone had been fooled into believing. I could show him a map but he’d say deluded men had drawn it. I could get someone from Madagascar to come and talk to my doubting friend but he’d say the guy had deluded himself into thinking it.
Proof isn’t just a theological problem; it’s potentially a problem for everything. I don’t want to sound like an advocate for empty-minded gullibility. Whatever you believe always has some type of support, and odds are, you didn’t lay that groundwork quickly.
A friend of mine told me about the time he was doing evangelism in a neighborhood. He approached the porch of a fellow who had a bemused look on his face.
“Are you Jehovah’s Witnesses?”
“No sir, just Christians. We’re out talking to people about the Bible.”
“Answer me this,” the man said to my friend. “If there is a God, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?”
My friend said, “That’s a big question spanning world history and the lives of every single person who ever felt pain. I think it needs more than a thirty-second answer on a front porch. Would you be willing to spend some time to look into it?”
The guy was stunned. He had wanted a little sword play, not a challenge to actually seek anything.
But the inherent reasonableness of the faith doesn’t come out in a moment of sparkling special effects or a clever tweet.
It demands time to be heard.
(To be continued)