Heady stuff this business of dialoging about faith and the lack thereof. It’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of railing accusations, unfounded allegations and inflammatory speech laced with insinuation… I’ve had to step back, get into the Word and remind myself that this is a mission field. The calling is to be salt and light, not fuel!!! How am I to ‘give an answer’ to a skeptic anyway? I can take my directives from God’s Word, or learn the hard way by trial and error. I’ve done some of each this week.
Peter says always to be ready to give an answer for the hope you claim to have, but to do it with ‘gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.’ (I Pet. 3:15,16) This kind of gentle response is not a natural way of reacting to “irreverant and silly myths” (I Tim.4:7) —and they really are ‘out there’. Did you realize some believe that the Christian God is none other than the Jupiter of Roman myth? Really. And they can give you ‘chapter and verse’ form ‘ancient’ writings…but I digress. Neither will a gentle, repectful response naturally flow from my offended sensibilities when I’m slandered. I guess you might say I learned that the hard way this week. I had to eat ‘humble pie’ a time or two when my words were not carefully chosen and came across with an accusatory tone. I learned that “religion bashers” don’t care to be referred to this way. And I learned that it’s ok to apologize and that it very effectively ‘turns away wrath’. I was struck with how offense is allowable one direction but never in return. And it’s my calling to be the offended one but not the offender…I am not authorized to respond in ‘like kind’.
Jesus’ conversations with his opponents have taken on new relevance this week. He knew all about choosing words carefully and knowing when and how to answer. Sometimes he even refused to answer until they gave an answer to His question. I read just this morning how the Pharisees ‘went and plotted how to entangle Him in his words’. But instead Jesus left His audience marveling, ‘astonished at His teaching’, and finally not daring to ask Him any more questions! (Mt.22)
I have also been warned that there is such a thing as an ‘unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words’ that has the effect of ‘creating constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth’ (I Tim 6:4). This sort of thing is said to do no good but only ruin the hearers! and ‘spread like gangrene’. (II Tim.2) That is certainly not my calling! I want my presence on this forum to be like salt and light, not more rottenness. I was reading Paul’s advice to Timothy. His goal was God’s approval, and his job – to ‘rightly divide the word of truth’, avoiding ‘irreverant babble’ which not only spreads with use but is able to undermine the faith of some. (II Tim.2:14-18) Ooooo but there is a temptation to concoct some clever verbal bit of badgering with which to stem the flow of skeptic rhetoric. BUT then I read this: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (II Tim.2:24-26)
Ah yes, and of course that is right. So I choose to pause before I read their words, and pray before I compose my own and then re-read them from Another point of view before I press the ‘Submit’ button.
But perhaps the most significant thing I’ve been reminded of this week is that underlying all the words and rationale is an unseen world of spiritual warfare. Our struggles are not with flesh and blood, (or words and arguments). There is in fact a spiritual battle being waged over each and every unbeliever, whether or not they even believe in things unseen. (The ones I’m talking to generally don’t.) With God’s perfect timing II Cor. 10 was the text for this Sunday’s sermon: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…”(II Cor.10:4,5) No bit of superior reasoning is capable of winning victories in this arena! The people I’m reasoning with are blinded and held captive by the “prince of the power of the air” even if they don’t believe he exists. Their vehement denial of the historicity and/or deity of Jesus Christ and forceful dismissal of the Bible as myth point to this deeper struggle. They are unwitting pawns, demanding evidence but quite mired in unbelief.
What a precious commodity faith is. I went back to Ephesians 2 to see again the glory of the story of our own rescue from this captor—saved by grace through faith, and this is itself a gift of God. Faith so rankles the unbeliever. Drives them crazy. How can we believe ‘without evidence’. They think us as ignorant, foolish, crazy, and even (and this is a rising tide in their thinking–) dangerous! All because of faith. I really think there is an element of jealousy in this resentment. It was put in words this week when Will said that noone has a right to live in a ‘comfort zone’ free from a ‘groping uncertainty about the truth.’ According to him every honest person will admit to living in this state. He has turned his back on ‘church’ and taken up a rational case of atheism. But his moral beliefs in certain areas are inconsistent with his purported unbelief. We dialog a little and he politely refers to me as a ‘quiet evangelist’.
But when I shut down my computer and leave this world of dialog behind I see my own world differently. Last night we had our annual Christmas get-together with a few friends. The conversation among believers inevitably turns to matters of faith, our like precious faith. By it we are bonded. In it we live and move and have hope for the future. We can have fun together and be at ease because we agree on the most important things… But even as we talked I was reflecting on these other ‘friends’ online that see the world so differently, who see what we most cherish as a scourge to be wiped off the face of the earth [ as per Sam Harris, The End of Faith] . And it makes my faith all the more precious.
So I gird on my sword, “the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God” ,and my one recourse, “praying at all times in the Spirit”, and I hope to follow Paul’s example in my conversations this week (“We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s Word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” II Cor.4:2 ) in hopes that God may perhaps grant even one repentance and they may come to share my precious faith.
“…Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord.” (II Pet.1:1,2)