8/7/13 Jimmy about 60
I knew I’d be busy later on today so I took some time during my lunch break to reach out to an African-American man named Jimmy, who was out walking his dog. At first he didn’t want to talk about anything to do with religion, but I assured him “I get in these kinds of conversations all the time. I promise to respect your opinion.” Much practice has given me the confidence to make that promise and the ability to keep it. Jimmy had grown up with “too much church” as he put it, and now disavows God or any kind of an afterlife. His main reason? He hangs his hat on the claim that God can’t exist because such a God would be too unfair: “How can you say you believe in a God who allows war, or poverty, or starvation? How can He forgive someone who sins all his life but repents at the last minute? Why does your God allow the torture and death of innocent children?” Now I know that behind this righteous façade is usually the fear of being accountable to God for one’s own unrighteous actions. It is an attempt to discredit the Judge before Judgment Day. But if we are going to share gospel truths we had better be ready to give reasonable answers to such questions, if for no other reason than to take away people’s thin excuses for unbelief. After listening patiently to a tirade of accusations against God, I complemented Jimmy on his strong sense of and love for justice, and went on to explain how the God of the Bible, too, loves justice. After all his accusations, Jimmy looked at me like I was crazy, but I went on. “I don’t deny that God has dealt every person a different hand in life. Some have more or fewer talents; good or bad health; some are born in wealth or poverty; or have good or bad parents. It would be unfair for God to expect the same results from each of our lives. But Jesus taught that ‘…everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.’ (Luke 12:48) At one level, God is fair in his final judgment of how we live our life; he knows what he has given us to work with. But on another level, we all start out with the same knowledge of good and evil – we all have a conscience – so no one is innocent of sinning without knowing better. The very foundation for understanding the Bible is found in Genesis 3 – we are all equally guilty of sin and under condemnation, and we all equally need a savior. Jimmy remained defiant, and because God gives law to the proud and grace to to the humble, our conversation couldn’t go much further. But maybe that’s all he needs for now.