5/19/16 Joe about 35
We couldn't have been more opposite in our view of God and the Bible or our conversation more unlikely. Yet we talked there on the sidewalk through the setting of the sun and into the evening darkness. Joe had been on his way home from the train station and his job as an investment broker when I had asked for his opinion about life after death. "There is none" he said immediately, and he turned to head down the sidewalk as if that settled it and the conversation was over.
But it wasn't. "Have you always felt that way? I mean, is that what you were raised to believe or was there some incident that turned you toward atheism?" Joe stopped, and began to talk. People generally like to talk about themselves, and we as Christians are no exception. We have something important to say, but we need to learn to be patient listeners and wait our turn. My turn came after hearing Joe's story and all about his beliefs and complaints against religion. He started to say "I know you’re a Christian and I'm an atheist, but I feel like we could just be friends and shoot the breeze and talk about all sorts of stuff without having to worry about what happens after we die."
By this time in the conversation, I had won his trust and the right to be heard, and I needed to give some pushback to that last statement. "No, I have to disagree, because you know for me as a Christian even if you are correct in your belief that there is no God, if I truly believe what I believe…" and I gave him a nutshell version of the Gospel, "… then if I am a real friend I won't be able to keep it to myself, I would have to share it with you." In fact, I just had! Joe agreed that, given my beliefs, I should indeed be compelled to share the Gospel and that it would be wrong of me not to do so. I also explained that as a faithful Christian I had insights into Christianity that he couldn't know just by learning about it as an outsider.
We both agreed that I can't persuade him, that he must decide for himself, but what I can do is help clear up false perceptions and false beliefs for him about just what the Bible actually does teach. The religion he has rejected is not the Christianity of the Bible but just a cheap substitute that he didn't really understand in the first place. Even though I did not water down the Gospel and was upfront about some of its hard truths, Joe enjoyed the conversation so much he suggested we meet again. I pray we do.
The Apostle Paul must have had similar conversations when he wrote "…since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse". (Romans 1) The creation is evidence of the Creator. Paul knew God's existence is obvious to everyone, even those who deny it on the outside. So obvious, in fact, that one has to work hard to deny it, which is why "there is no rest for the wicked" - no rest in eternity for those who continue to struggle against God's obvious authority and overwhelming love.
Throughout our conversation, Joe had claimed he didn't care about God or eternity, one way or another. I have to believe he cares more than he will admit, and probably more than he even knows.