1/8/17 Jonathan 33
“If you had asked me two years ago, I wouldn’t have talked to you”, a man named Jonathan, 33, told me as we talked about his beliefs about eternity. He identifies himself as an atheist, but not the militant atheist he was a 2 years earlier. He had always been one to question everything, and growing up in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green Housing projects had him questioning his family’s Pentecostal beliefs and the violence he saw all around him. To break away from his family’s religious beliefs he felt he had to go the extreme in the opposite direction. “It was easy to make accusations of manipulation and hypocrisy in the lives of church members I knew, but I began to see the same ugliness in myself as an atheist, and I didn’t like who I was becoming.” Now he is still an atheist, but more open to considering other viewpoints and less quick to criticize.
He still rebels against any idea of hell or punishment because he sees it as just a manipulative form of coercion on the part of religious people or the God they believe in. “But if someone told you not jump out of a plane because of the law of gravity, you wouldn’t think they were manipulating you, right?” I asked. He did not. “God is so perfect and consistent in his character that his justice is just as consistent as the law of gravity. For us as Christians to tell of the judgment and punishment to come is just a warning of the fact of God’s “law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2) The good news is that just as a parachute would save you from the law of gravity, Jesus will save you from the law of sin and death.”
He also rejects that a God who is both great and good would allow so much evil in the world to exist, as he described various incidents he had witnessed growing up in the housing projects. “But how much evil is acceptable?” I asked. “If it was cut in half, would you believe in God then? Really, as long as there is just one person treated unjustly in the world, it would be too much. And we don’t know how much God is limiting evil, how much worse it could be. There is a deeper purpose for God allowing evil to exist that can’t be easily explained away with trite phrases or easy answers.”
We talked almost two hours. I see Jonathan on a trajectory away from the extremes of manipulative religious beliefs and militant atheism, and I believe our conversation has helped him see there are some answers to his many questions. Toward the end he asked “What if I did want to believe, how would I do that if I really don’t?” I told him “The Bible says “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) You can take small steps of faith even as an unbeliever. Agreeing to talk with me and listen to what I say as a Christian might be one. Reading the Bible for yourself rather than just believing the opinions of others might be another.” I gave him a Bible and explained how our focus needs to be on the life and teachings of Christ as beginners. Please pray for Jonathan, for a faith in the living Christ based on the words of scripture.