A couple weeks ago, the doorbell rang. Usually when that happens, the UPS man has dropped off a box from amazon, so I went to the door to get it. Instead, it was a lady from the Jehovah Witnesses. I opened the door and listened to her talk; she read me some verses out of the Bible and gave me some literature…and promised she would come back again soon to talk with me.
When I closed the door and went back to the living room, I felt ashamed that I hadn’t said anything about what I believe. I just listened and nodded my head. I just remember growing up, whenever we saw the JWs or the Mormons canvassing the street, my mom would say, “Quick! Lie down on the floor until they go away!” I wasn’t prepared for that lady—I thought she was an amazon box. I would have lain down on the floor and waited until she went away if I had known.
Recently, a friend of mine posted something on facebook about Christopher Hitchens. I commented on his post because, wait for it, I kind of like Christopher Hitchens. If you’re unfamiliar with him, he’s one of the most famous atheists in the world today. While I disagree with many of his premises and his life philosophy, I don’t disagree with him on everything, and frankly, he’s a great writer and I enjoy reading him.
My comment on my friend’s post led to a small interchange, which led to an extensive correspondence that we took to email—because my friend is a dedicated atheist as well. Hitchens is one of his heroes.
My friend and I ended up discussing and examining each other’s viewpoints on God. We've been asking each other questions and listening to the answers. We've been having what Os Guiness calls, “civil discourse in the public square,” except it's not that public.
During our correspondence, which has been pretty extensive, my friend has been nothing but gracious and courteous, genuinely interested in what I have to say. Also—he is far better read, more intelligent, and much better at asserting his views than I am. I’m thinking if you were on the fence and you read our letters, you’d probably end up siding with him.
He has read the Bible from cover to cover. He’s also read Lewis, Chesterton, Augustine, Aquinas, Tillich, Buber, and more. Kierkegaard is one of his favorites. During the course of our letters, I felt utterly inadequate. I don’t say that for people to come around and pat me on the back and say I did a good job. I kept thinking of the verse from I Peter: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” I tried to do that, but as I said, my friend could give a much better defense for his viewpoints and beliefs than I could for mine. Honestly, I was still metaphorically lying on the floor, waiting for the doorbell to stop ringing.
At one point, he asked me this question, in lieu of my acknowledging my own occasional doubts: “But if you've had an intimate relationship with Creator of the universe, why would you ever again have reason to doubt His reality? (I know that once I've met someone, I no longer question whether that person exists.)”
Here is my reply:
Yes, I do doubt sometimes. Because I am just a weak human being with an average intellect. I look around at people and think, "Am I the only person here who believes this stuff? What if I am totally deluded? Other people seem to be doing just fine without God."
Even though I have felt and known God's presence and love and goodness, I get exhausted with life and tired and wonder if it's all just some big cosmic joke.
You mentioned that you don't think the world is an awful place. I agree that this world is beautiful and is filled with wondrous things and places and people and relationships. Watching the leaves change, hearing my kids laugh, enjoying a great meal with friends...it is good, and I try to be conscious of all the good things and be thankful for them.
But two hours ago, I stood at the curb in a small town and watched as a motorcade went down the street, followed by a hearse, carrying a 19-year-old Marine who was just killed in Afghanistan. He had been there only 3 weeks. Someone handed me an American flag to hold, but I had a hard time thinking about duty and honor and freedom, when all I could think about was that young boy’s—because really that's all he was—that young boy's mom. I kept having that Kipling poem run through my head:
Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.
“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.
“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.
Then hold your head up all the more,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!
Yes. I do think this world is an awful place and though I know and love God, sometimes I wonder where He is and what He's doing and why. Also, I can't see Him.
But when I doubt, I go back to what His Word has said, as in Hebrews 4:16 "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
Or I go to one of my favorite statements, written by St. Paul "Nevertheless, I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I've committed unto him against that day."
For me, the reassuring reality is not in the strength of my grip on God. It's the strength of His grip on me.”
This conversation has been challenging me to think a lot this past week. I have taken numerous courses in evangelism, systematic theology, hermeneutics, and apologetics. I don’t know if they’ve helped me much at all—not because they weren’t good classes, they were—but because they were a long time ago; I’ve forgotten a lot; and in the meantime, life has taken over, I’ve had two little kids, and I read a lot of Kipper the Dog books these days, instead of philosophy and theology to sharpen my mind and defend my faith.
But the whole interchange with my friend has brought to my mind the great 20th-century theologian, Karl Barth, who spoke and taught and wrote so eloquently and at such length, particularly on the transcendence of God. Yet when someone asked him to sum up his theology and the millions of words he had written, he answered simply this:
“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
I don’t know how to say it any better than that.