So where does that leave me? Well, ultimately at 1 Peter 3:15 – “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear”. I want to be always ready to give a reason to any man, woman or child who asks me why I am a theist as opposed to an atheist or agnostic and, further, why I am a Christian as opposed to a Jew or a Muslim or a Hindu or a Buddhist or an adherent to any other religion. And I want to be able to do it “in meekness and in fear”. I also want to avoid vain and unprofitable arguments as Titus 3:9 says. That’s my personal view.
I think the point of all this, the point God has been trying to get across, is that we should be ready to defend our faith (and Him) with words at any time, but that more importantly we should develop a working sense of when, where and how it makes sense to do so. It’s a matter of perspective. If we stopped viewing God as that divine damsel in distress I mentioned earlier then we would feel less threatened by people and events, and we would also be able to judge when and how to “give a reason for the hope that is in us”. Then and only then would it really be expressing hope. Anything else is contention and backbiting. Anything else is petty quarreling and bashing each other. And also of note is the fact that He will provide the words we should respond with at those times. I hardly think God is anywhere near being the originator of many of the answers and reactions I’ve seen Christians give over the years. In those cases all I hear is anger and emotion and frustration and confusion and ill-will and even faithlessness talking.
I don’t want to be a part of that. I want to understand what I’m really about. I want to internalize and really “get” the fact that people will ridicule me for being a Christian. People will question my intelligence for choosing to believe in a conclusion so obviously false as that there exists a personal, omnipotent, perfectly good God who made the universe and everything that therein is. There’s no use in running from it–people will curse my God (and me). Some will do it in my hearing. Some will do it on TV, on the radio, on YouTube, in articles, in books. And why should I find that so odd? Even if I can’t understand the thing itself, I should be more than capable of understanding where it comes from. Their certainty comes from the same place mine does and has the same effect on them as mine does on me. To them, there honestly is no God just as to me there is one! To them, they are trash-talking a figment of the human imagination, like the tooth fairy or Superman. No harm done! And they are waiting for me to get upset over “some figment of the human imagination” so they can have a good laugh over how foolish and hopeless I am. Those are the facts and I should understand them. After all, it’s very similar to how I, a Christian, view the gods of the ancient world and the gods of the other modern religions–I don’t believe in them and I’m as certain as certain can be that they aren’t real. That’s precisely how the atheist or the Muslim or the Buddhist sees my Jesus–to them, He just doesn’t exist, or in some cases He isn’t who I claim He is!
It’s really amazing how God allows the world to be. Think about it for a second: nobody is ever allowed to always be on top. Everybody, at different times, experiences life from the driver’s seat and life from the child seat in the back. The same thing that places us in a position of superiority or awe over some is the very thing that places us in a position of pity or ridicule in the eyes of others. That’s why people really have no excuse for how we treat each other sometimes! That’s why we should really be able to empathize with each other. We all experience the various highs and lows of life. We can, in a real and sufficient sense, walk in each other’s shoes.
So yeah, people will burn my Bible or put a bullet through it or rip it to pieces and feel not one shred of remorse. People will laugh my “religious talk” and my “disproved God” to scorn. And they’ll feel good about it. Not because they are “wicked”, but because they honestly believe they are right. And we all know what it feels like to be convinced we are right about something. It gives us a tendency to become mighty bigoted. So now it comes down to one bigotry against another. That’s what the Christian absolutely MUST avoid. It’s not a simple issue. Religion, or the lack thereof, is not an entertaining conundrum for two people to lightheartedly discuss over biscuits and tea. Certainly it has that element to it. But at its core it goes far, far deeper than that. It’s a matter of deepest human interest and import, of identity, of right and wrong, of as vital importance as the blood pumping through our veins. Proof of this is that some of the most ignominious and unspeakable crimes throughout history have been committed in the name of religion or in staunch opposition to it. People don’t kill each other, sabotage their neighbours and destroy whole civilizations over how nice the weather is today or the answer to the riddle “what has eyes but cannot see?”. But the Christian must understand. He must understand that people are not programmable robots. He must understand they are infinitely more complex than that. He must also understand that they are very susceptible to deception and that there are very many smarter and more powerful spiritual forces bent on exploiting precisely that quality. And understanding, he must expect. And expecting, he must choose to love regardless. And loving he must exercise self-control. He must not retaliate when he is attacked, like others do. Retaliation and lack of understanding have been the real cause of the world’s troubles to date.
“Meekness” and “fear” are the words Peter used. Meekness because of our own humanity. Meekness because we can understand where others are coming from if nothing else. Meekness because we know human frailty and are all too familiar with our own shortcomings. Meekness because we understand that we are only who we are (children of God) and where we are (ones who can exercise faith in Him) through God’s grace and not our own awesomeness or merit. Fear of the God who is above all and judges all, starting with us! Fear of the wonderful way in which He created humans. Fear of the supreme interest He takes in them. Fear of causing even one soul in whom He takes such interest to stray through our own selfishness or pride. In such meekness and fear there is no room for revenge, lashing out, talking down to, ridiculing, blowing up, cursing, using foul language, bitterness, childish emotion or anything else of the sort. There is only respect and love for the other person for the sake of the God who formed them in tender love (and the very God they are now cursing). There is only a stubborn insistence on treating them with dignity no matter how they may trample over ours. And there is only intelligent and diligent research and presentation of facts and arguments, not frivolous and emotional tit-for-tats.
It won’t be easy. It will mean truckloads of turning the other cheek. It will mean bearing the ridicule like (their definition of) an idiot and smiling like (their definition of) a fool through it all. It will mean public embarrassment and shame. It will mean being a target, being a punching bag, just for the heck of it. But it is THE WAY to do this. Peter said it well in 1 Peter 3:17 – “For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.”
In the end our lifestyles do far more to vindicate our belief in God (not to vindicate God, mark you; He doesn’t need vindicating) than our words or arguments or explosions. Just live: that’s what the greatest Christians have done. That’s what Jesus did. Getting mad at unbelievers and cussin’ them out does more to make them feel justified than it does to defend anything precious. It only proves them right.
Why get mad, though? I mean, sure, if God’s honour is being called into question then it’s only natural to get upset. But why let that bleed into my reactions and, in fact, dictate them? James 1:20 explains it: man’s wrath does not end up bringing about or showing forth the righteousness of God. Quite the opposite, in fact. Ecclesiastes 7:9 warns us not to be quick to get angry, because “anger rests in the bosom of fools”. I sure don’t want God calling me a fool! Let another human call me that. That would just be their opinion and not necessarily true. But if God considers me a fool what do I have left? In the end God cares more about a lost soul than His supposed besmirched honour. That’s why He doesn’t intervene more often. And if He cares more about the soul, I should too. In the end God knows His honour will emerge without so much as a spot or a speck. I should understand that too, even if I can’t see how just yet.
Plus, if I know God–if I really know God–why do some empty words from some ignorant people put me off? In the end, the fact is their words are empty! Do their words or arguments suddenly and magically wipe God out of existence? No? Then why am I so upset? And they are ignorant. They do not know Him, nor do they know what they’re attempting to talk about. Hence they can say anything they want about Him and not feel anything. But if I know Him then I know Him, and nothing can change that. That’s precisely why Christ said on the cross, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing!” And that’s why He spoke the way He did whenever the Pharisees and Sadducees confronted Him. He knew Himself and where He came from. So as far as He was concerned, let them call Him a winebibber or a demoniac or a black magician or a deranged lunatic (all of which they did call Him). They could never put Him off because He knew Himself and He knew who His Father was. Christ had no identity crisis. And that’s ultimately the most important thing–knowing who you are and Whose you are. Mere words or trifling disbelief can never change what a thing is or who a person is.
That is also why Satan is working so hard to confuse people about their identities through physical, sexual and emotional abuse, low self-esteem, sex changes and God knows what else these days. It’s the same concept behind slavery. You can only enslave a man whose sense of identity you have broken. As long as he has an inkling of who he is, he will fight to the death, passively if he cannot do so actively. Nor will he be content to fight passively forever. But as for God, He is not waiting in the wings with bated breath for us to finally finish the age-old argument so He can finally know whether or not He actually exists. God laughs at that stuff. He knows who He is. The sooner I get that, the better. ultimately you can’t prove (or disprove) God to people. But that’s as it should be. Arguments can’t prove or disprove Him either. God is, and He reveals Himself to whom He pleases, when He pleases (Galatians 1:15-16).
If I could prove God to people then every atheist I have ever met would be a Christian right now. And if people could have disproved God to me, I would have given up the ghost ages ago and stopped believing. (What an odd, oxymoronic state of affairs!) God knows I spent much time in high school and then university having many discussions of that sort. I gave many staggeringly potent arguments and heard my fair share of staggeringly potent counters as well. And only some of my hearers were convinced by what I said. Many stood firm even when they couldn’t find a way out of my arguments. But many more respected me because of the person they saw during and outside of those discussions. So they still didn’t believe, but at least they could appreciate me and where I was coming from. Because I could appreciate them and where they were coming from. Many of us became, and still are, friends. Ultimately, yes, God is someone you can argue about, but deeper than that and more importantly, He is someone you live out.
That’s why I’m trying to learn to do it like Him. There are just as many arguments for God in this world as there are against Him. It’s all a matter of perspective. The proof? Simply this: the very arguments I rely on to demonstrate God exists are often the same ones that others use to conclude He can’t possibly exist. And the very arguments others use to debunk faith in God are often the very ones within which I can see God’s hand moving very clearly. Ultimately, especially in the most vital things, people choose what to believe, and in the long run that becomes their reality. Truth is certainly objective at its core; but people are certainly very subjective creatures in many to most cases. And to a limited but still very shocking degree we can shape our own personal worlds to live in. Even in a scientific age we are clearly not at all as logical as we would like others and ourselves to think. People aren’t machines. The same evidence all too often leads to very contrary conclusions in two different human beings. That’s why God’s way is to live Him, to show and tell. And the showing is more important. Eventually the showing will touch deeper than the telling ever will.
What I want is to always be ready with an answer to those people who genuinely want to know why I believe what I do. Facts are there; I should arm myself with them–history, archaeology, science, human nature etc. What I want is to avoid those who do not genuinely wish to know, who only wish for a few laughs or to stir up contention. The world is too full of that sort, on both sides of the divide. That is what Titus 3:9 would call vain conversation. Arguing with such a one is useless; all he cares about is the smoke and mirrors, the chance to pounce and to make sport of. What I want is, at the end of the day, for someone who doesn’t believe to have to seriously think about not what I have said but who and what I am. For only when I carry any weight will my words have any import. Talk is cheap, after all–anyone can talk the talk. Only when my life, my reactions, my attitude, my personality reach people will I truly be representing–“defending”–the God I claim to love. And that’s the only defense He will ever want (He sure doesn’t need it!).