And here’s the deal… I’m not responsible for his relationship to God.
Christians reading this, I’ve reaffirmed some truths about evangelism and the process of the gospel over the last few days. Namely, I can’t save anybody. And neither can you. I’m not trying to throw cold water on your zeal for Jesus or the good news. But unless your first name is “Holy” and your last name is “Spirit,” your job isn’t to actually do any saving.
Jesus saves. We communicate. We listen. We build friendships. But JESUS saves.
Now the atheists among us *I hope* can breathe a sigh of relief. And to my Christian friends, I want to tell some of you to back off.
[This is the point where some of my believing friends are starting to question my spiritual maturity. Good times… keep your wheels turning. Keep reading.]
Why are so many Christians convinced that since they have been enlightened to the truth they have a license to become judgmental jerks? Where is that in the Bible? And how, for the love of God (literally), are we ever going to have meaningful conversation with the atheists we rub shoulders with if we start by swinging the judgement stick? Didn’t God give us common sense for a reason? This blindness to the sin of pride has cost the Kingdom souls, I’m convinced. It breaks me.
So what should we do? Atheists have taken that next step. Past agnosticism (which is simply an apathetic or “I don’t know either way” attitude toward God) to the “God is a reckless fantasy” position. It is often accompanied with a strong sense that theism of any kind does far more harm than good. My atheist friend fully believes that the fruit of Christianity has been ignorance, bigotry, hate, superstition, violence, tyrany, and a stubborn refusal to examine reality through a rational grid.
To put it plainly, he is an enemy of God. And I’m pretty sure he would agree (although he would qualify that statement with “your idea of God”).
So again, what should we do? What should I do? Because yes, I believe that hell is real. A real place where souls will spend eternity in agony without any hope. How can I deal with that… if I really believe it?
And I really do believe it. I believe my atheist friend is headed there unless he surrenders his heart to Jesus. And he knows I think that. I’ve asked him to help me – as my atheist buddy sounding board – to figure out how to maintain connection with him, and people like him, and be alive in my faith without… being a jerk. Consistent, but not pushy. Honest, but not annoying.
There’s something I’ve always wondered about Jesus. How could he possible walk through the streets of Jerusalem, Capernum, anywhere, and not weep for the fate of so many lost souls around him? And then I think about myself. Why can I get through a day, with joy of any kind, believing that unrepentant sinners like my friend (and since he’ll surely be reading this, I say that knowing he thinks I’m full of bologna) surround me all the time?
The answer isn’t apathy, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’m not advocating a stony disregard of your atheist co-worker. Let yourself feel deeply, and allow your discomfort to motivate you to pray and build relationships. But brothers and sisters, do not think you are the answer. That is a burden too heavy to bear. And it’s not yours to carry.
We get ourselves into all kinds of trouble emotionally, and relationally, when we wrongly assume that anyone’s eternal destiny rests in our hands. As I said in my last post, you can’t argue anyone into -or out of – faith. You do not have the right words. You have not studied enough to win them over with your logic. Faith is a choice that you cannot make for anyone else.
So let yourselves off the hook. If you don’t live under the self-induced pressure of trying to do Jesus’ job, building an actual relationship that matters might stand a chance. You’ll be free to apologize more often. Admit you’re wrong on occasion. Like, every time you’re wrong. Be willing to say “I don’t know,” or even “I think you’re right.” You know, the way normal friends would talk to each other. With honesty and respect.
My dialog with my atheist buddy continues. I expect it will for a long time. That’s good. I can’t save him, so I’m not going to try. The power of the Holy Spirit, and the truth of the Word that pierces the heart and does not return void… THAT is a basket I can put my eggs in. So I’ll stand for what I believe, with humility and confidence and good humor, share scripture when it seems appropriate, and I’ll peruse his endless links and videos from other people hostile to the idea that God may actually be real and may actually love them. But I’m not going to beat him up for his choices. He’s a grown up. He’s responsible.
Christians would do well, I think, to stop trying to save people. Yes! Share the gospel with passion, when you have permission and freedom to do so! But build a bridge first, and earn the right to have that conversation. Then let the One who does the saving carry the burden.
When God said His name was “I AM,” it was also a reminder to me that “I AM NOT.”