An Enlightening Debate with an Anti-Theist

Yesterday, I was conducting research on the writers of the Gospels. Did Bibleyou know that the writers were very likely not the apostles attached to their book names? That is to say, Matthew didn’t write the Book of Matthew and Mark likely didn’t write the Book of Mark and so on. Anyway, that is a discussion for another blog topic.

While researching, I came across a blog written by a well-educated, intelligent astrophysicist with a passionate hobby for using the Bible and his scientific background to attempt to discredit the Scripture. As much as I disagree with many of the points he argued, I appreciated the fact that he was well-versed in his arguments, had the educational and research background to stand firmly on his views of the topics he covered and laid out a clinical, mostly unbiased view of why he did not believe the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God.

As I finished reading the astrophysicist’s blog entry, I noticed several comments by others who had read the post followed. Some of the commenters were complimentary of his research, style and point of view. Others commenters were Christians who argued defensively as to why the post was fundamentally wrong. In response to the Christian comments, many of whom were unnecessarily obnoxious in the their own right, the writer was extremely condescending and hateful. As a result, the comment thread went from cordial to ugly very quickly — an unfortunately common theme if you’ve read any other open forums on the web (and I don’t just mean open forums related to religion or faith). Obviously, in this case, no one was going to change anyone else’s opinion through a comment thread.

There are a few fly-on-the-wall observations of the astrophysicist’s blog that I’d like to share. First, the writer is clearly an anti-theist with an agenda, but he did his homework. He knows why he believes what he believes. In contrast, the Christian commenters argued their points of view; but, in this case, they did not seem well-versed or prepared for the writer’s in-depth, well-researched critiques on their comments. Shouldn’t we as Christians become intimately knowledgeable of the doctrine upon which we stand? I argue we should be. If I was to use a successful example, I would point to Paul. Detailed knowledge of the Torah was a critical part of his ministry. He was well-educated and knew the opposing point of view of his intellectual, religious peers better than most scholars of the day. Second, the Christian commenters on astrophysicist’s blog mainly used Scripture to prove their statements. I’m not sure arguing scripture with a non believer is productive. After all, the author dedicated his whole blog site to discrediting the Bible; therefore, any “proof” was already invalid in his mind. I would submit if we only use the Bible to argue against someone else’s belief, we’ve already failed the debate.

Scripture is a great thing. I’m not trying to dismiss its importance; however, the core of our beliefs should be based on our relationship with God instead of doctrine. If I had spoken to the writer, I might have provided a personal testimony about my relationship with Jesus and how that has radically transformed my life. I would have told him about the debilitating anxiety disorder that controlled me and generations of my family; but Jesus freed me from that lifelong struggle in a moment of prayer. It is likely the writer would have dismissed such testimony because he didn’t experience my personal transformation for himself, but at least the discussion might have disarmed his defensive stance and the scientifically-based, intellectual argument which he is clearly better equipped to make than I. At this point, after such a vile, out-of-control thread on his blog, I don’t plan to leave a comment. Any well-meaning thought would probably not be well received at this point anyway.

I realized before leaving the blog site, I found myself frustrated with the overall discussion. We as Christians should be prepared for discussions with other people we encounter. People who don’t believe what we believe are going to have different views and values about things we hold as core truths. We shouldn’t be shocked by this fact, and we should be careful not to feed and validate a negative stereotype they may already have about Christianity. Once we validate a negative stereotype, the doorway to discussion with the other person shuts — sometimes permanently. We impact people we interact with whether we think we do or not.

We should also remember not everyone feels what we feel. If you’ve never experienced a relationship with God, you don’t know you’re missing anything. There’s nothing to which the feeling can be compared. Trying to argue with someone who doesn’t know God about faith is a bit like encountering someone who speaks a different language and speaking more loudly in a futile attempt to make the other person understand. This is a silly example that I borrowed from a friend, but he’s right. It just doesn’t work that way.

All that said, it is important to remember it is not our job to change someone’s heart. Only God can do that (Matthew 13). We are simply called to bear witness to the truth of change in our own lives and represent Him well. Be gracious, quick to forgive and always willing to listen before attempting to argue a point of view. The way I see it, God is certainly more capable than I when it comes to defending Him. He doesn’t need my help.

My Relationship with God

I have had a difficult time over the last two years articulating to other people why my encounter with the God of Love has radically changed me forever. The physical experience reinforced my faith that God is real, awesomely powerful, and able to divinely intervene on our behalf no matterJoy and freedom the circumstance or our beliefs about Him. However, it wasn’t the physical experience that change my life (read the blog post My Encounter with the God of Love to read about my encounter with God). Emotional and physical experiences are great, but memories fade. The emotions become less passionate, and the intensity of the physical experience dulls, but the revelation of who God is and how I interpret my relationship with Him remains.

I went to my first Passover dinner this year. It was a unifying experience to see brothers and sisters from different churches worshipping God together and celebrating the Passover story, the Passover feast, and how the elements of the meal contrast to Christ’s work on the cross. It also allowed me to make new friends with two older ladies who sat at our dinner table.

One of the ladies, whom I’ll call “Joy” for the purpose of this blog post to protect her privacy, explained to us that the work of Christ on the cross isn’t the only reason to love God. As an effort to help us understand what she meant, Joy bittersweetly interwove her testimony about the painful loss two years ago of her husband who had been terminally ill. On his final night, as his last moments drew near and his body was failing, she called for Hospice to take him with the hope his last hours would be as peaceful; but he never made it to the ambulance. Joy choked on her words, as did we, as she recalled crawling back into her bed and pulling the covers over her after her husband’s body was taken away. She stayed in the bed for several minutes, lying in the fetal position, sobbing, and asking God to take her.

My best friend was gone; but that’s when everything changed,” Joy explained. Jesus’s presence engulfed her. Her pain became His peace. Her emptiness became His fullness. She said she physically felt Jesus hold her tightly, heard Him reassure her everything would be okay, and the promise the void left by her husband’s passing would not leave her empty because He would be everything she needed.

“At that moment, I understood what it meant to truly love Jesus beyond being my salvation.” Joy informed us softly. “If He died on the cross and rose again for us and nothing more, that would be enough; but how great is our Savior that He is not satisfied with salvation being the only part of our story with Him? He is our friend, our brother, and the lover of our souls. I miss my husband, but I don’t feel empty or lonely because He fills me. Now, I truly understand what people mean when they say they have a relationship with God. I’m so in love with Him, and He is so much more loving than we can ever imagine. He desperately wants a relationship with us.”

As I sat listening to Joy’s story, I was instantly taken back to the day when God radically changed my life and understood why that day was so important. It was a day of revelation. My soul was awakened to my desperate need to know God at a deeper level than simply the one who saved my soul. He confirmed how much he deeply loves me as my Father, my Protector, the One Who Cries with Me, the One Who Lifts Me Up, and the Prince of Peace. I was overwhelmed by the crushing weight of His love. All of the anger, bitterness, and anxiety could not withstand His tremendous force.

Although several months have passed since that day, I am reminded of His love. I had a vision several weeks ago of a painful morning I spent crying in my SUV, unable to join my husband for Sunday worship because I was so angry with God. I saw myself from a third person view, huddled with my knees to my face, and bitterly crying out to God to save me from my circumstances. Just as I was remembering the tremendous pain and wondering why I was reliving the moment, I saw Jesus holding me, crying with me. The image of His presence wrecks me even now. I don’t honestly know whether I was imagining the moment, or if it was truly God giving me a glimpse into a time when I felt alone but wasn’t. I suppose it doesn’t really matter because it reminds me of the loving characteristics of God.

My challenge to you — if you don’t feel the need to ask God who He truly is, you will likely never realize you are missing anything. After all, you don’t know what you’re missing if you’ve never had it, right? But if you want to know His heart and love for you, I would encourage you to ask God to reveal Himself to you. He never disappoints when we honestly seek His heart. Although He doesn’t need a relationship with man, He still wants one with you. In the same way we cherish our families, our children, and our friends at the deepest levels of love we can possibly imagine, He cherishes you; and He desperately wants you to know how much He loves you.