I have a good atheist friend that I have known for 26 years. (Guess what I feel guilty that he hasn’t become a Christian yet). Last week we were having quite a heated debate about whether the Bible was “God’s Word.” He kept getting very upset that I was calling it that, and he said that “God, if he exists, has never spoken to us.”
I said that Christians believe that Jesus is God and therefore whatever Jesus said was actually God talking. My friend started muttering, “You’re all delusional.” That really ended the conversation.
I am just wondering where to go from here. I really value his friendship and he is a kind, loyal and faithful friend (Unlike some Christians I know). I have thought about talking about the Dead Sea Scrolls and the fact that they date to 300 years before Christ and contain the whole of Isaiah (including the centrepiece of the Old Testament- Isaiah 53). I have also thought of trying to talk to him about some of C. S. Lewis’s ideas in Mere Christianity about how everybody has this idea in their heads about right and wrong behaviour and where does it come from?
Do you have any ideas?
Thanks for taking the time to write. I appreciate your question, but I’m afraid that you’re not going to like my answer. Let me start by saying that I’m not on the inside of your relationship. All friendships develop their own unique dance, and the two of you might enjoy bickering about faith. God knows I’ve had relationships like that, so take this response with a grain of salt. . .
Your email threw up some red flags for me. You start by telling me how long you’ve known your friend (26 years!) and mention the guilt you feel because he isn’t a Christian yet. This tells me that this expectation is putting a huge strain on yourself—and the relationship. He would have to be a kind and loyal friend, because I can’t imagine enduring a quarter of a century worth of attempts to convert me. Nobody wants to be someone else’s project.
Think about it from his perspective for a minute. Can you imagine having a Scientologist friend who was constantly trying to convince you to come down to the center for an audit or pushing you to read L. Ron Hubbard books? Don’t you think that would get annoying after a while? I don’t mean to shame you for your zeal, I think it’s admirable. But I’d suggest tempering it. You’re responsible to give a reason for the hope that you have (1 Pet. 3:15), and I think you’ve done that. You don’t have to wear him down.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s important to share your faith. But I think that the way that Paul explains ministry to the Corinthian church is the key. Remember in the third chapter of 1 Corinthians when Paul is correcting them for their schism? He reminds them that they’re all working toward the same end, and some are planting, some are watering, but God is the one causing the growth (vs. 6). Eventually someone else may come along and reap, or maybe not. We never know. We have to trust that God is at work. That way we’re free to love our friends and not see their conversion as our personal project.
Sometimes we plant a seed and think that gives us the right to pick the fruit. So we hover over the plant impatiently tapping our foot and over watering it. As soon as we see the slightest sign of growth, we jump on it and start trying to pick it prematurely. Sometimes it’s our zeal that’s undermining the work God’s doing.
Like I said, I don’t know your relationship. But I would imagine that in 25 years you’ve said your piece. Maybe it’s time for him to simply experience your faith expressing itself as love (Gal. 5:6).
That doesn’t mean that these discussions should never come up, but perhaps they don’t need to be your agenda? If you read Mere Christianity, why not do it for your own edification and not to look for that one argument that’s finally going untie this knot?
Invite others to join you as you continue to pray for him. Allow some room for God to work, and trust that he is. Maybe when the plant isn’t hidden under your shade, it will flourish.
If you’re reading this and have a question for me, feel free to hit me up on my contact page.