These days, there seem to be a lot of people renouncing the Christian faith they formerly claimed. It’s happening a lot with young celebrities who, as they were coming to fame in their teens, might have been vocal about their faith but now are saying they have left it behind. It’s happening a lot with young adults who, rather than making the transition from youth group to so-called “big church” are leaving church and the faith altogether. It’s happening as people read and hear the so-called new atheists who, because of the Internet, are able to have a more vast visibility and influence than atheists of the past.
I watch this going on – and I’ve seen it with people I know, people I’ve formerly pastored, and even blood relatives – and I go back and forth between weeping and scratching my head. I weep because of the eternal destiny that lies ahead for those who deny Jesus and will one day stand before him. I scratch my head because, while I have wrestled with doubts as much as anybody, I don’t get how someone can just walk away from Jesus. Having known him all these years, I can only surmise that people who walk away from him never really knew him in the first place. Perhaps they grew up in a Christian home or joined a church because of the nice people there, all while never really having a true, spiritual encounter with Jesus. They knew the lingo; they could recite the gospel message; they even learned the various arguments for the faith; but they never really knew him. That’s the only thing that makes sense to me.
Why would I walk away from Jesus because of the influence of small-minded, straw-man arguments put forth by so many of the “new atheists?” I once saw Sam Harris speak on TV, and I’ve skimmed a couple of Bart Ehrman’s books while sitting in bookstores. They don’t move me. In fact, I thought there were so many holes in their arguments that I might use them to drain spaghetti.
Why would I walk away from Jesus because of how Christians have sometimes treated me (and folks, it has sometimes been bad). It wasn’t Jesus who mistreated me; it was people. Christian people sometimes, yes, but still people. What does the failure of people who follow Jesus have to do with his death on the cross for my sins, his resurrection from the dead, and his promise of eternal life through believing in him? Nothing, that’s what.
Why would I walk away from Jesus because of disappointments and struggles I’ve had in life? Have I sometimes been mad at God because of life’s disappointments? Yes, I have. And I’ve told Him so. But His Spirit has always worked on my heart in those moments, and hindsight has inevitably revealed life’s difficulties and disappointments to have been good training exercises for things that have lain ahead, as well as protections from situations I might have encountered had I had my way. Additionally, I’ve seen God use disappointments in my life to enable me later to counsel others with comfort I would not have had to share had I not known myself the disappointment they were facing. I love the words attributed to the second-century bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp, as he was about to be put to death for his faith and was given one last chance to deny Christ and live: “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he has never done me injury. How then can I now blaspheme my King and Savior?” I concur.
Why would I walk away from Jesus because of questions about the eternal, infinite God that my puny, finite brain might not be able to answer? For instance, I don’t understand the concept of the Trinity. I can define it, but I don’t understand it. So should I deny its reality? A better question would be, why should I expect that I would be able to understand it? After all, the Trinity is entirely unique, in the truest sense of that word. Is there anything in the experience of mankind that is three, distinct things and yet, at the same time, one thing? Not one thing with three parts; we have lots of things in the world like that. But there is nothing where the three are one, and the one is three. This is why Muslims accuse Christians of being polytheists; they say we worship three gods. But we worship one God who is three distinct persons. In human terms, that sounds like a committee of three or a Federal court with three justices, but it’s not like those things at all. In those scenarios, the individual members are entirely distinct; it is only the framework in which they serve that is one. They can hide things from each other and play politics with one another. They can disagree with each other and manipulate one another. None of those things is done by the Trinity because, in God, the three are truly one, and the one is truly three. The fact that it can’t be perfectly compared to anything means that it cannot be fully understood, but that doesn’t make it not worth believing. After all, does outer space have an ending? If so, how? If somewhere out in space, one were to come to a wall – a dead end – that wall would have to have thickness, so it would go on beyond the limits of space. And beyond that wall’s thickness, there would have to be something; how could there not be? And yet, we have nothing in our human experience with which to compare a never-ending thing, but that does not mean it’s not true. If such a conundrum exists in thinking about a created thing, how much more so in thinking about the Creator? No, it would be arrogant for the limits of my puny mind to walk away from Jesus simply because I can’t answer all the questions I might have. In fact, I’m not sure any god whom I could fully comprehend would be worthy of my worship.
Why would I walk away from Jesus? To paraphrase the Apostle Peter, where would I go? Jesus has the words of life.