Our phone conversation had been burning the lines for more than an hour. He was obviously as frustrated as I felt. "D--n it, woman!" he exploded. I broke down in tears.
The parents of this friend had sent their son away to a church college, believing he would be strengthened in his faith. Instead, he lost it. I took one of the same classes he did, and I understood that the professor was trying to encourage the students to examine the faith each had received from parents and make it personal. But, in Darin's* case, the class served only to totally undermine his foundation. He declared himself an agnostic.
And, I felt terribly helpless and yet responsible that I wasn't able to convince him of the truth of Scripture. He was following the father-of-lies down the broad way that leads to destruction, and I couldn't stop it.
It finally dawned on me that I was being foolish to think I could convince Darin in the course of a two-hour argument what the Lord had accomplished in my own heart over the course of a couple decades. While concern for my friend remained, I moved closer to trusting Jesus to do the work Darin's heart needed. I had to learn to "let go and let God."
Today, I think it helps if we understand what lies behind the resistance we meet, and perhaps the reason why we are reluctant to share the Gospel with strangers. We anticipate rejection, not just of ourselves, but of the message we bring. In thinking this over recently, I ran across some encouraging words that got me to thinking.
The Atheist - One young woman on an internet conversation pointed out that the atheist doesn't believe in God, because he hasn't met Him, yet. But, when Jesus gets ahold of him and establishes that relationship, then the atheist becomes a believer. Our job? What it is NOT is an argument to convince him he is wrong. Instead, we only have to "get the Word out" because the Word does not return void.
The Agnostic - Doubting Thomas may have gotten a bum rap in sermons over the years. How many of us believe everything we are told? We don't want to be so gullible that we're made a fool of when the truth is revealed. Thomas was only being true to his upbringing, to question what sounded implausible.
The unbeliever has good reason, in his own mind at least, to question what he hears. And, as we know, there is no such thing as a stupid question. The word "agnostic" means "without knowledge." Either he needs more evidence to see the truth, or he has lost what faith he had due to experience that has attacked his foundation. Our job here? We take this individual to the Lord in prayer and ask God to give us--or someone--the opportunity as well as the best words to say, to help the agnostic through his wilderness to the banks of the Jordan.
The Apostate - Every last one of us has to guard against being a "double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." (James 1:8) Any one of us can be deceived by reasonable-sounding theories, vain philosophies, or even Scripture-twisting theologies. So, as we study to show ourselves approved unto God, "a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15), we can sympathize with those we see trapped in error, since we're only frail humans, ourselves.
Again, Scripture warns us against trying to argue someone through to truth (1 Timothy 6:20-21). What our job is, here, is being prepared to give a reason for the hope that is in us. That requires our own diligence in checking what we hear and measuring it against Scripture to uncover the lies of the enemy, exposing all to the Light of Truth found only in the great "I Am."
"Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness...." (2 Timothy 2:23-25a RSV)
"...but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame...." (1 Peter 3:15-16 RSV)