Conversation at work with a skeptic/agnostic and (possibly) a deist…
An associate and I were making small talk at my desk. The topic came up about feeling old. I made the comment that he is younger than me (I’m 50 and he’s 40 something) and we talked about things that make you feel/look older:
- Eating bad
- Lack of exercise
He admitted that smoking and stress were issues for him. He started talking a little about his family stress (his divorce, the issues with his daughter, etc). He commented about some book he’d read that had 3 life principles (Try your hardest [may not be 100%], don’t take it personally, something about not making assumptions???). He said he liked the book because it was not “religious”. So, I said that just because something was “religious” doesn’t mean it can’t have some good practical advice for living. He agreed. He said though that the only thing he doesn’t like about the religious books is how they attempt to persuade/convince. At this point I asked him if we could get out of the office for a short walk so that we could discuss this more openly. So we did. I asked him (with regard to the comment on persuasion) how he felt about a doctor who tried to persuade his patient that he had cancer and that surgery was needed otherwise he was going to die? Or how he felt about a lawyer who would try to persuade his client that the charges he was facing would result in prison time if he didn’t accept a plea bargain? I said that it is actually an act of love and care for the person that causes a Christian to persuade or convince someone to make a decision about Christ. He indicated that those other situations about the doctor and the lawyer were a lot more clear and indisputable than the situation regarding Christ. I asked him consider the consequences of finding out that he is wrong about his views on Christianity. Think of the day you die and you find out you were wrong. I don’t want that to happen to you. I just want him to be able to hear all the evidence I’ve heard and make a decision for himself. I believe that Christianity is true beyond a reasonable doubt. I’m convinced it is true by the evidence and also because of my personal experience with Jesus – I trust him. I’m not trying to elevate myself above anyone else, I’m not trying to get more people on my side or a notch in my belt or anything, I just have concern for the destiny of those who don’t know Christ based on what the bible says about what’s going to happen to them when they die – I mentioned hell. He said at that point that he’d prayed to God in the past and “nothing happened”. (I should’ve found out what he prayed!) I mentioned that even if you don’t think anything happened, you need to look into the evidence and see if it is reasonable to believe that there is a God.
Then we got onto the topic about whether Jesus existed. He said that since this all happened so long ago, he didn’t think that we could rely on the records we have – that they would’ve been corrupted or changed over 2000 years. I explained that the amount of time that had passed shouldn’t matter. Does he think George Washington existed or Abe Lincoln? I asked him if he thought that 2000 years from now, should the people living then question whether Barak Obama was president in 2013? He replied yes, if the records were missing. I mentioned that more non-biblical authors wrote about Jesus within 150 years of his life than the Roman emperor (Tiberius Caesar) at the time (10 vs. 9). If you include the biblical authors, then it is actually 43 vs. 10! He seemed to accept that. I went on to explain that the bible was written by 40 authors over 1500 years from all walks of life. And the new testament specifically was written by 9 authors over a period of about 50 years. And all of those new testament authors except 1 were martyred for what they proclaimed about Jesus. All they had to do was recant and they would’ve saved their hides. Again, he did not dispute this. I also made the case for the resurrection indicating that Jesus existed, died on a Roman cross and his tomb was empty 3 days later (even Bart Ehrman agrees with that). Skeptical people (like James the brother of Jesus) were transformed after that. He didn’t dispute any of this.
When talking about the Bible, he brought up “Yeah but what about all those miracles, like walking on water, etc?” I then said that if there is a Creator of the universe (or multiverse or whatever), that would he agree that Creator would be unimaginably powerful, intelligent, immaterial and outside of time? He agreed. He even mentioned that Stephen Hawkings arguments had not convinced him that there was no need for a creator. So, I reasoned that the biggest miracle of all has already occurred – the creation of the universe from nothing. So, after that, every miracle recorded in the Bible is at least possible, since God created everything and was the one who instituted the laws of physics therefore it is reasonable to conclude that he can control the laws of physics. I admitted that many of the miracles recorded in the Bible seem unbelievable, but you have to read them in the context of knowing that there is a God who created the universe to start with, then they don’t seem so impossible. Also, knowing that Jesus was resurrected from the dead validates his claims to be who he said he was (God) and he validated that the old testament was the word of God. He validated the creation story and many of the miracles that occurred in the Old Testament (like Jonah). So, while it would be hard to read those in another book and believe them, you have Jesus affirming that they really happened, so it all boils down to how much you trust Jesus. If you trust Him, you can believe the rest of the Bible because He did. He then made the comment that they didn’t really have writing or books back then, so they didn’t have a Bible. I said that no, they did have scrolls. In fact, the gospels record Jesus reading from the great scroll of Isaiah and talking about prophecy about him was being fulfilled. During Jesus’ time, their bible was the old testament – the new testament had not been written yet. At that point, I also referred to a conversation we had had at lunch the other day where he’d brought up the scrolls found at Qumran. I said, and that is why the dead sea scrolls are so important. When we found those in 1940 something, they had most of the old testament and the wording was exactly the same as the old testament that we have today, which was great confirmation of the care taken by the scribes in translating these texts. I also explained that all of the Bible translations we have today are all translated from the original Greek/Hebrew, so it doesn’t “evolve” over time as some think. This was in response to the comment he made about people just passing this information along by word of mouth. I also mentioned that we have the Ryland’s fragment from John 18 that is the earliest surviving fragment of the new testament dated at about 135 a.d. I also brought up that as time goes on archeology finds older manuscripts which are closer to the events, which makes it more certain that we have accurate text in the Bible. Earlier in the conversation, I’d already brought up too that we have about 2400 Greek manuscripts of the new testament – far more than any other literature from antiquity.
He said he didn’t understand the concept of the Son of God. I said that Jesus is God in human form. He came down to earth and became a man. He wanted to know why we needed Jesus. I said that man had sinned and we could not pay for our own sins and that Jesus had to come to sacrifice Himself for our sins. I explained that since men are sinners, we would not be acceptable as a sacrifice and that the one and only sinless Son of God qualified as an acceptable sacrifice for sins. He then questioned why it had to be Jesus – why not mother Teresa or something. I told him that all men are sinners including Mother Teresa. Jesus, since he was God in human form was not a sinner. He had a problem with that – he said there was no proof that Jesus was without sin. I said, yes, there is no absolute proof, but there is some evidence. For example when Pilate tried him he found no fault in him. Also, the Pharisees, who were constantly trying to trap him and find some dirt couldn’t – they could never find anything he did wrong. So, yes, there’s no absolute proof he was sinless, but there is evidence that he was sinless. He said that if God became a man, then wouldn’t he be sinful, since all men are born in sin? I said that he was the only one that was virgin born. So then he said, then doesn’t that imply that sex is sinful? I said, no, that doesn’t imply that. Our conversation got cut off at that point because we came in.
During a prior conversation a few days earlier, somehow we got onto the topic of philosophy – we were talking a little bit about Friedrich Nietzsche. He said he “tried philosophy” but it “didn’t work for him”. But he added, “neither did faith”. So we started to talk a little about faith and I got the sense that he equated all faith with “blind faith”. So I drew a diagram on my white board:
|——–evidence———–> FAITH |
The left side to the right side is the amount of knowledge needed to know something. The evidence gets you just so far, but not all the way. The remainder must be covered by faith. So, it is not blind faith, but rather it is following the trail of evidence until it ends and then exercising faith to cover the remaining gap in knowledge. It is reasonable faith. He seemed to understand that. I also relayed some examples of how one exercises faith in the daily living of life – for example, when you eat at a restaurant, you are exercising faith that the food was not poisoned and is in fact what it is purported to be. You wouldn’t be able to live your life without faith – you’d have to verify everything.
It seems that this person is on a spiritual journey toward the truth and I hope and pray that I can be there to answer his questions and knock down any intellectual objections/barriers that he has, so that he no longer rejects God and God “grants him repentance, leading him to a knowledge of the truth and that he may come to his senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken him captive to do his will”.