Today, I was able to have about a 20 minute conversation with a casual acquaintance. The conversation started off about normal things like football, etc. I mentioned that I used to have season tickets for football, but that it interfered with Sunday church activities, because I teach a class at church. So he asked me, when do you teach the class? Is it after or before the worship service? I mentioned that it was before – at 9 AM and then afterwards we have worship at 10:30. So, I asked him if he went to church or had any church background. He said that he actually used to be a youth pastor over the youth ministry at a church. Wow, I said! I asked him which church it was and he mentioned some Baptist Church in the local area. So I asked him, do you still go to church? He said, sometimes, very rarely. Probing a little further, I asked, would you consider yourself to be a Christian now? He said, well actually I would probably consider myself to be an agnostic. I said, Wow! That’s a big change! What was it that caused you to become an agnostic after having been a youth pastor? He said, when he was a pastor he had to talk with people and do counseling after particularly difficult life situations, for example, when a woman would come in recently having lost a small child to some disease. He said that it was very frustrating with the lack of answers that he could give the person. All he could say was that he was sorry for her loss he felt like he couldn’t give any assurances that her child was in a better place, or why God would allow this to happen. I listened to him talk about a few more situations that were difficult – they all seemed to center around evil and suffering people go through.
So I asked him, so why did the task of talking to people in difficult situations, cause you to becoman agnostic – to question God’s existence? He said that it became difficult for him to reconcile the idea of an all loving, all powerful, all-knowing God with the types of tragedies that he saw happening to people. He said typically people who come up with this dilemma Express 1 of several possibilities that could be true:
- Either God is all loving, but not all powerful and wants to do something about the evil, but cannot.
- Or God is all powerful, but not all loving so God just doesn’t want to do something about the evil.
- Or God is neither all-powerful, all-loving nor all knowing, so he can’t do anything about the evil and suffering.
- Or there is no God.
I told him I understand what he’s saying, but I think he may be missing one option. What if God is all powerful, all loving, all knowing, and he has sufficient moral reasons for allowing the evil to happen or continue? He said that that fits under the idea that we cannot fully understand God, that he is a mystery and that his ways are mysterious. I shared with him that when evaluating whether God exists, we can’t just look at evil and suffering, and conclude He must not exist, but we must combine that evidence against God with all of the other evidence we have for the existence of God. For example, that the universe exists and must’ve had a cause, that there is design in the biological realm, etc. He then started to talk about natural selection, how it was a cruel process. For example why do mothers have so many babies? Or why do chickens lay so many eggs? And many of them die but the fittest survive. I was silent on this point with him. I wanted to let him know that I do believe in natural selection as well, but I didn’t go there right now. Instead I mentioned to him that none of this makes any sense, until you figure sin into the picture. Death came into the world when sin entered the world. Without sin in the world, there would be no disease or suffering. Sin is what corrupted everything – and yes, God allowed sin to happen. He understood that it was when Adam and Eve sinned. But, he said that the understanding of sin requires belief in the infallibility of the Bible. I told him that I didn’t necessarily agree with that point. In fact, I don’t think that you need to actually believe in the inerrancy of the Bible in order to be a Christian. It doesn’t say in the Bible that you have to believe that all 66 books are the inspired, inerrant word of God in order to be a Christian. I pointed out the example of the thief on the cross. That he wouldn’t have known about all 66 books, yet he was still saved. He agreed and said that Jesus said that he is in paradise with him right now. I said that the biblical requirement for salvation is “that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Inerrancy is a separate issue. He then started to talk about how he wasn’t sure that all of this is true, and he feels like he couldn’t be a teacher or involved in the church if he wasn’t sure it’s true. So I talked to him a bit about the concept of “true beyond reasonable doubt” vs. certainty, that even if you believe that is 51% true , more likely that it was true than not true, you still believe enough to be saved.
At this point we were near the end of our walk, and I didn’t want to push it too far so I pretty much ended the conversation there. I hope to be able to continue this conversation again on another day. It ended very cordially and it sounded like he would be willing to speak again.
I woke up thinking of some questions regarding this situation early this morning. I wish I would’ve asked him these questions yesterday:
- Now that you’re unsure if God exists, what kind of evidence would convince you that He does exist (beyond a reasonable doubt)?
- If Christianity were true (all the facts – such as God exists, is the creator of everything, Jesus died on a cross and rose again, etc.), in spite of all your unanswered questions about evil and suffering in the world, would you become a Christian?
- If the God described in the Bible exists, and has in fact let all this evil and suffering happen, what are your expectations from Him? Do you expect Him to personally give an answer to you about why He has let all this happen and what His greater plan is regarding these tragedies?
- Have you read the book of Job? Have you read about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (http://biblehub.com/2_corinthians/12-9.htm)?
These are just some of the questions I woke up thinking about this morning. I hope I get the chance to ask him those questions soon “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15b)!