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Sunday, September 06, 2009

The promise of Matthew 7 (Or: Why Christians shouldn't condemn atheists and agnostics)

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."

-- Matthew 7:7-8 (NIV)

I've never shared much on this blog about how I came to be a follower of Christ. Lately I've wondered if perhaps it's time to elucidate a bit on how I arrived at that, now nearly thirteen years ago. Which in looking back, really does seem like the starting point of not just a phase in my life, but the beginning of true life itself. Perhaps you've heard the saying "Don't forget in the darkness what you've learned in the light." In retrospect there has been more darkness than light in my own time on Earth and considerably greater periods in the valley than on the mountaintop since I became a Christian.

And yet, the good times and people and opportunities, and most of all the veritable growth that I've experienced since first turning to Him in 1996 have served to encourage me, to uplift me, and to ever remind me that in defiance of all that this temporal realm insists is reality: the thing WORKS!

But how did I come to that place to begin with?

It was the culmination of a very long and difficult process, that at times I found myself confessing to be anything from a hardcore atheist, to a questioning agnostic, to what I found out later was a deist, and ultimately to believing in a personal God yet also holding myself as one who could never be reconciled with Him.

And then I wound up going to college at Elon, where God put some of the most amazing people that I've ever met into my life. I made so many new friends there who had this light in their eyes and in their lives, this sheer joy that to this day I can't describe how magnificent it was to see, to really see that, for the first time. And it wasn't long before I admitted to myself that I wanted to have that same joy in my own life. So now today I am a Christian... or as I much more prefer to be known, as a follower of Christ.

But even so, I do not now regret or feel ashamed at that long period in which I could not find faith in God at all. And neither can I think any less of those who do consider themselves to be agnostic or atheist.

(There's a marked difference however between atheism and "Big-A Atheism", but that's a topic for another day...)

In retrospect, I see now that even though I may have not been a "Christian" as most people understand it, that despite lacking a singular "salvation experience" that many Christians insist upon, I was yet already on the path that would take me there... and I cannot help but believe that God was going to see me through to it.

Why? Because Jesus promised as much in Matthew 7 when He taught us that "Ask... seek and you will find." He didn't say "you might find it". He said "you WILL find"! I was already searching out the truth, whatever that was going to irrevocably be. And in His own time, Christ led me to the discovery that He was the Truth. So He will do... and does do... for all who seek Him whether they realize it or not.

What does this mean for those of us who have at last found the Truth? I believe that even though "our quest is at an end!" (to quote from Monty Python and the Holy Grail) that our seeking for Christ yields to that which will never be completed in our time on this world: a seeking after Christ. Finding Christ is just the beginning. From then on in this life there comes the ongoing process of sanctification. We are not perfect in our time in this world and we're not meant to be perfect here either. But it is in our failings that His grace is made manifest as a testimony of Christ to those who are yet seeking for Him...

And trust me: there are many more people than we as Christians realize, who are looking for that Truth in one way or another. Maybe not to our own satisfaction... but God knows who they are, and He will not forsake them for their earnest seeking of Him.

All the more reason then for those of us who have found Him to abandon the pretense that merely finding Christ is the "be all and end all" of our spiritual growth. It's one of the saddest things I can think of when a person boasts of his or her own salvation and then sneers at the merest thought of having a life of change and growth - more painful than we often admit, it must be noted - that won't stop until their dying breath.

What's wrong with that though? We who claim to have found Christ and then deny Him so much opportunity to work in our lives and our hearts and our minds. There should be no shame in acknowledging that we have fallen but that He Who is within us has yet overcome.

That is not just a denial of Christ. That is a denial of the very Truth that we allegedly had been seeking out in the first place!

And if those around us are still seeking after Truth cannot see that we have faith in that Truth, then we have made their search only that much harder. Again, I don't doubt that God recognizes those who are looking for Him and that He will lead them to Him in His timing... but all too often we certainly don't make it any easier for Him.

And then there are those of us professing Christ who hasten to damn those who not only haven't found God on "our" terms already but seem to insist to one degree or another that they can't accept His being there at all.

Let me share something that some of y'all might find downright shocking: it is not a sin to be an agnostic. I don't know if it can even be said that it's a sin to be an atheist. And in my experience there is a huge difference between a person who humbly cannot believe in God and that person who harbors bitterness and hatred toward the very idea of God (but again, that's something for another post).

What else can I say? I know what I'm talking about because I've been there. And in hindsight my own atheism and agnosticism were just the first steps toward my eventual discovery of Christ.

Is there anything wrong with that? Is there anything inherently wrong with anyone who cannot help but find himself as an agnostic, provided he is yearning to see and seek the truth of the matter? Because truth is adamant and absolute. And for those of us in Christ already we should understand: He is Truth. We should put a lot more faith in Him in that regard... and we should have more faith in our fellows that they also can find that Truth. But it will be to God's credit and not ours that they find it.

Am I suggesting that the way to salvation is broad and wide open and that "anything goes"? Not at all. I am openly positing however that for those who desire salvation for the right reasons, that they will seek for it and that God will be faithful to bring them at last to Christ, for His sake and not that of any man, and that as always we have a choice to follow Him. Just as we who have chosen Him already have a lifetime of choice... which thankfully He will gladly forgive us for when we err and choose wrong.

So to my fellow believers in Christ who may be all too quick to condemn they who are deemed "agnostic" or "atheist": please, don't.

Because none of us have any real inkling at all about what the other person is going through in this life, and the search that he or she is likely on for the truth and the Truth.

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."


Anonymous said...

Chris, delete this comment if you want. I won't name names. I wanted to say that your essay has the sweet fragrance of the Holy Spirit about it. And that you show more genius and brilliance and meekness than those certain few "of Christ" who sow discord and evil in this area.

Anonymous said...

You hit on several things. I think it is interesting how one verse provides reflection on so many areas in your life. It's cool how God uses His Word to speak to us and touch us in ways no other words can. I find this as encouragement to continue to study the Bible.
Sometimes the hardest part of being a Christian, which is defined as a follower of Christ, is being witness to others taking His name in vain. It is hard when we know others are only pushing non-believers further from Christ rather than drawing in His lost sheep. Truthfully, without Christ we are all lost and Satan's most powerful weapon against us is our self. It is an act of compassion that we should feel sorrow for the deceived and in our compassion there is a hope of reaching out to them and sharing Christ's love. Maybe even harder than witnessing the misuse is knowing how to deal or address the situation. Christ wants none to be lost. Sometimes the best thing is to pray earnestly before addressing such, for our own strength that we would reflect the love of Jesus to them. And possibly even harder yet is when those do not want to converse to turn away. Not in defeat but with a commitment to continue to pray that their hearts will be softened enough to discuss the Bible as it is written and not as they see it. God changes hearts and if a desire to seek exists then they will ask and you’ll be ready. Stay encouraged and share with those who care to listen as not to “waste” time on those who are aggressive and disconcerted.