[Updated from the archives.]
Amy Julia wrote on how to be respectful in our interactions with those who don’t believe in God, and I commented:
People attribute things to God and then say they could never believe in that version of God. I tend to agree with them; I’d never believe in that version of God either. Believing in the one true God is quite another thing entirely.
One commenter promptly demanded I prove God’s existence. Now come on, who made up the rule that any time a Christian expresses belief in God the Christian is then obligated to prove God’s existence upon demand?*
The encounter at my own blog it was even odder. A commenter demanded proof of God’s existence, and when I chose not to respond he said this proves that Christians cannot back up their beliefs with evidence. I didn’t follow his logic, but apparently it made sense to him.
Now it’s not that I don’t want to discuss God’s existence with people who don’t believe in him.
It’s just that I don’t feel compelled to do so on their terms.
Apologetics Has A Place
The verse most people cite on apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15 –
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
Notice what is not in that verse. Nowhere does it say we must come up with philosophically airtight logic, incontrovertible evidence, or anything else to prove the validity of the hope we have. This verse merely says we should not shy away from talking about our faith.
Here are some ways I see it playing out day to day:
- A cashier gives us too much change, and we hand it back. The cashier asks why we would do that and we say, “I’m sure God does not want me to keep money that doesn’t belong to me.”
- We park too close to a car and later when pulling out scrape the car’s fender. No one is there to see it, but we leave a note with our name and other information. Someone asks why, and we say, “Well, Jesus did say we should treat others the way we want to be treated.”
- At work, a colleague asks if we did anything good over the weekend and we say, “There was a guest speaker at church who was pretty good. She’s got a new Bible study guide I might pick up.”
And if someone asks the big question – why we believe in Jesus – I still don’t think we’re obligated to come up with some perfect argument that proves Christianity to be true. I think we are to talk about what Jesus has done in our lives.
We can talk about how Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (John 3:16-17, 1 Timothy 1:15.) We can talk about how we no longer have to try to do things to be good enough for God because Jesus has done it all for us. (Galatians 2:19-20.) We can talk about how Jesus now calls us friend. (John 15:15.) We can talk about anything and everything that gives us hope in the one true God.
But we don’t have to prove anything.
That’s up to God.
The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:14.)
The atheists with whom I was engaging might see that verse as a cop-out, but it’s not. In fact, it’s no different than what we see in families every day.
My family does things in certain ways. To a casual observer those ways might be beyond understanding no matter how much I try to explain them. Eventually, I’d probably tell the person that the only way to understand is to become a member of my family. No one calls that a cop-out, because the same thing applies to their family dynamics as well. It’s how all families are.
And when you move in with a family, that’s when you learn the family’s ways.
Including the family of God.
*I realize that putting the word “atheists” in the title of this post may bring readers who aren’t Christians. This post is not about convincing atheists, of course, whether in the sense of convincing them my beliefs are valid or them convincing me theirs are. This post is about recognizing that not every conversation on belief has to turn into a formal debate.
Aimee Byrd’s comment below is too good not to append here in the post itself:
This is a great topic, and it is encouraging to read the comments thread as well. I think that sometimes Christians are so eager that they become more zealous “for the cause” than actually caring about the people. People then become tools. And when atheists are defensive, or demand a full apologetic as soon as we mention our faith, they are also skipping the hard work of getting to know the person. Sure, we have our arguments for our faith, but we want to point others to the Person and work of Christ, not just the evidences.