How To...Love A Skeptic
This my friends is Danny Harrison. He is one of our dear friends from Seattle. When I first met Danny he was one of the most intimidating skeptics you ever saw. Hating anything to do with the Church, but God had a big destiny for him. Now he is a pillar at Mosaic Community Church. You just never know... His perspective is unique and powerful. I thought we could all use a little help in How To...Love a Skeptic.
I used to be a vehement and proud skeptic of everything even vaguely considered "Christian”. If Jesus can reveal His heart to mine, and carry somebody who was as angry and skeptical as I was into a life filled with hope and joy as mine now is, I am convinced he can do the same for anybody. My journey to recognizing that God loves me personally, and has an awesome plan for my life began with people who love God choosing to love me despite my skepticism.
I grew up in and around the Christian church. A majority of my childhood and adolescence was spent moving around different states and countries as a "missionary kid." I had known all the right answers, I had gone through all the motions of being "a good Christian" for most of my life. I recognize now when I look back, that I had some understanding of God and Jesus from a young age but that no sort of actual relationship with him had actually existed. I had years of accumulated head knowledge about God; plenty of arguments to be made and ways of proving myself "right." But I had no heart knowledge of God. I never talked with him - only about him. I had never allowed him to reveal anything of his true nature to me personally. I was religious.
And then a major piece of my life shattered. My father - a major influence in my understanding of God - made a series of painful decisions culminating in his divorcing my mother. My family was destroyed, my trust in my father disappeared, and I dove into anger as a response. To make a very long story short, my response to my father's hypocrisies and betrayals was to throw away everything he or anybody else had ever taught me about God. I threw the church out of my life, I threw any sense of what I believed "truth" to be out of my life, and without even truly understanding what I was doing or why, I decided that I no longer believed in Jesus. The resulting season of life was one fueled by extreme anger and pride in me. I sought meaning for life. I fleetingly thought I found it at various points. But I was quickly consumed by depression and some incredibly self destructive patterns. Of course at the time I thought I was doing just fine… Here is how to love someone like I was then… a skeptic.
1. Remember that you too, were once a skeptic.
Never will somebody be successfully argued into a relationship with Jesus. We can't talk people into trusting him, despite some of our best intentioned attempts. We as followers of God can only be faithful to speak truth and to love people. We don't "lead someone to Christ," but rather we are privileged to be present when God begins to draw someone's heart to himself. We are called to sow seed, and to harvest. As much as I'd like to, I cannot force a plant to grow.
One of the most valuable "tools" for sowing and harvesting is the adage of "walking a mile in another's shoes." Take a moment and glance back over your shoulder. Marvel with Him at how far you have come. Remember for a moment what that felt like - how scary it was to have so many unanswered questions, to not be sure if somebody or something would catch you if you "let go,".
If this isn't something you can relate to for some reason (you first came to know God as a small child, or you're eighty-five and came to know him at age twenty-five, or something) then I encourage you to simply acknowledge your questions now. We all have unanswered questions about and for God, even if we love and trust Him with all our hearts. Some of us, amidst our love for, and belief in Him, still have doubts about the things of God. God isn't mad at you for those doubts and questions. He doesn't love you any less. You aren't less of a believer for having them. If anything, they confirm your humanity, and point to your hope for greater things than what you currently see (Lamentations 3:21-25)!
Consider Jesus' disciple Thomas. That guy literally walked with Jesus. He saw him perform miracles, heard his teaching with his own ears, saw him killed and buried. The first time Jesus appeared to his disciples after rising from the dead, Thomas wasn't there. When his buddies told him they'd hung out with the risen Jesus, Thomas said he wouldn't believe Jesus was alive unless he could touch the wounds Jesus had received during his execution (John 20:24-28). Poor Thomas, throughout a lot of the history of the Christian church has been sort of painted as this bad guy; a cautionary tale. We're admonished to not doubt like Thomas did. But if we're honest, we all have our Thomas Moments. Even if we've followed Jesus for years, we all have our questions, our doubts. "Does he really hear me when I pray?" "Some people seem to just have a perfect faith, I'll never have that kind of a walk with God." "God is good and all, but he can't fix this in my life." "Am I just unlovable?" "Is this really what God called me to?"
But look at what Jesus does in that passage in John. He comes back to the same place where all the disciples are, this time with Thomas in attendance. Jesus doesn't walk up to Thomas with fists on hips, shake his head, and say "tsk tsk Thomas, how dare you not believe!" No. Rather, because he knows Thomas, because he created his heart and mind, because he loves him, because he desires Thomas to know and trust him intimately, Jesus walks up and tells him to inspect his scars. In doing so, he addressed Thomas' doubts with strength and grace. Jesus knows your heart intimately. His desire for you is that there would be peace and security in that truth - not ominous dread. He wants to address everybody's doubts with
strength and grace. We are broken humans, but it is his love that draws us near to him.
My point is this: even though your questions may be different, you do share some common ground with people skeptical of Christ. When we own that we were once lost and are now found, when we own that we have our occasional Thomas Moments we can begin to empathize with a skeptic. When we can empathize, we can begin to love. When we begin to declare the realities of our transformed lives, when we receive the loving act of Jesus coming to us and speaking truth to us, we begin to plant seeds of change in the lives of the skeptics around us.
2. Stop being surprised, shocked, or offended by skepticism and rebellion.
I am continually amazed when people who follow Christ are caught off guard by the actions, beliefs, statements, and so on of people who don't know God. At this point in my walk with God, there is, so far, no piece of scripture that is more encouraging, hope giving, or able to make me punch the air above my head repeatedly with celebration than Romans 8. If, for any reason, you do follow Jesus but don't believe that the same power that raised him from the dead - the Holy Spirit - is living and active inside of you right now, go read Romans 8. I pray that it will be an alarm clock to your soul! Anyone who believes Jesus is their Savior has been freed from condemnation and a life filled with things that lead to spiritual death. After that declaration, much of the rest of Romans 8 describes how before we come to know God personally, and his Spirit fills us, that we are incapable of living a life pleasing to God. Why then are so many believers surprised when those who don't yet know the light of Jesus live amidst the darkness of not knowing him?
Imagine being at a zoo, and walking into an exhibit of nocturnal animals. Inside that exhibit, the light would presumably be extremely dim to encourage the animals to believe it to be night, thus you as the visitor could observe them doing more than sleeping. Suppose you see an animal of some sort moving on a tree branch. It has eyes that seem enormous for the size of its head; maybe they even glow a bit with what light they do reflect. Maybe you hear and feel little clicks it makes as it uses its natural sonar to find bugs to eat in the dark. Now imagine being horrified that those eyes seem so out of proportionally huge. ("There's no need for that!") Or imagine that you pull aside a zookeeper and complain about the creature's clicking sonar. ("Can't you do something about that terrible noise?!") Sounds ridiculous doesn't it? It is in that nocturnal animal's nature to make that noise to find food and communicate. It is natural for that animal to have the enormous, luminescent eyes it has. It lives in darkness. It may look bizarre to you, but it is normal to that animal. Judging that creature for living according to its present nature would be bizarre to the point of being comical.
How often though, do we do this with humans? How often do I find myself offended by a co-worker's uninvited tale of his exploits that weekend? How often do you make a snap judgment about a person simply based on what they're wearing? Why are we shocked by trends in pop culture? We shouldn't be. Romans 8, Philippians 3, and Ephesians 5 just to name a few chapters, describe the fruit of the sinful nature we are all tragically born with. Judging a skeptic for living "nocturnally;" amidst the natural darkness which is all they know, is the opposite of loving them.
I am not however - please hear me clearly - advocating some theology of absolute tolerance or brushing sin "under the rug." There is a vast difference between encountering sinful behavior in someone and a.) finding an appropriate time and place to address it versus b.) having a knee-jerk reaction to sin, pronouncing judgment (that's God's job, not ours) and moving on through life. Encourage that skeptical person that you know a God who has better plans for their life that don't actually include that issue. They may not understand at first, but as God works on that skeptic's heart; in part through your love for them, I promise they'll begin to see what you mean.
Lastly, the beauty of darkness is that it will always be dispelled by light. Let's go back to that illustration about the nocturnal creature for a moment. Imagine that while you stand there perplexed by the little guy's bulbous glowing eyes, annoyed by it's clicking sonar, a zookeeper steps into the exhibit. He picks up the creature and heads toward a doorway. Intrigued, you follow in the same general direction. Outside, you see the same zookeeper standing, smiling, basking in the sunlight and holding an animal - but something is different. It seems to be a creature of the same size and shape as the one you just saw the keeper pick up in the nocturnal exhibit, but this animal is beautiful. Its eyes are suited for the sunlight, you no longer hear clicking. This animal has a new nature; a new existence.
In 2 Corinthians 5:17, God says "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." Jesus is that zookeeper. If we love skeptics the way Jesus loves them (he spent most of his time on earth with white collar criminals, hookers, and beggars and told the religious leaders of that culture that he came to save and not condemn…) then they may very well come to a place where they desire to be carried out of the dark and into the sun. By the Son. Christ promises us a new nature to live by. We are all promised a mind set on the Spirit which brings life and peace (Romans 8 again) when we are transformed by light!
3. Live honestly and openly in loving community with other followers of Jesus. Invite skeptics consistently to participate in that community.
My skeptical heart of stone toward God was melted by God, and God alone. But I know the journey to my even being willing to possibly consider that God wanted me to know him and be known by him, began by seeing a group of people who love God truly love each other well.
It was in the midst of my searching for "actual truth," and something fulfilling that wouldn't fade the next day, that I was persistently invited to a thing called "Life Group." It took many repeated invitations before I finally decided to go. I knew it was a small group of sorts that was connected to a church - hence my initial flat out refusal to go. But eventually I decided to check it out. Today, I have no problem admitting that I walked into Life Group that first time rabidly hunting for flaws in the people there. I had grown up attending mid-week church based small groups. I "knew" what to expect; and I was going to walk in there and find every crack in everybody's facades, call out every piece of hypocrisy, and laugh at every half hearted attempt to talk about a God I claimed to no longer believe in. That night, my plan got shut down. Praise God!
The extraordinary thing about the people who were at Life Group that night is that they are individuals who are surrendered to Jesus. They have trusted him. They know him. He has radically changed their hearts, and their lives are marked by a desire to see him do the same in the lives of others.
Something was vastly different about the people in that room than any other group of people I'd sat with before in my life. They knew who I was walking in there. They had a pretty good idea the type of life I was living. They knew that I claimed to hate what they claimed to love. But they chose to love me regardless. Instead of dragging me in and telling me everything wrong I was doing, they welcomed me in and said "hey, come have some food; tell us about yourself." Instead of preaching on and on about the love of God to me (something I didn't want to hear a second of) they lived out that love toward one another and with me. The group talked about the Bible as if it affected their daily lives. They were authentic when sharing about their lives' struggles and joys. They were raw. They were real. And they simply said to me, "Come. Come join in what we've found."
So I kept coming back, if only to explore. It was months before I ever began to open up to the possibility that the life these people so clearly had could exist for me too. But their love for one another; for the God they talked about; for me, kept me coming back. It was in that Life Group that God began to truly capture my heart. There is no underestimating the power of authentic, loving community. Live in it, invite skeptics into it, and watch as God uses that community to transform their lives and yours.
Mine is a life that has been forever changed because people were faithful to love a skeptic. I went from knowing about God but not really knowing him, to flat out rejecting him, to now walking daily with him; knowing his love and believing his promises over my life. God's heart is that every person would come to know and love him intimately, and live life to the full as a result. He continually uses broken humans just like you to exhibit his extraordinary love to the people who are hurting, searching, and skeptical. Love them. Love them. Love them! And enjoy watching God work miracles in their hearts.
Blessings to you,