I have a few atheist friends. Some are openly atheist. Some are still in the closet.
I consider myself an evangelical Christian. And I hate calling myself that because it turns off my atheist, agnostic, and un-churched friends. They hear the term and immediately think of judgmental, close-minded, un-loving people. But the truth is I believe the good news that Jesus preached about is so good that I want to tell other people about it.
Yet when it comes to my atheist friends, I remain silent.
I do this for three reasons:
1) I’m jealous. Even though my faith is very strong, I’m human. And at times I have doubt. The thought of just walking away and saying there’s nothing, would relieve my doubt. I would stop asking why bad things happen to good people and wondering why circumcision was the sign of the Old Testament covenant. I would begin to question my encounters with God as psychological quirks or hormonal imbalances. It’s refreshing to think that there is just the known and the unknown; because the Unknown is too boundless for me to fully comprehend.
Yet as tempting as the thought is, I don’t think atheism would remove my doubt. It would just flip my doubt on its head. I would start to wonder why good things happen to bad people and asking why do so many people buy into the idea of God. I would go beyond making excuses for my spiritual encounters and start to ask if there was something more.
2) Fear of losing their friendship. When I was in Kindergarten, my teacher forced me to eat broccoli. Overcooked, mushy broccoli. The only way I could choke it down was to wash it down quickly with milk (another food item I wasn’t fond of). I gagged. I did it, but that was the last time I ate broccoli for 12 years. It wasn’t until I was 18 and realized that my taste in certain foods had changed. Not to mention that overcooked broccoli tastes dramatically different from raw broccoli dipped in dressing. I tried the once disgusting vegetable again and realized my mistake. I wasn’t open to trying new things as a 6 year old.
Unfortunately my poor Kindergarten teacher never got a second chance. She was never able to make warm fuzzy memories with me due to the broccoli incident. She didn’t ask me to try. She didn’t convince me that broccoli could be good or good for me. She forced me. And I never forgot.
Although I would never force my beliefs on anyone, I don’t want to be like this teacher. I don’t want to push too hard with my beliefs and end up losing a friend. Perhaps my faith is not strong enough. Perhaps I should be willing to make the sacrifice in order to share God’s love. Perhaps it should be a risk I’m willing to take.
But I can’t. I can let someone know how much I like broccoli. I can serve it at a party. I can ask if they wan’t some broccoli. But I can’t be a broccoli pusher. I’m not sure that a friendship can recover from pushing broccoli.
3) I don’t think my words will convince them. There are some people that want to hear me ramble theologically. My atheist friends aren’t in this category. In fact, they are sick of hearing Americans ramble theologically to people that don’t want to listen.
There are times though, when my atheist or agnostic friends do have deep spiritual questions and because of the relationships that I have built with each of them, they know that I will answer them honestly. This is quite different from theological rambling. This is saying something that God wants me to say. To answer a question with conviction. To know that because I have shown God’s love, then I must know God’s love, and can talk about God’s love.
So although I want the world to hear about God’s love Until Everyone Hears, there is a method to the hearing. As much as he-who-shall-not-be-named-in-sermons says that I ramble, I don’t. Trust me, if I were to ramble about God, I’d have a lot more to say.
Now you know why I don’t debate my atheist friends. I still love them. I’m still confused by them. I’m still jealous of them. But when it’s time for them to listen, I want them to hear what I say.
Until Everyone Hears,