Now What, Christian?

The year was 1995. I was just about to begin preaching school, and when so much was going right for me as I went through every day, tinged with anticipation of the good things that awaited me in the ministry, I was troubled. I wasn't just troubled, I was stumped, disarmed by what someone, an atheist, had asked me. I was an outgoing personal evangelist for ten months before this as I hit the ground running at my conversion to save a sin-sick, dying world. I was used to facing tough questions while "witnessing" to unbelievers, but as a certain young, un-intimidating, blond-haired man sat before me (an atheist whom my preaching friends thought I had a better chance at converting), I was stopped dead in my tracks.

They were wrong. Not only did I fail to convert him, but he asked a question that totally disarmed me and made us all squirm. I had no answer for it, no sharp retort that would make me, my friends, and our faith look cool and sophisticated.

"Well, I honestly don't believe in the bible or Jesus. I've tried but I can't, so what is one to do if they can't believe?" I had no answer for him. I had never faced this question before. After unsuccessfully making an argument from Pascal's Wager, I think I remember saying something to him, like "just keep trying and God will providentially show you."

"So in the mean time, if I die without believing, am I going to burn?", he asked. After a long pause, and with an embarrassed look on my face, I said, "Yes, you will, but I will pray for you that God will grant you the time to repent."

I felt terrible saying this. The atheist was very soft spoken. He was an almost speechless kid, not particularly well versed in argument or atheology. He just couldn't believe. Our church youth group had been stringing this guy along for a while, asking him to pray and sing and come to youth functions with us. He did, but it was all to no avail. We never could convert him.

Before our conversation ended, I was compelled to say something rude. I tried one last time to guilt-trip him with a disturbing, unsettling comment that would prod him into submission to the fearsome almighty. Since the Bible made it clear to "seek and ye shall find," and "to him who knocks, it shall be opened" (Matthew 7:7), and since Jesus and his word could never be wrong, this could only mean that this young man who struck me as nothing but sincere and forthright in his desire to believe, didn't really want to believe. His heart was captured by satan, and I had to help him break free. I knew I was really honoring my God by saying this to finish off our conversation, "Too bad you're choosing to burn in Hell then! 'The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.'" He sharply acknowledged my slightly aggressive tone and said, "So because I can't believe, I deserve to burn?" I backed off him with something soft, like, "Just remember that in the time it takes you to come to belief, you are still lost and will burn in hell if you die in the mean time, but I will keeping pray for you." I thought I could get him to believe out of fear. But instead of getting a rise out of him, he just calmly glanced around, collecting his thoughts, and said again, "Well, if I can't believe, I can't believe now, can I? Why should I burn for following my brain?" As the discussion continued, his honesty continued to shine right through, making me yet more uncomfortable. He kept on inquiring what to do since he couldn't believe.

Out of options and desperate to make a convert, I said again what so many preachers say, "Just try and live the Christian lifestyle first and faith will develop later." He just grinned, shook his head, assuring me it wouldn't work, got into his car, and drove off. I never saw him again, and I don't even remember his name, but I think of him from time to time.

My preaching friends and I jested amongst ourselves how sad it will be to see that man's poor soul burning in Hell. One of my friends said to me, "I hope the Lord causes something bad to happen to him so he will turn to God." I shutter to think how I actually found such a statement appropriate at the time!

Leaving this discussion, I was angry at myself for not having the convincing words to convert him. I was also angry at the preachers I looked up to for not giving me the proper arguments to win over a hungering soul. I lost out to the devil. I felt defeated and weak.

Just less than ten years later, I found myself in exactly this man's shoes. In the summer of 2003, my wife, still a staunch believer, commended my soul to hell. When we began to argue over my decision to leave the ministry, I asked my wife, "What am I supposed to do? I can't believe in theism anymore. I've tried." Her words, "Then you'll just have to go to hell!" Amazing the role reversals life puts us through, wouldn't you say?

To this very day, there is no Christian who can deal with this question. They are painfully disarmed by it, and I can see why. It hurts to be out of options, to see a problem and know you can't fix it.

I want to take this time and ask our Christian readers, what do we hellbound infidels do now that your apologetics have failed, and your arguments and testimonies proven ineffective in converting us back to the fold? We've prayed and cried, and reflected on our inner-selves. We've read and studied and meditated and reflected some more on our sinful, depraved consciences, now what? What if we are never providentially led back into God-belief as most atheists aren't? What if we breathe our last breaths as unbelievers, painfully thinking to ourselves, "But I can't believe!" What should we expect when we wake up in the next world? Fire? Torture? Darkness? Tumultuous agony for eternity? When all your quips and quotes, your testimonies and trilemmas, your apologetics and promises, have failed to pierce our targeted hearts, then what?

Should we be thinking about how in hell we'll finally have the faith we wanted here on Earth and finally got the answers we sought, but now it's too late? Should we be thinking about how we had the freewill to believe, if only we'd used it, even though we couldn't use it because we couldn't believe? Should we be thinking about what we will say to God, the angels, and our fellow condemned souls as we are ushered off to the empire of the damned?

Now what, Christian? What are we to do? Where are your answers now? What witnessing tool will you whip out to finish this job? What assurances, what hope can you give us?

(JH)

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