I came across some Christian advice this morning which left me pleasantly surprised. A blogger had shared an October post from Jayson D. Bradley’s site. It was a response to the question: How can I convince my atheist friend? And I found no objection to it. I especially liked the following explanation:
Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s important to share your faith. But I think that the way that Paul explains ministry to the Corinthian church is the key. Remember in the third chapter of 1 Corinthians when Paul is correcting them for their schism? He reminds them that they’re all working toward the same end, and some are planting, some are watering, but God is the one causing the growth (vs. 6). Eventually someone else may come along and reap, or maybe not. We never know. We have to trust that God is at work. That way we’re free to love our friends and not see their conversion as our personal project.
Sometimes we plant a seed and think that gives us the right to pick the fruit. So we hover over the plant impatiently tapping our foot and over watering it. As soon as we see the slightest sign of growth, we jump on it and start trying to pick it prematurely. Sometimes it’s our zeal that’s undermining the work God’s doing.
Sure, I believe his answer is based on nonsense. I don’t believe in the Christian God. But let’s face it; we are surrounded by Christians who are only able to see us through a biblical filter, and this answer isn’t useless. Not only is it good advice for keeping me from walking away from a suffocating and condescending friendship, but I can think of a handful of people right now who have walked away from me because of what else the Bible teaches.
I wish they could read these words and reconsider, but I know better.
This is an example of what I believed in as a Christian. It’s beautiful from that perspective; which many would now call a “progressive” view. Christians aren’t any more like-minded than the rest of us, and the line drawn in the sand between “live and let live, but let your Jesus light shine” Christians and “we cannot make worldly compromises on the battlefield for Christ” Christians is becoming more permanent every day.
The latter, being forever distracted by their clear disdain for those who have not yet embraced their rigid “one standard for all” lifestyle, are a constant reminder that morality concepts are very conflicted among God’s faithful. The Bible seems to offer something for both crowds, which is an unmistakably human characteristic.
Guess which type of Christian is more interested in saving the lost, and which is more interested in wiping out God’s enemies? We all have our priorities. The fact that Jesus and God seem to be at similar odds with each other makes the Trinity concept more poetic to me – and the Holy Spirit that much more complicated. But I know one thing for sure; I have a preference for the Christian who isn’t attempting to wipe my kind from the planet.
Not all Christians are watering flowers. Some are planting seeds and then stomping out anything that takes too long to grow, or looks different from the others. I wasted too much time as a Christian trying to explain how they were hurting our overall goal. Now I know our goals were never the same. If I still believed, I would probably reconcile this by telling myself both personalities have an important purpose in God’s plan.
One of the first benefits of lost faith is the realization that no one needs to be saved (or defeated), but the instinct to connect in those familiar ways has never left me. Ideally (for “live and let live” types on either side of the spiritual fence), when atheists and theists choose to have a faith conversation, both would allow the possibility of each other’s truth to remain on the table at all times. We obviously communicate better when we are speaking the same language, but theology can leave one or both sides unable to do that.
For some reason, we talk anyway.
For example: Even while Christians are vocally painting us a picture of the “clearly-flawed” atheistic view of the world, God usually finds his way onto the page — right in plain sight. So we end up debating the accuracy of an imagined painting rather than the existence of an actual deity. I’m sure Christians can offer similar complaints about atheists. And sometimes, in spite of our best intentions, we simply get stuck there. Or we move beyond it only to discover no common ground when it comes to God.
At some point we must shrug our shoulders and accept that a point of view such as Jayson’s is as good as it gets — or that plucking that flower might not be our job. It promotes the only environment where minds could be changed, or where it’s okay to change no minds at all. And most of the time, that is the space in which we all must exist.
Perhaps it is a compromise, as so many conservative Christians are quick to point out. I have no doubt a great number of atheists would also shake their heads in disapproval at any suggestion of shrugging our shoulders. But it is not a compromise of faith or values, but rather a desire to connect with people in a way that overcomes our most passionate differences. And I will never fault someone for holding onto that desire.