One of the most emotional church services I’ve ever been to was at a church in Swansea of a much more Pentecostal flavour than I’m used to. I had to keep my sunglasses on because tears were streaming down my face, as the preacher implored us to give everyone who doesn’t know God back to God, and assured us over and over again of God’s total and utter, unchanging, unending love for them.
Praying for my friends and family who aren’t Christians moves me to tears almost every time I do it. When I was first exploring the idea of God, one of my biggest reservations was leaving them behind. I remember being told not to worry about it, that they would see the difference God had made in my life and be attracted to following Christ themselves.
It hasn’t happened. As the years go on and they don’t find faith, I get frustrated with myself – am I not doing enough? I get frustrated with God – why aren’t you showing yourself? And I get frustrated with them as well – why aren’t you listening? Can’t you see that your life would be better with God? Why aren’t you interested?
I get told, and tell people, that they are in God’s hands, we have to trust him, there’s nothing I can do et cetera. I know it’s true, but the danger is that we then abdicate any responsibility we have for evangelism and effective engagement. There are people we all know and love who don’t know God. But sometimes we forget to ask them why that is.
It’s against that backdrop that we’re launching ‘Why I am not a Christian’, (p23) a sort of antitestimony page, which will alternate with ‘Why I am a Christian’, launched last month.
We need both sides of the story. For every dramatic conversion, there are those who die without knowing God. God has transformed some of our lives, but not all.
Certainly, this has consequences for this life, and, depending on where you stand on the whole Universalism issue (see Greg Downes’ take on this on p26), consequences for the next life as well.
So, over the coming months we will run interviews with passionate atheists, angry ex-Christians and thoughtful agnostics. I hope that thinking about questions and objections to Christianity will help you respond to people better, and ultimately, encourage them to pursue the life of faith.
But that comes later down the line. Our first jobs are to listen and to love, unconditionally, whatever people believe. For me, editing this column is going to be an exercise in learning to listen better, and I’m praying there will be fruit from it for us all.