Converstations with an 18 year old Agnostic
A few weeks ago, I was chatting online with a young man in England. Our topic was a specific piece of software. However, God had other plans. As I shared that I was building a new website for my church, the young man began to ask questions . . . very tough questions. But these questions reveal, I believe, what is going through the minds of many students and young adults all over the world.
We spoke on a number of occasions. There was no debating. No arguing. Only two people openly discussing God, the world, and ourselves. Below is a compilation from our chats (I changed his name of course). I share these with you to illustrate that sometimes even the toughest of questions can be directly answered with the simple truth of God’s love and faithfulness.
Richard: so, your quite religious?
Me: Not religious.
Just a Christian. Big difference.
Richard: same difference?
Me: My “religion” isn’t what makes me a Christian.
Going to church, being this, being that.
Those things are important. But I don’t worship them.
In this part of the country, it’s common to see people blur that distinction.
My relationship with Jesus makes me who I am. That’s it. So, semantics aside . . .
Richard: lol sorry, i was just curious
Me: You bet. Anytime. You?
Richard: I’m baptized, but agnostic
Me: odd combination?
I was christened as a baby
Me: I see. Catholic?
Richard: but, I see a lot of confliction in the bible
and there is a lot of bad for all the good in the world.
9 out of 10 wars are sparked due to differences in religion.
look at Iraq, Northern Ireland etc.
Catholics vs. Protestants, Shia vs. Sunni, Christians vs. Muslims
Me: It’s been going on since Genesis, hasn’t it?
Richard: that doesn’t make it right.
I can see that faith gives people great strength and I think that life on earth must have a greater meaning and purpose than our daily existence because if you think about it no-one on earth knows why we are here, what we are doing; our purpose.
no-one knows what is outside the universe. you only have those that believe in something better or worse and those who reject or dont know believers, atheists and agnostic in between
Me: Can I ask how old you are?
Me: These are great insights. I questioned the same things when I was eighteen.
I’m 33 now. Still thinking about those.
Here’s the difference. I think you’re right that clearly there’s more to it. Something greater than ourselves. Something else . . .
But I feel that humanity is a little arrogant. We tend to assume that we are capable of finding purpose in everything.
Why this? Why that?
War, even in the name of religion. What’s up with that?
But in the end, it’s my own soul, my own self that I can truly do something about. So many of these things we discuss are products of either a lack of God or a misrepresentation of God.
Would you agree with that?
Richard: i think that its very easy to shift the blame.
Its easy to say that God has left the middle east to rot, but I also think that people are made vulnerable by religious belief as much as it strengthens
Me: Perhaps it’s our vulnerability that allows us to do our greatest work in the world? Weakness might not be a bad thing. It is after all strength that leads to power that leads to abuse of power.
Richard: look at religious extremists
Me: Do you feel that they speak for religion as a whole?
Me: They do. [of course I mean they think they do]
Richard: of course not
Me: That’s what is sad.
Richard: extremists? they misrepresent it
As do many of us on a daily basis.
Richard: and this is made worse by the media
Me: Amen to that. Then point is, so many people make decisions about their belief in God, or God’s involvement in their life based on people around them.
Richard: to backtrack slightly, would you not agree that extremists exploit the weaknesses in religious believers to build armies?
Me: People who may or may not be a true representation of who God is. That is a common tactic among all civilizations. I would agree with that.
But does that mean that we should not worship God? Or that we should learn more about Him (who warns us that there are many who would lead us astray) Those people are”religious” . . . they are easily led astray. Furthermore, their problems are more geo-political
Richard: but how can you learn more about God? you cant profess to know his way
Me: I can seek it. Sure.
Richard: for all we know the bible could be the most successful hoax for 2007 years
Me: Ah. Now we come to the heart of the matter. Again, something I’ve wrestled with a lot.
I’ve just gone through a quick introduction study to Islam and the Koran. The main problem of any religion is the validity of its written word. The muslim book of faith is riddled with problems. (historically)
However, one might say the same about the Bible. Who knows what things went on in the Cannonization process, political or otherwise?
But here’s the cool part. Faith. The Bible says it’s the evidence of things not seen. I can’t prove the Bible’s validity. I’m not smart enough. But I can prove what God has done in my life. I was there.
Richard: what has he done?
Me: He has watched over me and cared for me. He has given me a wonderful family, a loving home.
He has taken me through trials, through loss, abuse. I don’t have one of those Oprah stories for you. Mine’s not glamorous. But it’s real. And it’s built on a life of serving someone greater than me. Even when I didn’t deserve it. So, I don’t base my faith, my belief in what I see. I base it on what I believe.
We pretend to KNOW a lot of things. Yet, my RSS reader tells me often how we NOW KNOW something to be different than we once KNEW it. So, how much do we REALLY know about anything.
Not that we shouldn’t learn. I love science, and discovery. I love learning about the miracles all around us. I hope you keep asking the questions we’re talking about. Because I truly believe that one day, when you find what you believe to be a solid answer that answer will be in God, not in religious people . . . good or bad.
They (me included) will ALWAYS let you down.
No blame shifting.
Just reality. But God, He’s better than that.
Oh, and one more thing. The Bible (which I believe to be perfect in spite of man’s involvement in it) says this about knowing what God wants.
Don’t conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may PROVE the perfect will of God. That which is perfect, and honorable, and pure.
In other words, when I am able to see all the crap of this world through God’s eyes, then I’ll begin to understand my place here on Earth.
Know what’s funny? So much is made about our place, our souls. But when you look at all the stories in the Bible, you rarely see God working on a time frame less than a few centuries. It was a knock to my ego, but I finally realized that while the things I do on this Earth are crucial to God’s plan, I may honestly never live to see the value of what I’ve done. (Which I guess is why He’s so big on obedience and faith).
OK, I’ll hush now. Don’t mean to preach.
Richard: so hang on
1. you know gods game plan
2. What have you done that you may not see the value of?
Me: Good Q’s.
3. You think that god may be having a nap right now in between saving the world?
1. I daily seek God’s plan, and He promised that I can find it. But it is a process.
A lifelong process.
2. Having this conversation, perhaps.
3. God’s plan is much bigger than you or I. He already “saved” the world. We just keep screwing it up.
That’s the easiest and yet hardest thing to understand about God. Free will. He could force us to love Him. To obey Him. But we were created with free will. Which means we have the choice not to obey, not to seek, or even not to believe. And so . . . we need saving.
But that doesn’t mean an end to struggle. Honestly, the Bible tells us it will only get worse. Eutopia is not to be found here. If we choose to follow Him, He uses us to advance His perfect will.
If we choose otherwise, well then we (and the world around us) must deal with the consequences or our actions.
But make no mistake. God doesn’t sleep.
If He did, I doubt you or I would be having this converstation. After all, just because we can’t see His hand working in our lives doesn’t mean it isn’t.
Richard: well, you were talking about the arrogance of humanity earlier. lets twist this. by answering my questions, you profess to know the answers. you seem to know your purpose. but — surely you are just relaying what others have told you or what you have read / picked up . . . and if not — then you’ve made it up
Richard: talk about a pincer manouver. let me develop this
Me: I’m listening.
Richard: you believe that when you die (as a catholic christian) that you will go to heaven or hell, is that right? or is it purgatory then heaven? one goes one way
Me: I’m not Catholic. But otherwise, yes. Heaven or Hell.
Richard: so, if you’ve been a naughty boy you get red hot pokers and tea with saddam or if you’ve been good you get to play the harp on cloud 9
Me: Nope. But thanks for playing. Let me clarify. It’s not about naughty or nice. Good or bad. We’re all bad. All naughty. Bible says . . . there is not one righteous, no not one. So what makes the difference? Jesus.
Me: Exactly. Now, repentance means turning “from” right?
Richard: I know the story
Me: Sure.Good. But, what happens when we’ve turned “from” so many times our head is spinning?
I mean, let’s get real. I’m not perfect, and haven’t been for a long time.
But everyday, I get up and try to simply obey what I know about what God wants. (As He tells me in his Word, right?) It’s the grace and mercy of Jesus that puts me playing that harp on that cloud, or whatever. Not my success in being good.
As I stated earlier, people will always let you down. It’s the Jesus inside of them that you can count on. Does that help answer that question?
Richard: no. because if every person has jesus inside them, or at least every believer, then why will they let you down?
Me: Good question. We’re still human. Jesus doesn’t take over like night of the living dead. When we give our lives to Him, we commit what we do to His glory. But we still have free will. If we could be perfect, we wouldn’t need Him in the first place.
Richard: ok — so do you think that if everyone converted to christianity then the world would be a perfect place? global warming would stop, cancer would disappear? AIDS would fade out?
Me: Nah. We missed that boat in the Old Testament. God created a perfect world. Then we disobeyed and messed it all up.
what do you think of this? http://www.bash.org/?301963 [reader: we discuss this later if you want to take a look]
Hang on and I’ll check out that link. But first, let me finish my thought before it drifts away.
There are things, problems, that we created for ourselves, environmental, medical, whatever. These things are consequences of our own actions.
I know some who have “converted” to Christianity who might not be doing their part to make the world a better place. Again, my faith isn’t in people.
I know we could argue theory all day long, but God isn’t working with theory. I think honestly that if everyone on the planet walked with God the way He intended, the world would obviously be a different place. At this point, I’m not sure even Al Gore can stop global warming.
Now, let me look at that link (and by the way, I never said I knew the answers. I’m sharing what I believe to be true. Everyone believes something. And sure I’m telling you what I’ve learned from others. How else would I know it than by study and instruction?) Remind me to tell you about a comment on my blog not too long ago.
[after returning from reading link]
Wildly entertaining read. Very good. Again, the arrogance of religion to say that everyone BUT them is going to Hell.
But, then who goes? Endothermic vs. Ectothermic battle aside, Hell is real.
As is Heaven.
Although I doubt anyone is drinking tea or playing harps at either location. As good as that quote is, it amplifies a sad truth.
The Bible does clearly say, Got Jesus? Going to Heaven.
The problem is sin. I just screws up everything. Things like pride and fear get mixed in, and suddenly you’ve got a bunch of Christians who are supposed to be sharing God’s love dishing out nothing but hatred.
That’s not good. For any religion.
I can’t deny that those without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ will sadly spend eternity in Hell. I also can’t deny that I, because of my relationship with Jesus Christ, will not.
You still with me?
right, but again, how can you know all of this? how can you know that hell exists? same goes for heaven? there is no conclusive evidence. you can only believe that they are there.
Me: How can you know that chair you’re sitting in won’t fall over in the next 60 seconds?
Me: You may understand that. But most don’t
Richard: I put the chair together, I know that its firmly bolted together
Me: What if you didn’t make the chair?
Richard: gravity from the earths core is holding it to the ground
Me: What if you had no concept of the physics and gravitation force? What if you’re like the several billion people on the planet who simply believe that the chair will keep them off the floor?
Richard: but the point is, that there is conclusive evidence that supports the laws of physics, extensive theories that have been commonly accepted
Me: So, do you believe in anything you can’t prove?
Richard: wheras . . . hang on . . . thats a twisted and loaded question . . .give me a second to think about it
Me: true, but a good one.
Richard: simply because you cant prove something does not mean that its not there but you shouldnt use that fact as justification to say that something exists
Me: Have you ever seen Saturn? With your own eyes?
Me: So, you believe it based on what someone else told you? Maybe pictures?
Richard: no. out of context, I have no idea that its there. without contextual knowledge, there is no proof that its there
Me: So, it’s not there?
Richard: you’ve laid a good trap
Me: No trap.
Richard: saturn is there, but I personally havent seen it
Me: Just asking a question. You’ve asked me to prove the existence of Heaven.
Me: I haven’t seen.
Richard: someone else has done the legwork of discovering it
Me: I’ve read about it.
Richard: but you cant compare saturn to heaven
Me: Why not?
Richard: because millions of people have seen saturn
Me: No, sir.
Richard: through telescopes etc.
Me: They have seen what they believe to be Saturn, what they have called Saturn. They used to call Pluto a planet.
They used to think the world was flat.
What will they “see” a hundred years from now.
All we truly ever have is what we believe. The confidence in those around us to tell us truthful information. The willingness to believe there could be something more. They are all beliefs.
I believe in Heaven because I believe in the Bible. I believe in the Bible because it’s the word of God.
I believe in God because I believe in God.
I have found Him to be faithful. I have found Him to be true. I have tested His Word. And while He is not a Circus Act that I can call on to make magic, He is most willing to move mountains for me. Even if I can’t see them, still I believe.
Know what else? It’s my weakness that makes Him strong. How weird is that?
The second I stop trying to do everything on my own and start relying on Him to direct the course of my life, my reliance on Him, my acknowledgment of His power, not mine, that’s what stirs action in my life.
It’s not something you’re going to find with Google, Richard.
Richard: lol i know. ok, but what happens if you die and nothing happens? can you remember what happened before you were born?
Me: I’m kind of glad I don’t. Seems like that would have been dark and messy. But I get your point.
lol. I dont mean in the womb
Me: I know.
Richard: I mean before you were conceived
Me: Dude, I’m just a man.
Richard: Before you arrived _here_ I know — but, if you cant remember anything before
Me: I’m only responsible for what I do from the birth canal to the grave.
Richard: how can you be so sure that there is going to be an after? this is what plagues me
Me: I see that.
Richard: in the beginning there was nothing and in the end … there will be nothing?
Me: Let me think of something profound . . .stand by, this may take a minute.
Me: I’ve abandoned the profound . . I’m now searching Google. (jk)
My wife and I just had a baby boy. He looks just like me.
This leads my mother to tell me story after story about what I did at that age. I used to do this, I used to do that. I don’t remember ANY of it. But it happened.
Was I supposed to remember it? Couldn’t. Didn’t have the brain capacity, the processing power, the retention abilities yet. It was bigger than me. But it happened.And it was great. And without it, I would have been deprived.
I can’t remember pre-birth. Dude, I don’t even know how that works in Heaven. I’m not told.
But I’m told about Heaven AFTER life. I haven’t seen it. But, for all the knowledge, all the study, all the time spent in those message boards searching for how to get rollovers to work in Safari . . . we are nothing without our believe in something.
Can’t prove that. But life will teach you that. As it is teaching me.
These are (as I mentioned) ongoing conversations. They happen in the midst of other topics like computers, family, divorce, the military. To my knowledge, this young man remains undecided on God. However, I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to answer some of his questions, and I pray for more.