As we stood outside waiting, Ian and other students in his Pharmacy class filed out of the room we hoped to use. For nearly a month my organization had partnered with a Campus Outreach team from the US, daily taking with us eleven students and four CO staff to Kenyatta University to share about God’s heart for the nations.
On this evening we would be hosting a longer than usual missions study in one of the rooms for a couple KU students, and Ian’s class was available. A bunch of mzungus noticeably stood outside their door, prompting one of Ian’s classmates to ask what we were there for. “We are here to share with students about God’s heart for the lost, would you be ……” I responded, suddenly cut short by a livid stranger I had been oblivious to.
“Arrggghhh, you’re here to talk about God? If it’s anything to do with God I better get out of here fast. I hate people who talk about God,” he interrupted rather rudely. That caught me by a bit of a surprise. It’s not that I had never come across people who didn’t like God or people who talk about Him. What was peculiar about Ian was the spitefulness evident in his unsolicited opinion.
“Hey, I’m Joseph. What’s your name?”
“Ian,” he told me.
“So why do you hate God?” I asked, careful not to come off as a bit too intrusive.
“I don’t hate God,” he told me. “It’s the idea that there is a God that I hate. I don’t think he exists. If He did, and if He was good as you people claim, why would one person be born a cripple and another David Beckham?”
That was a smart question, perfectly fitting for a World Cup season. The ‘I’ve got you’ look on his face suggested it was perhaps his best line; an all too familiar line of argument I’ve heard used by plenty of people who are opposed to God’s existence. I shared with him a bit of what I thought in a minute or so and we parted ways, agreeing to get together some other time.
There was no score in my column in terms of winning the argument, but Ian’s soul remains one I pray for and pursue and hopefully by the grace of God will someday celebrate accepting the salvation God alone offers.
I was reminded of him this morning as I read my Bible and came across an argument so much like his. As the hour neared when Jesus would breathe His last on the cross, men mocked Him. Soldiers hailed Him as a king deserving only a crown of thorns. They hit Him and asked Him to prophesy who among them did. They tore His clothes and cast lots on the pieces. For His thirst they offered wine mixed with myrrh.
Others reminded Him how He promised to destroy the temple and build it in three days and yet He couldn’t save Himself. Last of all the chief priests and the scribes, the masterful architects of His suffering who would stop at nothing to see Him as humiliated wondered why He’d save others and yet couldn’t save Himself.
Dangling their allegiance before His blood soaked eyes they said “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” – Mark 16:32. Oh, were they suddenly willing to believe in the helpless man on the cross? If He did just this one little request we know He could if He wanted to, would they find it the greatest miracle worthy of their faith, and would they believe Him?
We will never know; because the Lord chose not to. Never once had His plan been to save man basing on man’s terms. Not even the height of His sufferings could change that. Maybe if He came down from the cross the Pharisees would have believed. But wouldn’t that have been too small a group to save?
The Pharisees did not realize that beyond overcoming their unbelief, Christ was after overcoming sin. They were never the enemy, though they gladly assumed the role. Satan and sin were. In the Son of God’s terms, salvation for man would be obtained by His death and nothing less. Suffering bodily pain was not enough.
Faithful to His terms, “He uttered a loud cry and breathed His last” – Mark 15:38. That last breath, three days later at the resurrection would mark the first breath of true life for as many as would believe in Him. Isn’t it beautiful that He passed up a chance to prove a point to unbelieving Pharisees so He could save all humanity?
Because the goal has always been greater and God’s ways and thoughts higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9), He remains faithful to His terms. He wouldn’t come down from the cross even if that promised the allegiance of His fiercest human rivals. He will not suddenly end all the suffering in the world just so that many who question why a good God can allow so much evil will suddenly acknowledge that He does indeed exist.
If He did, He’ll only reap followers whose minds have been impressed without their hearts being convicted. He will be flocked by a following who do not love Him. So He does not give any signs to the wicked and perverse who demand for them, except for the sign that His Son died on the cross and three days later He resurrected; the sign of Jonah – Matthew 16:4.
The Gospel message is the only sign God gives to anyone who doesn’t believe because it is the only sign that saves! However wonderful an explanation I may have for Ian’s question, the only thing that will save him is the Gospel; both proclaimed and lived out before him.
That is a humbling truth, especially for a mind like mine which can easily be pulled into the loftiness of laying down great arguments. Whenever speaking in defense of the Bible and God’s existence, it is easy to lose the focus that is the Gospel. The Gospel (Jesus’ death and resurrection giving us victory over sin) is perhaps the simplest of messages, and often times it feels insufficient for the tough questions men raise in objection.
Oh what fools we would be if we put it aside just one bit and opted to go with whatever wonderful arguments we may come up with. We would be fools because nothing but the Gospel message possesses the power to save; simple as it may be that even a five year old could tell it.
Circumstantial Gospel presentation (the kind shared only when other things haven’t worked or when circumstances are ‘right’) will never save; just like conditional faith will never believe however many signs it is offered.
The Believing Heart
It is the unconditional faith that believes unto salvation. Such faith says to the Lord with the father of this child who had been possessed by a spirit all his life that “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief” – Mark 9:24. It acknowledges our unbelief, and God’s power to overcome even that.
It does not ask for a sign before it can obey like we often do. It obeys because the sign that is greater than all others, God’s Word, says we should. It doesn’t say to need “Wait, I’ll go pray about it” only to never pray or pray and never act. It simply loves the neighbor as oneself (Mark 12:31) and does good to all, especially those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10), with or without a voice from heaven telling it to do so.
A believing heart doesn’t alter the terms of faith whatever the circumstance. When things get murky and tough, it simply says “Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” – Mark 14:36.
The atheist’s unbelief denies him salvation because he insists that God only saves him on his terms. Might you, though a believer, be plagued with the same unbelief when you insist to serve God only on your terms? “First let me go burry my father”, or “First let me marry”, or even “First bless me with a job that pays more before I can give.”
Just like He’ll never save the atheist on his terms, He’ll never use you on yours. And if He never uses you, how sure are you you are really His? Whatever the condition of unbelief in your heart, you can pray “Lord, help me overcome my unbelief.” He is more than willing to.