“I will put my law in their mind and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” -Jerimiah 31:33-34
I would like to challenge each of us listening to and seeking God’s truth this Advent season to pursue an essential question of our Christian witness. How is it that we are to engage in conversation with those who have lost their faith?
Maybe this Advent is your invitation to enter a season where you are specifically engaging your neighbor in these conversations. Or perhaps this is your invitation to be open to and watch for these conversations happening in your life. Advent is, after all, a season of watching and wondering at the presence of God which can show up in mysterious, unforeseen, and vulnerable ways. Advent is a season of stars, symbols and other mysteries that bring us joy.
To this question I would like to be so bold as to suggest that just about everyone you talk with already ‘knows’ God. In Jeremiah Chapter 31, the prophet wakes up from an unusually comforting portion of his usually dismal vision of Jerusalem’s destruction. Jeremiah wakes up to hear clearly one of the most often quoted prophecies of Jesus’ birth and ministry. There will come a time when God will make a new covenant with His people. This covenant will not be based on our ability to follow the rules, but instead those rules will be written on our hearts. “No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” (Jeremiah 31:34)
How do we engage in conversations about God with someone who has lost their faith. I think the first point is to not assume that they do not know God. Whether they have lost their habit of attending worship, disengaged from a heart of serving their fellow man or are outright skeptical of the biblical promises our loved ones still know, they are having conversations with God that they may not even be aware of. Even the faithful go through periods of doubt. And in those times, I do not think any of us wants to hear what needs fixing or where our view of reality got lost along the way. What will set us back in a right relationship with God just maybe an exploration of one of the mysteries of God that reality, science, knowledge and facts just can’t explain.
Unfortunately, our approach to such conversations tend to be an attempt to get someone to believe a certain truth or agree with our point of view out of a genuine desire that someone go back to church or put their trust back in God. We might ask, “when the last time was you talked to God,” when in reality it is the restless conversations with God that they have been trying to ignore. They already know God and have been talking with Him, but have been exhausted in the attempt to understand Him or control His influence over their lives.
I would like to suggest another approach. Whether it is a family member you wish was more engaged in their faith or an acquaintance outright debunking the Bible as a human construction, I think the conversation looks the same. Our conversations about God are most effective when they engage the wonder of God’s creation. People don’t want to be told what to believe and how to believe it, but they do want to explore the mysteries of human life in a deep and meaningful way with someone willing to ask the questions.
For example, isn’t it amazing that in a world full of disappointments and division, the constant mistakes and our outright selfishness, human beings still choose forgiveness? Why is that? Where did we learn that? Who taught you to forgive? What is forgiveness and what would life be like without it?
Forgiveness and how it works and why it works is ultimately a mystery. No one can really explain it, and yet it works. It is one of those deep fundamental truths that can not be explained. Truth is often found where the facts have failed to explain reality.
Trust me, a conversation that invites another person to wonder at the presence of God and what He is doing in our lives will be more fruitful and fulfilling than fixing someone with God’s rules for living life.
I would like to challenge each of us to pursue an essential question of our Christian witness this Advent season. I feel God is calling us to take a fresh look at how we talk about God with others. I also think God is preparing us to be more intentional at engaging the ambivalent church and the secular humanists in our lives.
Each week this Advent we are going to pursue different mysteries to ponder with those who have lost their faith:
Wonder of Hope for the Faithful
Wonder of Peace for the Ambivalent
Wonder of Love for the Lost
Wonder of Joy for the Secular
Please join us for this conversation of wonder.