Sunday, January 20, 2013

What if I am Wrong?

I sat with my old friend sipping coffee on an afternoon, he an avowed lifelong atheist, I a Christian for nearly 50 years.

"Why do you believe in God?" my friend asked.

I rose from my easy chair to stand at the glass slider that opened to my friend's patio. A stack of wood stood in the back corner of his yard, the benefits of which we were enjoying that chilly winter afternoon. Beyond the wood, Grays Harbor lay quietly at high tide. In the distance ringing the bay, wooded mountains, mountains we both loved, and in the far distance, Mt. Rainier rose barely visible against a slatey sky.

"All this?" I nodded toward the mountains. "From nothing? By itself?"

He was quiet. Then after a bit my friend continued, "You are a Christian. Why do you believe your god is God?"

I picked up a volume of history my friend had been reading when I arrived. "Do you believe that every event in history had a cause?" I knew he did.

He agreed.

"In 1958 I was a young teen. A preacher had come to my school to speak about Jesus. He spoke of the forgiveness we could experience if we would but receive it, God's forgiveness available because of Jesus' death for me upon a cross and confirmed by Jesus' rising from the dead."

"Yes. I know the story," he said, maybe a little impatiently.

His wife refreshed our coffee as I continued. "I believed what that man said and became a follower of Jesus, and. to be honest, my life was changed. At some time in that man's past, someone had likewise spoken to him, and he had become a believer."

"That chain of events and causes, one person telling the story and another believing, stretches back to the first telling sometime in the early first century."

"But why would anyone tell the story for the first time? There was no benefit to him for the telling. Almost to a man, those who first told the message, and many who followed, died for the telling. Why?

"The only adequate answer is that they truly believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. And who would have known most surely than these men, the first apostles? They saw him crucified. They saw him buried. They saw him alive a few days later. That was their testimony, and they held to it, everyone of them."

"If Jesus actually did rise from the dead, it is the most incredible event in history."

I raised the book of history as emphasis, "It is the pivotal moment in history. It confirmed all Jesus had said about himself, about God's love for us, about the possibility of return to friendship with God, about eternal life. Is the God I believe in God? Yes, I think so.

"But what if you are wrong?" my friend asked.

I had never considered that before. I paused, then continued. "I have enjoyed my life. I have a wonderful wife who has been a companion and my love for over forty years. I have two children and their families of whom I am immensely proud."

"Over my life, though I have done some things of which I am not proud, I have not defrauded anyone I know of. I have fed the hungry here in Aberdeen and Ocean Shores, built homes for the homeless in Mexico, helped provide water wells for villagers in northern Africa, and given aid to those who are rescuing trafficked children in India. I have tried to live simply and yet have had enough to give of my things to those in need."

"I have stood by the bedside of friends in their last hour. I have cared for my family, giving up my own ambitions for their sake."

"When I come to the end of my life, if I am wrong, I will go to my rest satisfied that I have lived well and have left the world in some small way a better place."

My friend was silent.

I let him think, then continued, "You have asked interesting questions, but you have not asked the most serious question."

"And what is that?" he asked.

"What if I am right?" I replied.

This conversation took place almost seven years ago now. My friend is now dead. I pray that he gave careful thought to what we spoke of that day.