Here is what I’ve learned experientially from both sides of the faith spectrum.
The Way of Jesus – Asking Questions
The image of the invisible God, Jesus, understood that such intellects are natural and how easy it is for the human heart to harden. Real pain, hypocritical examples, and evil people disguised as religious leaders were contended by Jesus – exactly as they are currently and similarly impacting both the wise and the foolish.
Jesus understood that dismantling the intellectual barrier requires spiritual perception and understanding. Truthfully, there is a difference between possessing knowledge and understanding truth. Some facts may be true but truth isn’t encompassed by facts. Truth is revealed by the Spirit of Truth, it isn’t (or can’t be) logically deduced or materially observed – therefore, the pursuit of science is utterly useless. The mind of a person comprehends facts and reason, the soul of a person knows Truth.
If a factual debate with an atheist is attempted, they will likely manipulate the data and pertinent logical arguments to go on the “offensive”. I did. The atheist will use their deeper capacity for understanding and higher intelligence to weave their argument into a false dichotomy (the fallacy of false choice – choosing between two false alternatives) for which there is no appropriate answer. As a result, the Christian is left confused, irritated and humiliated.
Always remember, if a debate has a victor then there undoubtedly is a loser. You’re not in need of a win and you have nothing to gain.
Instead, follow Jesus – exhibit humility, grace, and compassion. He asked people questions; simple yet thought provoking questions. Questions which required self contemplation and self criticism. Questions which result in one’s internal evaluation of personal desires and universal values.
Do you remember when Jesus asked “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”, “Who do you say I am?”, “Why do you ask me about what is good?”, “John’s baptism, was it from heaven or from men?”, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”, “What do you want from me?”, “Whom do you seek?”, “If you love those who love you, what reward do you recieve?”, “What can a man get in exchange for his soul?”, “Does this offend you?”, “What is truth?”, and many more.
It should be evident that Jesus, having the mind of the infinite God, did not require an answer to his question – the question was for the other person’s benefit.
Only the recognition of spiritual poverty can soften the heart of the atheist. No amount of fact or no logical argument will ever prove to them that a spiritual reality even exists.
My spiritual awakening and first encounter with God was indescribable, incomprehensible, inescapable and incredible – producing simultaneous joy and sorrow resulting in uncontrollable crying. Ironically, I thoroughly knew why that very experience was impossible. God’s sense of humor, I suppose.
The Way of Jesus – Utilizing Parables
I remember in high school furiously complaining to a friend, who happened to be a believer, about the unjust circumstances regarding pay at my first part-time job. I argued what I thought was obvious and should be easily recognizable by my supervisors and she told me about the Parable of the Vineyard Workers. Intelligently, she did not tell me the parable was from the bible because from where it came was irrelevant – she knew the truth would resonate in my soul. If she had even attempted to quote scripture to me, I would have aggressively postulated how foolish she is to believe in fairy tales without proof. Instead, I instantly recognized that I had no basis for complaint and put the matter to rest… it wasn’t until many years later that I discovered the Parable was in the bible and I thanked God for my friend’s wisdom.
The Benefit of Parables
- A parable will appeal to any level of intellectual capacity and spiritual receptivity.
- The parable stimulates the imagination and provokes critical thinking while allowing for objective sympathy without the subconscious impulse to be defensive.
- The parable uses things which are observable – material – as a tool to introduce the spiritual – immaterial.
- The parable eliminates the foolish impulse from the atheist to immediately “win” an argument.
- The parable will force an atheist to contemplate that which was previously accepted as fact – all by their attempt to shed light on the supposed foolishness of the example.
- Finally, the parable will force the fool to objectively contemplate foundational assertions of their reality; for example, it evokes a similar evaluation as Jesus when he asked “What is truth?”.
Always remember: Religion (understanding of God/relationship with Jesus) cannot be given, received, loaned, learned, or lost. It is a personal experience which arises and grows proportionally to increased desire to understand reality and the reality upholder.
No matter how disheartening, threatening, or unfruitful you believe your discussion with an atheist culminates, you are not in a position to gauge that interaction’s eternal significance. Jesus called on us to be his disciples, not his protectors. In my opinion, a disciple simply ushers others (from any variable starting point) a little closer to Truth and a little more excited to know Jesus.
The atheist may not choose to contemplate your questions or parables for years or he may never at all but you have done that which the Lord required of you: you have loved them, treated them with honor, exhibited grace, revealed truth, shed light, and shattered misperceptions of reality. All of those actions really do please the Father and follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
Remember Jesus’s favorite encouragements: take heart, be of good cheer, and be strong!
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