A Church Girl’s Desire to Relate with Doubters, Skeptics, and Atheists
I’ve been reading a book entitled, “The Doubter’s Club” by Preston Ulmer, and it has made me do a lot of thinking about how I relate to doubters, atheists, and the deeply wounded. I realize that many of those wounds come from the church, making faith-based dialogue something you don’t want to get into. Yet, this book has given me hope that respectful, honest dialogue is possible and even beneficial even when parties disagree. This is an area where I greatly desire to grow and make an impact both in the church and community.
I HAVE A LOT TO LEARN ABOUT HOW TO RELATE WITH THE DEEPLY WOUNDED
My now deceased husband and I adopted our son with autism at five years old. Because of his trauma he has always struggled with his faith. I understand now, but when he was a child I was often clueless about how to relate with him in his pain. One particular conversation is seared into my memory. I read the Bible to him daily, and on one particular day read Psalm 139 and told him, teary-eyed with joy, that God fashioned and knew him intimately. I assumed he would be as comforted as I to hear he wasn’t “a mistake”. However, the revelation that God made him with autism on purpose only made him angry and began his descent from singing “Jesus loves me” to “O how I hate Jesus” much to my grief and dismay.
I THOUGHT I’D COME A LONG WAY, BUT…
I had a conversation on IG over a year ago with an atheist. I was as nervous as all get out because I didn’t want to do something dumb. I was proud of the fact God would entrust me with such an “assignment”. (I told you I have a long way to go.) Our discourse over a few weeks was polite and respectful on both ends. Much to my shame, when he eventually asked, “Is your god powerful?” I assumed he figured I’d never seen God’s power. Delighted to be able to proclaim God’s power, I replied, “Yes, I have found him to be so.” I never heard from him again and took his lack of response to mean, “I didn’t expect that answer, and am dumbfounded.”
However, months later (sometimes I can be dense) I remembered that some of his posts recounted (if I remember correctly) he had been molested during childhood by a trusted church member. Had I been less quick to answer and more desirous to show compassion, I would have realized where he was coming from. “If your god is so powerful, why didn’t he stop this person who called themselves a Christian from doing what they did to me?” In my zeal to proclaim Jesus to an atheist, hoping to wow him with my answers, I failed to see his pain. Even today, my lack of compassion brings me deep sadness.
I don’t believe I won any brownie points. I now realize that my selfish, arrogant motives grieved God because I failed to recognize this man and share in his pain. I failed to respond as Jesus would have, in anger and grief that someone whom he and his family trusted destroyed him in Christ’s name.
I should have grieved with this man. Yet I left him reassured that Christians are jerks and God hates him.
HOW I WISH I HAD RELATED TO THE ATHEIST
So today if I were to have another opportunity to relate with this man, I would do things differently. I would grieve with him for all that was destroyed in those hideous, reckless, thoughtless, selfish acts. I would hope to be quicker toward compassion and slower to answer with statements that would only increase the pain. I would try to see him rather than “an assignment”, Were he reading, I would say, “I’m so sorry for how I treated you. It was shameful and so wrong. Please forgive me.
Were we sitting over coffee, I would weep and rage with him over what happened and grieve how poorly I treated him.
HOW MY SON AND I RELATE NOW
My son is now thirty. He has found some comfort in walking with Christ. Yet, he still understandably struggles with his faith.
He and I continue to have faith discussions, and I now recognize he’s been through so much more than I could ever imagine. He’s a strong young man, and although we continue at times to struggle in our relationship, I’ve learned so much from him. I’ve changed so much because he is in my life, and I’m grateful.
MY DESIRE IS TO RELATE WITH YOU
if you’ve read any posts on this website, you will realize I have a long way to go in relating well to doubters, skeptics, atheists, and those deeply wounded. I’ve written to the Christian audience for a very long time, yet because of my own deeply wounded family members, and needing to work through my own pain, I really want to learn. Reading “The Doubter’s Club” has helped. It’s a start.
My husband and I also made a total life change this past year, and it has offered me the opportunity to relate with many others who are very unlike me. It’s changing my life.
My hope is to have meaningful faith discussions with you, yet I I’m not looking for notches in my Christian belt. I want to build relationships that discuss faith-based topics without discarding people when they disagree. Jesus came for the broken, and unfortunately we in the church have often failed to live that well in the world. I’m sorry. I want to change that.
IN ORDER TO BETTER RELATE
Would you be willing to critique this and any other post you wish? Not to bash me to pieces, please, but to begin dialogue that matters.
What do you think?
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
Colossians 3:12-14 (MSG)