Whenever ideas or beliefs are in conflict you have people in conflict.
But why should there be any conflict at all?
Wouldn’t it be more productive if we worked together to find the truth? If we agreed to follow the evidence where it leads without contention toward a common goal?
It doesn’t work that way does it?!
Because we make it personal.
If someone told you the Law of Gravitation was untrue and only an idiot would believe otherwise, would you take offense?
You would smile and chuff maybe, but you wouldn’t take it personal. “That’s ridiculous!” You might say.
If that same person set out to prove his claim by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, would you try to stop him if you were in a position to do so? Yes! Of course!
Because beliefs have consequences.
Before you dismiss this example as absurd because the effects of gravity are so obvious to you and I, don’t forget that everyone has to be taught the characteristics of gravity. No one is born with this knowledge.
When my son was very young and just learning to walk he pulled himself up to his feet by holding onto the railing at the top of the stairs. He then fearlessly stepped out with the intent of doing what he had seen me do so many times. He hovered on the brink, terror on his face as I swooped in and caught him midair. To this day I don’t know how I moved so fast! And to this day he has not had a more effective lesson in the Law of Falling Bodies!
You don’t have to believe something to make it true!
If beliefs are true they don’t need to be defended to make them true. They have to be explained, yes, but not defended -explained to enable others to understand the reality and consequences of that truth. Gravitation is no exception. It’s true no matter what you or anyone else thinks. BUT it has to be learned which means someone had to teach it.
Of course not all beliefs are as universally obvious as the Law of Gravitation. Nor are the consequences to the ignorance of all beliefs the same. In fact believing or not believing some truths have greater consequences than jumping off a bridge!
The most important of these is the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. It is either true or not true. In addition, if his resurrection is true it corroborates everything Jesus said and claimed in advance of that event! Especially the exclusive claim “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Unlike the Law of Gravitation you can’t dismiss this example as absurd even though the evidence for the resurrection may be obvious to you and I as Christians, because the majority of people on the planet don’t believe it. However just as the characteristics of gravity must be taught so must the characteristics of Christ’s divine nature. Isn’t this the point of 1 Peter 3:15?
Ok, now let’s rephrase our earlier question…
If someone told you the resurrection of Jesus was untrue and only an idiot would believe otherwise, would you take offense?
Now be honest! Of course you would! No smile and chuff now! This is your Lord and Savior they’re trashing!
Now take a deep breath and listen.
“But do this with gentleness and respect.”
That’s Peter speaking. Recognize it? The last sentence in 1 Peter 3:15. This is how it’s done! This is how to “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have.” You can’t reach out to others by being thin skinned and defensive! Remember, if beliefs are true they don’t need you to defend them to make them true! Truth takes care of itself. However, if you want to teach the truth you must keep your composure.
Ready to give it a test drive? The next question…
If that same person set out to prove his counter-claim against the resurrection by jumping off the Bridge of Salvation, would you still try to stop him if you were in a position to do so?
Go ahead jump!
You hesitated! It was an emphatic “Yes!” when gravity was the topic of conversation. Now it’s personal! I know what you’re thinking…
“Go ahead jump! Stubborn stiff-necked secular heathen! You’re getting what you asked for! I tried to tell you, but your heart was hard and you wouldn’t listen! It’s out of my hands!”
Is it really out of your hands?
Was it and is it really out of your hands? Have you no responsibility in the matter? Did you clearly and thoroughly present the case for the resurrection in a method, manner and language the jumper could understand? Did you do this with “gentleness and respect”, working together side by side, as equals, shoulder to shoulder toward a common goal? Or was there a hint of disdain in your voice, a threat in your posture, or a judgmental hypocritical dogmatic inflection of superiority evident in your way?
How do we keep them from jumping off the Bridge to Salvation?
How do we keep them from jumping off the Bridge of Salvation (Jesus Christ himself) and falling to their eternal death? First by not writing off anyone. Then by giving them more information. By patiently providing the evidence and revealing the logic. By carefully tailoring explanations to the gaps in their knowledge -showing how it’s true and why it’s true to both their heart and their mind. By reasoning and empathizing with them. If we tell them to take it on faith they-will-jump!
I’ve heard it said that ideas divide people. But ideas don’t do anything; people do. People divide people! With their intents. Their attitudes. Their approaches. Their arrogance. Their pride. Their hypocrisy.
Fellowship with everyone.
As human beings we are always learning and we’ll never know everything. If we knew everything and had nothing to learn we would be God. And since we aren’t God, and God is the source of all truth, shouldn’t we be learning about God together? Isn’t that what fellowship is all about? Fellowship with Christians and non-Christians. This is what we were meant for and the purpose of our lives. Not drawing lines in the sand and pitting one idea against the other as if it were a battle.
So WHAT if you’re right?!
So WHAT if your right?! How is that helping others? You may know you are right, and have the ability to clearly articulate how and why your beliefs are true, but what good does that do if no one wants to hear what you have to say?
We need to get closer to people by listening to what is being said as they are saying it, even if we already know what they’re going to say. If we listen again as if we’ve never heard it before we gain intimacy. Look, when someone has something to say they are making themselves vulnerable -they need to feel safe. From the shelter of safety they are then open to what you have to say. Creating the atmosphere of safey is our responsibility.
If we are willing to listen to others then perhaps they’ll be willing to listen to us!
The truth does no one any good if we can’t share it with others.