As a gospel preacher and Christian, I have tried to stay clear of politics and focus on “kingdom” work. As another presidential election draws near, I had a recent conversation with a dear friend. It was frustrating, so I followed it up with this letter. These are my personal views. I certainly think that Christians have room for differing viewpoints, especially in a crazy political year like this. But here goes….
Our old friend Hsin-Yi, a convert several years ago who moved back to Taiwan, urged her Taiwanese friend Vivian to check out the Santa Clara church after moving to California. Vivian then invited Han, whom she met in an English class, to come to church with her. Han is a graduate student here for one year until she goes back home to Beijing. Vivian’s interest seems to have waned, but Han is interested in the truth of God as much as any honest seeker I’ve come across in some time. She has something of a Buddhist background, but a professor in China urged her to learn more about Jesus. For the last several weeks, she’s attended church assemblies at Santa Clara regularly, and we’ve now had three private studies, with the help of Andrea and Adela.
Last night, Han asked why people in Jesus’ day were able to see him while the rest of us are disadvantaged in this regard. Why couldn’t Jesus be personally accessible to all of us? I told her it was a good question. I started by going through a timeline of Biblical history, culminating in Jesus and the New Covenant. We discussed the revealing of God’s plan in cumulative stages, until God revealed himself on our level in the person of Jesus, as God in human flesh. In order to become “one of us,” there would have to be something very “human” about him, even if he was ultimately divine. While on earth, he would take on potential human frailty and death.
We talked about most people even in the first century having the same disadvantage we have. “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1:8-9). We looked at the case of “doubting Thomas” in John 20, and Jesus’ statement, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (20:29). You can probably guess where I was going with all of this (cf. Jn. 20:30-31).
I gave her a quick survey of the “evidence” for faith in Jesus: amazing predictive prophecies fulfilled in stunning detail, miracles proving his supernatural origin, eyewitness testimony, etc. We talked about the credibility of the designated witnesses – their honesty, integrity, willingness to die rather than recant, etc. I emphasized that God didn’t want just anyone in this role. The case for Jesus must be rock-solid if it is true:
“As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ ( he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:36-4).
I tried to emphasize that this is not a fairy tale, myth, or legend – and that God has taken great pains to give us proof. Finally, I drove the point home that if Christianity is true, then all the other “world religions” are false (Acts 4:12; Jn. 14:6), and that if one of them is true, then the New Testament is false.
Toward the end of the study, however, the conversation took off in a different direction. Han confessed that she knew very little about proofs for the faith. One thing had made a deep impression on her. When she came into the church environment, she was struck by the friendliness, faith, and holiness of the people. There was something in their yearning for and nearness to God that was missing in her own life, and for that reason alone she was predisposed to want to believe.
We talked about the impact of the Bible and a genuine relationship with God in the life of a Christian. God changes such a person for the better and produces the fruit of the Spirit. We discussed the two great commands of loving God with all the heart, soul, and mind; and loving one’s neighbor as oneself. Han observed that to love God, for all that he does for us, is far easier. She said it is not so easy to love other human beings. I expressed my agreement.
We ended on a good note and a prayer. From everything I can detect about her, I believe Han is one of those people with a “good and honest heart.” If God grants her time and opportunity, in the not-too-distant future, I think she’ll be one of us… a “Christian.” Pray for her.