Today, after a long meeting, I took a short walk, in a nearby neighborhood. A man about ten years older than me initiated a conversation. I wasn’t feeling particularly chatty, so I let him talk.
Lane told me about his late parents and about his many siblings. He told me about his military service in Vietnam and his subsequent PTSD… He opined about the old Portland and about our current issues as a city. He shared how he had stopped drinking heavily as he had seen so many friends die of it… He went on and on. As he spoke, I prayed for his soul and asked God why I didn’t love this new to me neighbor/friend enough to interject something into his discourse to turn the conversation to Jesus.
Finally, Lane told me that his mother had followed Roman Catholicism and that he argued with her a lot about “religion” before she died. “I told her” he said “Mom, you can believe in all of that #!@$% if you want, but I just can’t. But we can still be friends…” I now understood that I was talking with a person who rejected his own Designer, so I began to pray for Lane about his unbelief. Next, he informed me that the reason that he was an atheist was because he had seen so much injustice in life and so much death during the Vietnam War. He told me a horrific story about how his unit had killed 80 men in one day… he almost cried as he told me this and indicated that I was one of the only people he had ever revealed this to.
Then, Lane indicated that he needed to get back to what he was doing so, finally, I said, “Life is curious, isn’t it, Lane? Like you, I grew up with a lot of death, pain and sorrow. Those losses marked my life which – like yours – has been changed forever. What’s interesting to me is how death and loss affect us all in different ways. You were raised in the Roman Catholic religion and became an atheist. I was agnostic as a boy, and didn’t know God, partly because of the losses in my life.” Lane nodded in understanding. “But then, as a teenager, I became a Christian.” Lane’s face fell and he demanded in an angry shout “WHY!?” I responded that I was thinking about death so much as a youth and that I was afraid to die, until, until…I fell in love. Lane demanded “Fell in love with who?!” “With Jesus”, I replied. Lane released a deep frustrated grunt and gave me the meanest scowling glare you have ever seen before shouting, “We’re DONE!”. Immediately he turned on his heals and marched away from me. Lane left me standing there alone and wondering what, really, had just happened between us.
In the hour after our conversation, I prayed again for Lane and meditated on our vivid encounter. I was sad for a variety of reasons. If you are reading this and know me, you know that I’ve had numerous similar rejections. You may have as well. We’re not victims and God, certainly, is not a victim of Lane’s self-righteous fury. But it is disheartening to routinely see such bold rejection of Reality and of human friendship.
Thank you for praying with me for Lane that He will humble himself, surrender to God and fall in love with Jesus before he dies. Thank you for praying for me. It’s discouraging to be rejected for loving our Creator. But love sent Jesus to a people, to a place, and to a politic that hated Him unto death when all He offered them was Himself, His holy justice and His affection.
Now, please watch these conversations with atheists.