Pastoral Perspectives

Knowing God

Someone came and asked the pastor if he could help to answer his friend’s questions concerning Christianity. I obliged and so he sent me a long message from this Hindu friend of his. This friend has no problem believing in an omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent Creator of the universe but cannot accept that Jesus is the only way to this God. He gave an example of how one can get to Perth by various routes and no one can claim that the only true route is to fly from Singapore. In short, it is the classic claim that all roads lead to Rome and so this friend struggles with Christian exclusivity and we know that he is not alone in this. So how can the pastor help? I do not have any sure-win kind of scientific answers that can silence critics and convince doubters, if that is what you are hoping for. But allow me to share three things that I have learned and observed in my own journey of knowing God.

There was a time when I conducted a class on Christian Apologetics and I could sense that some left feeling somewhat disappointed. Why? Well, imagine asking the pastor how you could prove to your friend that the Bible is indeed the Word of God or that Jesus has truly been raised from the dead and only to be asked whether you are able to believe it for yourself and why so. How would you feel? And so this pastor became notorious for “asking two questions back”. Nevertheless, like the questions asked by our Hindu friend, these are standard FAQs and so we discussed the common answers given to support the claims and asked why Christians are able to believe but not others. Of course, the unanimous answer given was faith. But faith is not the answer that they were looking for because their friends would not buy it. And so some left feeling somewhat disappointed probably because there were no sure-win answers other than the common answers to standard FAQs to bring home with them.

But the truth is that we can give all the evidences, claims and answers but it still takes faith to believe in it. And this is only possible with the Spirit’s help, for it is the Spirit that convicts the hearts and regenerates the souls. So I have learned over the years that unless I have the person’s interest at heart and am concerned for the salvation of his soul, I will want to commit our discussion in prayers and leave the outcome to the Spirit. Otherwise I may end up winning an argument but losing the person.

I have also learned that analogy and testimony alone can fail. What do I mean? Let us go back to our Hindu friend. He uses the analogy of getting to Perth to explain why he disagrees that Jesus is the only way to God. But why use Perth? Why not use the Istana which would require you to follow certain protocol if you hope to take a peek inside? And if you want to get into God’s Istana, wouldn’t you need to follow his protocol? But using Istana as an analogy can also fail because protocol can be changed. So is it possible that God may change his as well? It is the same with testimony. I have often heard Christians using personal testimonies to explain things about God, like why God is good or that he will answer your prayers when you pray hard enough.  You may testify and insist that God is good based on your experiences but there can be nine other people whose experiences suggest otherwise and those who know them may find it harder to believe your testimony.

Analogy and testimony are helpful but left on their own they can fail when stretched and tested. It is truths from Scriptures that will stand the test of time. Whether your friend accepts and believes is a separate matter. But how well do you know the Bible or the biblical evidences that will support your claims that God is good? If you don’t know them well, chances are that you will resort to analogies and testimonies to respond to your friend and you may find yourself stumbled when confronted with better analogies and testimonies to counter yours. And you may also begin to doubt yourself when life should take on a cruel twist.

And finally I have also learned that befriending the person works better than engaging his thoughts and beliefs. There was a time when I was a Buddhist and studying at the polytechnic when a group of Christians entered the room after the lecturer had left and stood by the doors. It was lunch break and we had another lecture right after that and so we pleaded but they refused to let us leave until we had heard someone shared why she had left Buddhism to become a Christian.  I was then given a paper to write what I thought about her testimony and any reasons why I should not follow after her example. They finally left the room while we remained behind because the next lecture was about to begin. I still remembered writing down that my religion would forbid me to behave like militants and stop others from taking their lunch and thanked them for letting me know what Christians were like and how Buddhism had not failed me like it did to her. Obviously that engagement failed badly and turned me into a militant whenever I encountered anyone of them again on campus. It was only much later at work that I befriended a Christian who showed genuine concerns for another who had strayed away in a loving and sincere manner that I wanted to know more about Christianity, read the Bible for myself and finally believed in Jesus. So befriending the person works better but that is provided we fulfil our calling as Jesus’ disciples in the ways we conduct ourselves and the things we do. Would you?

Rev Ronnie Ang

November 30, 2014