I taught a workshop last weekend about how to talk about faith in everyday life. During the workshop, we were talking about different barriers to faith, and I was encouraging people to think about sharing stories from their own lives and from the Bible rather than giving "answers" to peoples' questions. This post explains a little about why I think that's such an important idea within today's culture.
As an example, we were talking about a person whose barrier to faith is whether God is good. So I gave a little hypothetical about a person who attended some kind of church event with the nicest person in the whole wide world who was also an agnostic or atheist. At this event, the person and her friend were told that they were going to hell if they didn't believe in Jesus. And the person, for years, looked back with incredulity at that situation. How could her friend, (and her mom too) who were nicer and better than any other people in the whole world, including lots of "Christians," be going to hell?
How would you respond if this story came out in a conversation with one of your friends? Would you quote from Scripture that Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life, and no man comes to the Father but by me"? Or how about the verses that say "there is none righteous, no not one" and "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord"?
Those were the types of answers that I was getting from the participants at the workshop. And while those "answers" are not "wrong," I'm not sure they actually reach the heart of the person who is struggling with this issue. There may be an intellectual question about whether those verses are actually true, but even if the person believed Jesus's statement and Paul's explanation about salvation, there's still an emotional barrier to faith there. There's still the haunting question about how a good God could send good people to hell. So does believing that the good friend and the good mother are in hell mean that God is not good? How could a person serve a God like that? What is this God really like? Angry, capricious, judgmental, egomaniac? If so, no thanks...
So how does one go about answering a question of the heart?
In my experience, the best way to do that is to tell stories from your own life and from Scripture that might begin to challenge the way someone looks at that question, or one that show how you worked through that question in your own faith journey, or that invite the person to meet and experience Jesus.
So what stories from your own life might be relevant to this question? What stories from Scripture? How might you go about inviting this person with this question to meet Jesus?
Here's one way I might respond to the question.