I often have people come to me and say, my sibling/friend/son/daughter/spouse is struggling with their faith. In fact, I am asked about this when going and speaking to different groups of people more than any other subject. But what follows this confession is often some variation on the question: What resources would you recommend?
What can I read to be a better apologist? This person is smarter than me, so what can I get my hands on to corner them in their atheistic logic? What kind of study can I recommend to them to get their faith back on track?
It is a well-meaning question, and I have never met anyone who wasn’t completely genuine in asking me. But I wonder helpful recommending resources really is.
Don’t get me wrong, we love good books here at Sacred Margins. But often our reliance on books and information and reason and logic keep us from seeing the bigger picture.
Just to prove books can be helpful, I want to draw on a few points from a book I just finished on the science of the brain and it’s relationship to faith.. (Hang with me if how brains work isn’t your cup of tea, I promise there’s a point!) Thompson works through a lot in this work, but three main points are helpful for our discussion this week:
1. Our brains our built to experience a God who loves and attaches infinite value and worth to us.
2. We relate to God based on how our human relationships have trained us to relate to others.
3. Sin has marred both of these capacities of the human brain a great deal.
Basically, people can only understand and relate to God in terms of how they have experienced other people. Yet because of the nature of living in a fallen world, even the best of relationships and upbringings leave tiny little hurts and wounds on our souls. The brain remembers these ways of interacting, and continues to use them in all sorts of relational settings. Each time we “remember” these mistrusts, the less likely we will be to trust and deeply connect with others in the future.
We take beatings as human beings. And we often take beatings from the people who are closest to us. When this happens, we often attribute those failures to God.
Perhaps we were presented with a tyrannical and angry picture of God which was re-enforced by unloving and hurtful people.
Perhaps we have been deeply wounded by people in the name of Jesus.
Each time these hurts occur, our brain remembers them and uses them in future interactions.
The way we are even able to have healthy relationships in the midst of all this messiness, is when people are able to admit their faults, apologize, and model grace and forgiveness towards us. When people model these attributes for us by loving us and being vulnerable and forgiving and offering comfort or hope, they in essence re-wire our brains. They teach us to remember relationships differently.
And the only way to change patterns of relating to others (and God) is to have real-life human models of grace, love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace. Our brains remember what is modeled.
Not only that, but because the poor ways of interacting become so ingrained within us, it takes multiple iterations of grace and love to change the way our brain reacts to other people, and therefore God.
We cannot read a book about it. We cannot listen to a moving sermon about it. We have to see it modeled in real life for our brains to accept it.
Here’s where I am going with this:
If we want people to experience a good and loving and merciful God, we have to first show them that love and mercy and grace is possible. This is not something which we can just logically prove. It requires long-term consistent people modeling the attributes of God to us in order to really experience and relate to this beautiful, mysterious, loving, and good God.
If we really want people to experience the good and beautiful God we follow and who is revealed fully in Jesus, it does not start with books, sermons, or blogs.
It begins with embodying the love and mercy of Jesus to another person.
And it requires admitting it and asking for forgiveness when we don’t.
There is no replacement for the human experience of love and forgiveness.
People do not first change their thinking about God because of a moving sermon or by watching God is Not Dead and having that proclaimed on Facebook. In fact, believing something because of logical, objective truth often moves us away from trust. Trust requires things we cannot logically explain. Trust is built by it being lived out over time and in consistent and grace filled ways.
It is the way we were designed and it is the way our brains work.
What we typically call evangelism is often relegated to books and tracts and well-thought out, logically consistent arguments with objective proof.
True evangelism is when the people of God do their best to model and the grace and love of Jesus consistently to those they come into contact with.