I have never understood the beauty, majesty and importance of this until faced with a different issue: someone close to me has chosen atheism. Atheism is defined as the theory or belief that God does not exist.
In my world, believing that God does not exist is incredible. I have trouble comprehending how someone who has heard the truth about the living God could opt out; How does one opt out of love, acceptance and a salvation plan that had to have come from God because no man could have conceived anything that amazingly intricate? It is beyond my understanding. But it is someone I love dearly, so I try, with the grace that only God offers, to understand.
Here is some of how it happened. My atheist said,
" I was told by my parents that there was a Santa Claus, but there isn't. I was told by my parents that there is an Easter Bunny and a Tooth Fairy; but there isn't. The same people told me there is a God. After all of the other lies, I don't believe it."
This is actually logical. How do parents go back to a child and say,
'Ok, so I did lie about the Easter Bunny and Santa and the Tooth Fairy. But the story about God is really real. I am not lying about that. I promise!'
Then, I hear the standard comments:
"Why can't I see God? Why doesn't God appear before me and talk to me? Why is there so much suffering in the world if a caring, loving, God really exists? Why haven't I had a better life than I have if there is a God who loves me?"
I try, with my own religious theology, to answer these age-old questions the best I can to someone who does not believe, but faith based answers sound lame to those devoid of faith.
But still, I love. And I accept our differences the best that I can. And I try to give space and respect for our differences while loving. And I pray. What I don't do is try to stuff something down someone's throat who doesn't want to hear what I believe about a God who is very real in my life.
With God's help I come to understand that it is the role of the Holy Spirit to draw people to God; not mine. And I understand that trying to force someone into something that they don't believe might just interfere with the process that I believe that the Holy Spirit is engaged in as I write. I believe that trying to force someone to accept something that they don't believe in is the equivalent of trying to steal the gift of choice that God has granted to all of us. Who am I to try to interfere with any of the gifts of God?
In the meantime, I just love and try to set an example. I try to be available to tell the wonderful story of the gospel of Christ that is being created and written in my life every moment of every day. I try to live up to the responsibility that accompanies this gospel. And I fail. Then I repent and try again.
And I trust that God's gift will bear fruit abundantly in the life of the atheist whom I love dearly.
Let it be so!