For most of us today, it’s likely we’ll be in close proximity to non-Christians. It’s also likely that we’ll be well positioned to have meaningful conversations with people we don’t see very often. But I have to tell you, it’s unlikely that we will make any conversational progress by cornering Uncle Joe, the vocal atheist, and asking him, “If you died tonight would you go to heaven or hell?”
Why is that?
Well, Uncle Joe, being a naturalist, doesn’t believe in things like heaven or hell. You might as well ask Uncle Joe who would win a fight between a Ninja Turtle and a Transformer. Sure, it’s fun to think about but to him it’s just fanciful speculation. It’s a nebulous “what if?” question that isn’t grounded in anything real or relatable to Uncle Joe.
So what script should we use?
Unfortunately, I don’t have one. But I do have something interesting for you to ponder regarding gratitude and God. Think about it this way: Gratitude is a very normal and natural human sentiment. But without God, gratitude doesn’t make much sense to those that are strong, clever, and fit for survival.
Why is that?
Well, if we look at it from Uncle Joe’s perspective, gratitude is actually a very strange emotion. Think about our Thanksgiving meal and those eating with us today from a naturalistic perspective. In a strictly naturalistic world, those who are strong, clever, and fit for survival will eat and those who are weak, not so clever, and unfit for survival will not eat. That is, unless the strong and fit feed them. This sounds cold (and it is) but it is perfectly natural.
Stay with me here…
It seems to me that gratitude directed toward the strong from the weak or to the rich from the poor makes natural sense. But, to whom or what do the strong, clever, fit, and rich give thanks? Fate? Random chance? Luck? Nature? Nurture? Natural selection? There’s nothing out there and there’s no one to thank in a purely naturalistic sense. So why do the strong and fit experience these emotions of gratitude? Is there something to this?
There’s a great song by Andrew Peterson called Don’t You Want To Thank Someone for This? It covers much of what I’m trying to hint at here. Here are a few lines:
Don’t you ever wonder why
In spite of all that’s wrong here
There’s still so much that goes so right
And beauty abounds?
‘Cause sometimes when you walk outside
The air is full of song here
The thunder rolls and the baby sighs
And the rain comes down
And when you see the spring has come
And it warms you like a mother’s kiss
Don’t you want to thank someone?
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?
I know this all sounds a little abstract but I really think there’s something to this question. Don’t you want to thank someone for this? I do. Maybe, deep down, uncle Joe does too.
This isn’t a propositional script you can easily memorize. It’s not a laminated tract you can check boxes on with a dry erase marker. But it is an interesting thought experiment. It could even be formulated into a non-threatening question that just might catch uncle Joe off guard.
In about an hour, I’m going to be well positioned to have meaningful conversations with non-Christians. I just might try to use this thought and question as a springboard. Some call this “pre-evangelism” and others call it “planting seeds” but for now, let’s just call it post turkey chit chat.
If you decide to try this with me today, reply to this email and tell me what happened.
Jeremy R. Smith
Founder, Executive Director