Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
March 28, 2010
It’s like trying to hold the hand of someone you cannot see
“I feel like Judas because I don’t believe God exists.” That was the confession made to me by one of my church leaders. I was his pastor. He had invited me to stop by his home for a chat, the likes of which I had never had with a parishioner.
So for several hours I accepted the challenge to convince him that God existed. Our conversation was not heated. He seemed to want to believe and that I could help him overcome his skepticism. I gave it my best shot but to no avail. He remained unconvinced. He said, “I think I am more of an atheist than a Christian.”
Suddenly feeling weary I glanced at my watch and realized it was after midnight. I thanked him for admitting his lack of faith. Feebly I expressed the hope that I had been of some help to him. I asked if I might offer a prayer before we parted.
His response was like an arrow in my heart. Calmly he said, “You can pray if you want to but I don’t think there is anybody out there listening.”
I offered a simple prayer aloud, shook his hand, and went home, quite discouraged.
This story has no happy ending. I do not know if the man ever chose to believe in God. Neither of us ever initiated another conversation about the subject. I was shortly in another town and another man was his pastor. Years have come and gone and I have often prayed that he found victory in his struggle to know the living God.
Many like my friend find it difficult to believe there is a God and that if there is a God that he cares about each of us. After all, there are more than six billion people in the world. The idea of a loving God who cares about every one of us does seem rather mind-boggling. And if you accept the idea that God loves us, why then does he allow bad things to happen to us?
These hard questions remind us that most religions, including Christianity, involve faith. And while there are many ways to define faith, most would agree that faith is firmly believing in something for which there is no proof, or at least visible proof. So to believe in the existence of God requires faith.
When, at age four, our youngest son was struggling to submit to major surgery on his chest, he took my hand and said, “Daddy, I can do it if you will hold my hand.” I held his hand tightly until the anesthesiologist had put him to sleep. When he woke up later I was holding his hand.
Believing in God is somewhat like trying to hold the hand of someone you cannot see. It is a figure of speech that is deeply biblical and also imbedded in the songs and hymns of the church.
Two examples from the Bible will suffice. Just before Jesus died, he said from the cross, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). And I love so much what God said to his servant Isaiah, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
Jesus knew, as we all know, that God is a spirit and that spirits do not have hands. But still our faith is buoyed by simple songs like the one we learned as children, “He holds the whole world in his hands.” To speak of the hands of God is to use a metaphor that expresses our faith.
When my sister Laurida was dying I held her hand as I stood beside her hospital bed. At her funeral I choked up trying to sing the great old song, “Take my hand, precious Lord.” There is in that song a phrase that expresses the cry of every heart, “When my life is almost gone, hear my cry, hear my call, hold my hand lest I fall; take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.”
I hope that my friend who felt like Judas finally chose to have faith and to ask God to hold his hand. + + +