Years ago I became friends with a man who had no use for Christianity. Religion in its most malignant forms had heaped pain on him and left him emotionally fragile. He had few friendships and was content to live in the margins. He regarded himself as an atheist. From the very beginning of our friendship he knew I was a Christian. I shared the Gospel with him, which he rejected with some pretty patterned objections. I had heard them before – they are the kind that make it clear that the heart’s door is not open. He is very smart, so he sees through weak arguments that are made when Christians propose to introduce Jesus through logic rather than revelation. But more than that, he has an acute BS meter. He’s been hurt too many times by people who have been disingenuous.
Our friendship continued to grow over the years. We would talk about issues of eternity and faith. I totally enjoyed these discussions because he is brilliant and is unafraid to ask any question. But there was always a haunting issue for me. I didn’t want our eternities separated, which in his continued rejection of Jesus I feared they would. So I would pray. And I would try to share the Gospel from time to time. But there was something equally important to me – and that was never to turn our friendship into a project. To regard our friendship as conditional upon him becoming a Christian would be to objectify our friendship in the worst way – as disingenuous as any other person who he had hurt him before. I had to ask the question posed by Paul Metzger in his post Bait and Switch, “Would I continue to desire to be friends with someone, if I were to realize that the person in question would never come to desire to know Jesus personally?” If anything in me is becoming like Jesus, I am compelled to answer, “yes.” If I am any kind of friend, I am equally compelled to share the love of Christ. The eternal stakes are high.
‘And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ (Luke 16:26)
These are the words of Abraham in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16). Following their deaths, the two men found themselves on opposite sides of an impassable chasm. While the rich man complains about his position, he nonetheless makes demands of Abraham to conscript Lazarus into his service. He retains an attitude of privilege even in the most desperate of circumstance. The gulf separating him is in his own heart. There is no place for proud people in Heaven. These thoughts haunt the heart of every Christian who has prayed for the salvation of a loved one.
This is the tension of the believer. We form loving relationships with friends and relatives who reject Jesus again and again. Of course sometimes they are simply rejecting me – and I get that. I can be pretty rejectible – a hindrance to people who cannot see Jesus through my brokenness. And sometimes they are saying no to the public expressions of Christianity that might seem to them to be hypocritical and arrogant. We are the ones who often get in the way of people seeing Jesus.
In The Great Divorce, CS Lewis takes us into a gray world where the senses are so dulled that even color is an offense. The people of gray world steadfastly refuse the invitations of those who live in the light. Lewis observes,
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”
I didn’t look at my friend as particularly arrogant or proud, though he would probably be quick to own a bit of that. What I saw was someone like me who longed for right relationships – ones where he would be valued for who he was – and loved even when he was at his worst. I get that. He wanted to know how anyone could find that kind of validation from a God who seemed silent. How does a man say “Thy will be done,” to Someone he doesn’t even know? That is why Jesus entered human history – to reveal the Father. What is God like? Look at Jesus.
I am not a very good friend to my friend. God could have done a lot better than to trust him to me. I am an infrequent companion and not always there when he needs a friend. Thankfully, his friendship circle has grown to include better friends than me. He has come to a place of faith over the years. This is the best news I could have, but even if he didn’t, he would be no less a friend.
Years ago a man named Sam Shoemaker wrote something called I Stand by the Door, from which I will close with a few excerpts…
I stand by the door. I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out. The door is the most important door in the world – It is the door through which men walk when they find God. There is no use my going way inside and staying there, When so many are still outside and they, as much as I, Crave to know where the door is. And all that so many ever find Is only the wall where the door ought to be. They creep along the wall like blind men, With outstretched, groping hands, Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door, Yet they never find it. So I stand by the door. The most tremendous thing in the world Is for men to find that door – the door to God. The most important thing that any man can do Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands And put it on the latch – the latch that only clicks And opens to the man’s own touch…. As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place, Near enough to God to hear Him and know He is there, But not so far from men as not to hear them, And remember they are there too. Where? Outside the door – Thousands of them. Millions of them. But – more important for me – One of them, two of them, ten of them. Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch. So I shall stand by the door and wait For those who seek it. (Sam Shoemaker, I Stand By the Door)