It started innocently enough. My students had just read “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and were, fittingly, incensed:
“How can he just say this stuff?”
“People will never listen!”
“This would NEVER work.”
So although he did, and they did, and it did, I tried to channel their outrage into a more productive endeavor. Imagine you only had five minutes to change someone’s life by telling them about Christ. What would you say?
I called it the Five-Minute Homily, but it was really more like the Five-Minute Pitch; the sales metaphor is less distasteful if you really do believe in hell and think you may never have another chance to help someone stay out of it. Plus, it’s a useful exercise in self-analysis: how well do you really know your own beliefs? And how can you distill them down without watering them down, intrigue and ignite without glamorizing and smoothing over?
After grading theirs, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and — you guessed it — ended up writing my own. You can read it if you want, but before you do, I encourage you to try your hand at the same exercise.
Belief is a funny thing. When someone says, “Believe me … ” you may profess that you do, but a part of you is always waiting — isn’t it? — to see if he really means what he says, because part of that belief can’t happen until later. You need to see that she’s sincere by watching what comes next. “Believe me, I hate to be late” can’t be true, really, if he’s always late, and “Believe me, I love kids” sounds a little less plausible when you’ve only ever seen her frown in their direction.
So, although believing that God exists is hard enough without a vision or sign, that’s actually the easiest part of faith. The difficult part is the lifetime that follows: will your actions, words and innermost thoughts profess that belief, or will it be another “I don’t believe in holding grudges” from one who can’t bring himself to forgive?
If you believe, your life will change. That is a fact. It will not be perfect, but your job is to keep trying, while at the same time admitting you can’t do it on your own. Loving your enemies? Honoring your parents? Giving to the poor? A life that is centered on God will include them all, and yet none of them are easy to practice.
In fact, life itself is far from easy: everyone knows this. The world is full of beauty and light, but there are also moments of darkness and pain so acute we almost feel we can’t bear them. Some of us have more of the first kind, and some much, much more of the second, but we all have burdens, many of them secret, all of them heavy.
And here’s what you may find incredible: your whole life, each joy and sorrow, the note from a friend on the day you really needed it and the car accident on the day you really didn’t — each of those moments were created for you by a being more powerful than you can imagine, who somehow saw fit to be involved in the smallest and humblest details of your existence. You don’t have to do this alone. He doesn’t want you to.
It’s incredible, really. So is the world, and yet we open and close our eyes to it every day.