The Game

I left church and headed drove to a nearby sports bar with the big screen TVs. I’m a Philadelphia Eagles fan living in a TV market carved up by the Bills, Steelers, and Browns, so there are time the only way to watch the game it to invest in some greasy wings and a tall drink. The sacrifices sports’ fans make.

I found a seat and then John found me. My heart sunk. I knew where the next hour was going. John had some legitimate struggles with the Christian message. The problem (for me anyway) is that he processed these struggles by debating someone. And since I was one of the pastors at his church, I represented a serviceable proxy for the God he really wanted to have it out with. John left the sermon energized with a list of questions and counterarguments. As I rule, I leave church drained of adrenaline. I’m an introvert by nature. So after a morning of hand shaking, smiling, welcoming guests, and trouble shooting anything that went off wrong in the kid’s wing, I’m left with the mental acuity of a dishrag. I’ve got nothing left in the tank for theological sparring. Following along with a former lineman narrating the game is about all the challenge I can handle between the hours of 1-4 PM on Sundays. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this to John once or twice.

John didn’t wait for an invitation and sat down between me and the big screen.

“So about the sermon—“

“-- The one I didn’t preach? I think Derek is watching the game somewhere.”

“So Jesus is supposedly the only way to heaven and if you don’t give him the nod something during the course of your 60-80 year old life then you’re cut out of Heaven forever. This doesn’t seem like the plan of a loving God, not when the world is filled with evil that colors our view of God. And not in a world where most people have never heard of Jesus.”

I glanced at the screen. McNabb to Jackson. The Eagles were driving.

“Look, John. Jesus didn’t mince words. He said that was the way to God and nobody has access to the Father apart from him. That’s exactly the reason why God is so big on us taking evangelism seriously. Because of exactly the stakes you just described.”

“That’s not good enough, Larry, and you know it. The Great Commission is fine and all but millions of people throughout history have not heard of Jesus, and if your interpretation of the Gospel is correct, they are not going to Heaven.”

3rd and 15. The Eagles need this play.

I could play the free will card. I studied John’s face and wondered if this would satisfy Him. If not, then I’d be out the third quarter. I had nothing to lose. John had a head of steam on him that wasn’t going away and that couldn’t be redirected to more weightier issues, like whether the Eagles could salvage their season and get to the playoffs again.

“God gives us a free will—“

“—so our worship means something to him; so we’re not just robots programmed to praise God! Do you hear how selfish that sounds?” John reached over grabbed my fork and started to drum the table with it to punctuate his next point. “God had another choice. He could have chosen to not create knowing that giving people free will would lead to so much evil on this earth and ultimately lead to countless people being eternally separated from him.”

Interception. Washington’s ball.

So much for the Free Will defense. I believe it to be true, but offering a description of how the world works isn’t the same thing as me understanding why it works. It’s definitely not an exoneration of God. I don’t particularly like the fact that in our world some people seem to be born right into the ideal circumstances to get acquainted with Jesus while other are born obvious to their savior. I struggle with the fact that everyone is accountable for what they do with Jesus whether or not they’ve gotten to read the bill of goods.

“John, let me cut to the chase. I’ve come to believe that theodicy isn’t possible. There’s simply too many pieces of the puzzle that aren’t on the table. All that’s left is to look at the puzzle pieces we have and decide that can trust or not trust God. And that’s not much of a philosophical argument, I know—“

“You’re right. When you start to scrutinize your beliefs and God starts to look immoral or illogical, it’s a cop out to throw your hands up in the air and appeal to greater unknown mysteries.”

I picked up a cold, spicy wing and gnawed on it for a moment. John and I had gone around this bush so many times before that we could recite each other’s positions. He had legitimate objections and I remained tethered to my understanding of scripture.

“It might be a copout, John. But it’s all I’ve got. There’s another way to look at this. God has given you some of the pieces of the puzzle and based on the pieces you have you don’t think you like the picture that’s being built. It’s just as much a copout to throw those pieces away and pretend you never saw them.”

“I don’t have the answers you need. I do have room temperature wings and a big screen to offer you. You in?

I drove home thinking about John’s objections. My questions come from within Christianity and assume that the revelation in the Bible is correct. His questions, even though he is decidedly a Christ follower, come from the posture of standing outside of Christianity and attempting to evaluate it on it’s logical basis. I don’t think less of John for his questioning, just his timing for when he questions. He’s certainly owned the more difficult line of inquiry.

Jesus seems like he’s the gift given to a select few fortunate enough to be born into the right hemisphere and family.

I have a friend who managed to survive massive layoffs at his workplace. When I heard the news of the purge I gave him a call to check on him. Joel had survivor’s guilt. He couldn’t understand how it was that he made the cut. He didn’t have the most seniority on staff. He had researched some other similar businesses on the Internet who were undergoing layoffs and learned that his position was usually among the first to be cut. Joel was so bewildered that he still had a job that he called his bosses to ask why.

I think I have some of that survivor’s guilt on a spiritual level. I have a hard time tolerating the fact that I was born into a Christian home while another child was born into the Soviet block with a scant chance of ever holding a Bible.

I have high view of scripture, believe and want to believe the Story, but sometimes struggle the rules of the game.


  1. Long time reader, first time commenter.

    And just to say, "Crap, I just lost the Game."

  2. I believe, too, that God is a just and loving judge. Jesus is the only way, but i'm not always so sure that those who're privileged to hear the gospel are the only ones with a way to Jesus. There's a lot of revelation out there that isn't written in the Bible; the Bible itself says so. I usually think those who haven't been directly reached by Christ-followers following the Great Commission have their own degree of opportunity. I think they'll be judged according to their opportunity by a just, loving and merciful God. I'm not dogmatic about that, but it's what i tend to think.

    If much is required of those to whom much is given, i expect less is required of those to whom little is given. Your friend John has been given much, he should not forget that.

  3. Excellent, Larry. I have wondered (not a strong enough word) the same thing. And any answers I come up with seem like cop-out.

    The main way I reconcile this when discussing it with myself is that the focus of John's argument is man-centered, and I have to remind myself that this is God's story, not mine.

    A few weeks ago, my 7-year-old son was in a musical production for a summer music camp. Most of the dialog went to the older kids, but he got a single line. For days, he practiced it at home, and we'd talk about how to say it, which words to emphasize.

    When the evening of the performance came, I was a bit nervous. What if he forgot his line when the time came? I watched only him throughout the play, even when he was in the back, among a choir of other young kids. About halfway into the story, he was center stage, the lights on him, and he delivered his line. Perfectly. I was relieved.

    He went back into the group of other kids, and the big kids recited their lines and finished the story. I was lost. I had been so focused on my kid, a minor character in the story, that I had no idea what the story was about. My focus was all wrong, because I had convinced myself that a minor character, though significant to the story, was the main character.

    The truth is, there was a main character, and the story moved along based on his words and actions, not my son's. I missed out big time because I thought the story was about someone other than the central character.

    When we get caught up in pondering the effects of salvation on individuals, the fairness of it, the once-saved-always-saved arguments, the free will vs. predestination debates, etc., we are human-focused. And that's understandable. At first glance, it seems that God has gone to a lot of trouble to save us humans. John 3:16 seems that it's all about us, right? But upon closer examination, is it really about us? Or about Him?

    I don't pretend that the above is an adequate answer to the questions posed by John. It's just where I am right now. I am not moving from two ideas: (1) God is 100% good; and (2) His written word is true. Beyond that, my ideas on this evolve quite often.