Dear Atheist Friend,
First of all, let me begin by saying two things:
1. I am sorry for all the horrible things that have been done in the name of the Church, Christianity, Christ, or the Cross. I agree with you that the Crusades were horrible, genocidal events that pitted so-called “Christians” against anyone who didn’t agree with their faith. Yes, it was Christians who enslaved Africans in this country for over 200 years, in an act so nonsensical that no one alive today thinks it was even remotely a good idea. And yeah, there are people calling themselves Christians today who speak all manner of evil things against non-Christians, homosexuals, liberals, and anything else that moves or breathes upon this earth.
2. I am not sorry for calling myself a Christian. Even given the above, I am not ashamed to say that I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I do not shrink from stating that I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the same God who has existed throughout all eternity, who created the universe as we know it (and all that we don’t yet know about it), and who loves with a love that is unimaginable by human understanding. I believe in God. And I believe that God believes in me.
And see, here’s where there’s probably going to be some misunderstanding, because you may want to take my statement of faith in God as a reason for lumping me together with all the terrible, disgusting things that have been done throughout history in the name of faith. You might want to put me in the same category as the conquistadors, the crusaders, and freaking Fred Phelps. And if I didn’t care about you, I’d simply let you do that, and write you off.
But I want to be your friend, so let me explain why that would be a mistake. Because if I were to write you off in the same way that you’ve written me off, then I’d be doing us both a disservice, and I would be feeding into your preconceived notions about who I am as a Christian. It would be easy for me to say that I don’t care. It would be easy for me to just give up. But that would defeat the purpose of me writing this letter, which is to show you why I’m a Christian.
I am a Christian because of relationships. It began with my parents, who were strong Christians, leaders of the youth group at their church, who took me to church when I was a kid. My parents have been through a lot in their lives–good times and bad times, ups and downs, but they always had two relationships at the forefront of their lives–with each other, and with God.
I was introduced to a relationship with God at an early age, but it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I made that a personal relationship. You have to understand, my teenage years were filled with a lot of confusion and turmoil–mostly internal. I was struggling with my own self-image, and I felt really lonely–a lot. It was through relationships that I had with some friends who were really strong Christians that I came to understand that my struggles were really over what my purpose in life was. I didn’t know what I was meant to do, and I felt empty most of the time because I felt like there was no future for me, or that the future was at least going to be very bleak. So, I began to read the Bible, and I went on retreats and met people who had this relationship with God, and who seemed to have a real sense of purpose in their lives. And I began to have a relationship with God, and through that I began to realize that I was created by someone who loved me very deeply, who would do anything for me, who even came to earth in human form so that I could relate even better.
Now, I’m not suggesting that those who don’t believe in God don’t have a sense of purpose in life. In fact, many of the non-believers I’ve known in my life have been purposeful, driven, caring people. But I do know that my testimony is that I was without a purpose before I really met God, and now I wake up every day feeling like there’s a reason for me to be here that goes beyond being a success or just being a nice guy. I know now that God wants me to build relationships with other people so that they can also come to find their purpose in life.
For me, faith in God isn’t about having all the right answers, or having a one-way ticket to heaven. I don’t spend a lot of time condemning my non-Christian friends to eternal punishment in hell. For me, it’s about relationships. And I feel that there’s something bigger out there than you and me, and I choose to call that “God,” and I choose to believe that God came to us in the form of Jesus, and that Jesus’ purpose wasn’t just to die for my sins and the sins of all people (although that is part of it), but that he came to teach us about love, compassion, and grace in human community. For me, faith in God is as much about faith in my fellow human beings as it is about faith in the biblical texts or the doctrines and dogmas of the Church.
There is so much more I’d like to say, and I may say it as time goes on. But I just wanted to begin this conversation with you so that you know that my goal in trying to get to know you is not about converting you to my way of thinking, but about my desire to have a relationship with you that goes beyond “Christian” and “atheist.” I want you to know that there are people–reasonable people–who believe in God, and who would never say the same things about you that you have sometimes said about them. There is a community of loving, caring, Christians who just simply want to introduce you to the God who changed their lives, and to let you make your own decision.
I don’t pretend to think that this letter will change your life, but I hope it’s helped change your mind just a little bit about us crazy Christians. And I hope you see it for what it is–an invitation to dialogue about purpose, the meaning of life, and the place of a higher power in the midst of all that.
Your Friend (I hope),