It’s Valentine ’s Day, the mall is filled with couples celebrating their togetherness, they are playing music normally too sickening sweet for regular consumption and the decors are fluffy and pink... what better setting to talk to people about the universal value of love and tolerance...
Too bad we are out preaching the Biblical Gospel.
Our fair sized team assembled at our usual spot for prayer and scripture reading, after that we make our way into our preaching spot in the Queen Street Mall. We had a rare guest joining us this night: Andrew Walkington from Sydney has abandoned his love wife forsook temporal earthly pleasures and came out on a fine Saturday evening to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Andre also showed up as well so we have a good number of preachers for the night. We set up the Free Bible table, the security camera rolling, and we are good to go.
Andre stepped up to preach first. He preached a very timely message of God’s love set against the backdrop of the wrath of God. While it is more desirable to focus on God’s love in sharing the Gospel, without the knowledge of God’s wrath against our sin His love makes no sense to the sinner. While Andre preaches the regular crowd shuffled in: Alex along with a few other familiar faces started to heckle the preacher. We were hoping that being Valentine’s Day they will take a break, nope, Alex “the friendly neighbourhood Atheist” remains consistent. Have to give it to him; he is a lot more regular in fighting against the Gospel than most Christian fighting for the Gospel. (The above statement is designed to inflict guilt to the guilty.)
Andrew Walkington is the next preacher up. He preached for twenty minutes the straight Gospel and ignored the hecklers. I am the next preacher up, since Andre and Andrew both fulfilled their duties without any incidence, I was hoping my time on the soapbox would be relatively peaceful as well. It took ten seconds for my hope to be completely dashed.
One of the issues I was hoping to avoid is the whole Victoria bushfire that is going on down south. Many people have lost their lives (209 last counted) and countless thousands have lost their homes, processions and livelihood. The Bible says that “we weep with those who weep” and the study of theology and having propositional answers to the question of evil and suffering is not a licence for us to be emotionally detached from the suffering of fellow human beings. While I am confident the Biblical answer of a sovereign God exacting both providence and judgement in this sinful world is the only way the problem of suffering can be satisfactorily answered, emotions runs hot over this issue right now, and I don’t think such answers, while true, is helpful.
The gentleman raised the question over the bushfire is someone I dealt with a couple of weeks ago. I still don’t know his name because he refused to give it to me and he, for a lack of a better description, really doesn’t like me. Alex and I can have a civil conversation after the night is through; this man on the other hand, is very unpleasant to deal with.
The question this man raised is aimed at what we have been preaching: that God has the right to exact judgement upon sinners whether in this life or the next, and according to the Bible, there is no such thing as “innocent people.” Not happy with that theological titbit, he asked the question to this effect: “What about those people who perished in the bush fire, what have they done to deserve having such tragedy befall them.” Of course, the problem here is that he assumes the position that men is inherently good and no one deserves to have bad stuff happen to them, while the Bible assumes the opposite, human beings are not good, and the question is not so much why bad thing happen to good people but why do God allow the “rain to fall upon the just, as well as the unjust. “ Why is God so patient with the wickedness of the world? Why does he show love to those who do not love Him?
I tried to answer the question as straightforwardly as I can, knowing there isn’t much chance that my answer is going to be received with joy and gladness. As I try to explain the Bible calls people to repentance in the face of tragedy such as the Victorian Bushfire in light of the frailty of our lives and the reality of suffering attest to the fallen condition of this world. It was not long before the men start to twist my words and try to incite the crowd. Not surprisingly I was accused of being hateful towards my fellowmen as I would not affirm the general goodness of men and the crowd gets into overdrive. It is apparent that part of the heckling crowd is no longer being reasonable and I started to ignore their antics. They “borrowed” two milk crates and tried to up stage the preaching. A couple of them started to throw profanity and insults my way. A couple of young lady decided to empty two cups of soft drinks on my pants and shoes. The man who raised the Bushfire problem decided to bring out his “question to end all questions”, directed at me, he asked: “If God exists, why are you so fat?” Incidentally, that’s the first question he ever asked me when I first met him weeks ago. Hmmm... can’t you feel the love tonight?
Meanwhile I was addressing another group of people, a young Canadian lad and two girls in their late teens who were disgusted by the uncivilized behaviour of the others, and we were able to have a reasonable discussion about the Gospel. The two young ladies had previous experiences with Christianity but were very confused with what we are preaching as they have never had the Gospel explained to them before. I took them through the Law of God so that they have an understanding of the rightness of God’s judgement upon the world and then explain the death of Christ in satisfying the justice of God on the cross and therefore making us right with God. They thanked me for being honest with them, they said that they understood what I explained, I told them I would pray for them and they went on their way.
The young man from Canada on the other hand is an ardent atheist. However, he is very pleasant to talk to, frustrating but pleasant. Our conversation went well pass mid night. Not surprisingly he remains an ardent atheist at the end of the night but I was able to show him the reasonable arguments for Christianity. I don’t believe that men and women can be reasoned into the Kingdom but it is crucial to present Christianity as true and present the faith as reasonable. This young men and his friend both came from Christian families, both of them now rebelled against the faith of their fathers largely because Christianity was presented to them as being “just-so”. No one gave them the reason for believing, instead they were told to “just believe” and asking too many questions is a sign of unbelief. As this young man and I said good bye I couldn’t help but think how many sceptics we meet on Saturday nights are produced by churches and Christians who never explained the reason for their faith, Christian faith is based upon the solid rock of truth, and the Bible instils no virtue for blind faith.
I was told at the end of the night there were many great Gospel conversations. We packed up and left the mall, a chaotic but fruitful night. May the Lamb receive the reward of His suffering.
Soli Deo Gloria.