My classmate and I stood outside the War Memorial building. We squinted from the misty air blowing in our faces and I could tell he wanted to stick around and talk—despite my obvious efforts to escape to my car. He and I had just attended the Festival of Faiths for a grad school assignment.
“Can I ask you a question?” he said, his words masked in a thick west African accent.
“Sure,” I replied with a shiver.
“What is the purpose of God?”
I stood silently allowing the question to circulate in the air and find its way into my mind. We had just established that I was a Christian and he was an Atheist. I suppose the conversation was timely, considering the Festival we were leaving. I had no answer other than God does not have a purpose. He simply is.
“You’re asking the wrong question,” I managed to say at last. “If you ask me what the purpose of God is, then we have different ideas of who the person of God is.” We began to argue a bit as I shifted the conversation to the purpose of humanity. He expressed his belief that there is no life after death and when he dies he will cease to exist.
“Then what’s the point of living?” I asked.
“I want to make life better for other people so they can have a good life.”
“But why?” I continued. “If they will die and become nothing, what is the point of them having a good life?”
“The point is so they can experience good things and enjoy them,” he replied with a smile.
We went back and forth for a while until I grew tired. The conversation dissolved quickly when in frustration I said, “I don’t want to argue with you about religion!” In hindsight, a part of me wishes I’d engaged him longer. What I might have said differently is this:
We exist for God, not the reverse. Therefore we should not be asking what the purpose of God is, for we did not invent the idea of God. In some religions, people have created a god to serve. Perhaps their god has a purpose. But the God of Christianity is one who has always been, and so we do not ask what his treason for existence is, rather we (the created) ask what our’s is.
I wish I had stayed around to talk with him more but I knew there was no sense in arguing over who was right, not to mention the cold rain pelleting our faces. But I know now that I would share my story rather than my “religion.”
I once lived in fear of man, fear of life, and fear of death. Everything scared me—from the dark of night, to public speaking, to failure and rejection. But I found myself at 14-years-old sitting on my bedroom floor completely crippled by my fear. I opened the little bible I’d received from my church that had on the first pages these five words:
“Where to find help when . . .”
Following these words there was a list of situations
- When you are sad
- When you are lonely
- When you are afraid . . etc,
I soon turned to a chapter in the book of Isaiah that reads, “Fear not for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. Yes, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” In that moment all my fears seemed to be covered by a firm hand. It wasn’t that my fears disappeared, they still exist to some extent even today. But it was a peace in spite of my fears that filled me with comfort.
My fears still hit me like strong waves of the sea, but somehow I stand rooted in the sand like a great heavy post. Since this moment when I was 14, sitting on the bedroom floor, I have sought the Lord in my fears and uncertainties, and somehow his peace is bestowed upon me. This not only confirms his existence but also reveals his goodness. He is much more than a figment of humanity’s imagination.
This is my experience with God. Later came the recognition of my need for him beyond just peace and comfort. I saw an ugly side of me, in which I realized I am an immoral human being, inclined to wrong doing and susceptible to grave imperfections. When history speaks of Jesus’s death, I learned that he died because he loved humanity and wanted them to have the opportunity to live. In some ways my West African friend is like Jesus. He’s willing to sacrifice his life so that others can have a good one. But unfortunately humans are not gods. Though made in his image we cannot add one day to our lives or the lives of others.
I will admit, Christianity is confusing sometimes. But it becomes easier once you read the story from actual eye-witnesses. This is my story, my witness. My friend from West Africa spoke of his Muslim family. He grew up as a Muslim and became an Atheist three years ago. I felt angry that he was trying to force Atheism on me. I felt irritated that he told me things about my religious affiliation that were untrue.
“You only believe in God because your parents told you to,” he said.
But now I wonder if this is how others feel when I share my faith with them. Do I shove it down their throats with urgency? Do I seek to scare them into believing they must ‘repent and be baptized’? Or do I merely share my story, my witness, and my experience of the God I know and have come to love?
I use to be afraid to talk about religion—especially with those of differing faiths. But these uncomfortable conversations show me new things about my God while simultaneously reminding me of what I truly believe.