My heart broke when you said you were an atheist. Great sorrow continues to afflict me, knowing you are missing the very essence of the universe, the penultimate source of love, of joy, of peace. Your creator designed you to need him. He sculpted a God-shaped vacuum into your core. Nothing else can fill that vacuum. Surely this void drives the restless human quest for meaning. For what person can deny the deep, instinctive longing to be part of something beyond himself? We are lonely for a time, for a place, for a person that we cannot even name.
Vainly we attempt to ease this emptiness, perhaps latching onto a social cause, perhaps devouring a platter of superficial pleasures. At best, these popular causes or fleshly distractions offer fleeting satisfaction. At worst, they drive us mad, promising more than they will ever deliver and leaving us wounded, spent, and broken by disillusionment.
To you, God is the illusion. To me, everything outside of God is. When we spoke, I sensed you found religious people judgmental and offensive, ugly in their claimed possession of “Truth”. You asked difficult questions. Did I think my religion was the only valid religion? Did I think my Bible was the only Holy book? Your eyes dared me to say yes. But dear cousin, my answer, if given fully, cannot be as simple as that.
In my early days as a Christian, I did subscribe to this inflexible way of thinking. You were either in the Christian boat and going to heaven, or you were floating on your back toward the “bad place”. Over time, I have grown to see the mercy and love of God extend farther than I suspected. And so, my cousin, when you asked me about the world’s competing religions, I could say yes, I believe in Jesus, and I love God, and I am a Christian, but of course other religions can draw souls back to their loving creator. If a Muslim, a Buddhist, or a Jew seeks God with all his heart and soul, he will find the one and only true God. Through that faith, he may also find the love and mercy of the Risen Christ. To quote William Shakespeare, is not a rose the same sweet flower, even if called by another name?
Do not misunderstand me: even now, I must testify that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. A soul must surrender to him as Lord. Only God can judge. Surely the mysteries of the inner man belong to the one whose vision blazes into our hidden motives and thoughts. A Christian may spend his entire life dutifully going to church and yet never meet Jesus as Lord. A Muslim may practice Islam devoutly on his prayer mat and yet actually kiss the feet of Jesus. You heard me: he can place a personal call to the Allah the Father only to have Jesus the Son pick up the phone.
Consider the Nature of a Day
This idea leads to some confusion. Indeed, the triune concept of God seems contradictory, but you may begin to understand it more readily if you consider the nature of a day. There is morning, noon, and night, each distinct and yet part of the same. One…yet divided into parts. If you experience morning, it will quite naturally introduce you to noon, and noon will eventually hand you over to night. If you find God, he will introduce you to Jesus. Eventually Jesus will send you the Holy Spirit, the indwelling presence of God. That spirit himself will speak through his still, small voice, if you will drown out the noise of the world and sit in silence with him.
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” In this verse, James 4:8 promises that all men have been pre-programmed to find the Almighty. The father’s love is so pure, it binds us to him like a tether. If any man finds the tether and works to discover what lies at the other end, he will find God. He might use Islam, Judaism, or Christianity to pull the rope and inch closer to that incredible being of light who is beyond our comprehension or measurement. If a human were a beaker of glass and God poured his full self into the vessel, the beaker would overflow and eventually shatter. We cannot contain the vastness or withstand the high-frequency vibrations that emit from the holy energy of God. In our human form, we can only handle knowing him in part.
Remember what I told you about the elephant? Three blind men walk along a jungle trail and come upon an elephant. Each reaches up with seeking hands to discover what sort of creature is blocking the path. The man at the rear describes the tail; the man in the center describes the belly; the man in front describes the trunk and the ears. They begin to argue about the size, shape, and form of the unseen beast. Their argument becomes heated; none realizes that each is correctly describing different parts of the same thing. The impressive creature is far too large for their feeble hands and, unless they listen to one another, they will miss the picture of the whole elephant. Such is the case with our limited human perspective.
Faith in Christ is like finding the elephant’s head. However, people can latch onto the giant mammal from other directions, and they are also patting and feeling their way toward understanding. Yet cousin, there is also a fourth blind man, one who refuses to come close enough to grope the beast. This man stands just off the path, waving his hands across the empty air and declaring: “No creature is here at all.”
Is it not far better to grasp the elephant’s tail than to mistake him for empty space? Yes. As the old hymn says, “There is a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.” As long as you acknowledge and seek God, as long as you honor and love God, you are on the path. How can I argue that Mahatma Gandhi was not a holy man? Clearly he was faithful, prayerful, and highly empowered by God. When I visited an Orthodox Jewish service recently, the people were sincerely seeking God’s face, using the ancient religion that gave birth to my own Christianity. I felt the peaceful presence of the Lord so clearly that I cried. My soul testifies within me that a loving God is sending out his beams of light to all people, of all religions, across the earth, with round-the-clock access.
Yet this rich outpouring of mercy is only available due to the death and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Without this, there would be no hope. Sin and evil destroy humans, attacking mind, body, and soul. We live in a universe of cause and effect. God loved us so much that he came in the person of Jesus Christ to suffer the deadly consequence of our sin. He did this to give us life and bring us – his children – back home to himself. (This reunion of the lost son to his beloved father, this happy return to the nostalgic childhood home, must be the essential yet unnamable thing for which our soul is thirsting.)
How can we fully comprehend the immeasurable compassion of this god who was willing to suffer, die, and endure the burning tortures of death for us? Those who turn their backs on him will endure the worst suffering of all, eternal separation from every kind of light, love, or tenderness. No matter how horrific things ever get on earth, there is always hope. Hell is the place without hope, where there will never, ever be a brighter morning or a new day dawning, where there will never be restoration, healing, or recovery. A place without miracles, a place without forgiveness: no soul should ever fall into this inescapable chasm of complex anguish.
This is not God’s desire. According to 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise (of returning), as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
Scooping Up a Lost Child
God gives us freedom to choose what and whether we will believe. His eyes are constantly searching the earth, looking for those who love him (2 Chron. 16:9). While you are living in mortal time, you are granted the gift of action. You may turn to him at any moment, and he will fly to you like a father scooping up a lost child. Once we die, the curtain falls on the stage of our destiny. God will search us from the inside out and reveal whether we have believed in Him and in his son: that one fact will determine our eternal future.
Dear cousin, if you can but see the glory of God in the tiniest details of life, from the efficiencies and intelligent design of cells in an organism to the beauty of glistening dew in a spider web touched by a sunrise, then surely you can begin to feel the stirrings of hope. There is so much more than we can see with our vision. God gave you spiritual senses, and you have only to reach within to find them. What a compassionate cosmos you will discover. If you dare to look beyond the smoke, perhaps you will see the starburst of exploding light that God emits across the universe and into the dark corners of every human soul.
“But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deut. 4:9
Please understand, it is not enough to simply believe that God exists. As Saint Paul says in James 2:19, even the demons believe in God — and shudder. Not mere belief but faith is required, which means falling on your face before his glory and surrendering every fiber of your being to his higher purpose. This journey requires daily steps, uphill climbs, sacrifices, and yes, even spiritual battles. Christianity is the full disclosure of God’s deep yearning for us; it is the love story of his sacrifice to rescue us. It is the standing invitation to come home and find peace. Any sincere devotion to God is transformational. Let us respect one another, those who are seeking God, and encourage the climb. And may all people of faith reach out to the godless man, guiding his doubtful touch toward the waiting elephant.
Your Christian cousin
To quote C.S. Lewis, “From the Weight of Glory”
“We are warned that it may happen to any one of us to appear before the face of God and hear only the appalling words: “I never knew you. Depart from Me.” In some sense, as dark to the intellect as it is unendurable to the feelings, we can be both banished from the presence of him who is present everywhere and erased from the knowledge of Him who knows all. We can be left utterly and absolutely outside—repelled, exiled, estranged, finally and unspeakably ignored. On the other hand, we can be called in, welcomed, received, acknowledged. We walk every day on the razor edge between these two incredible possibilities.”