The Apologetic of Listening Well

Human beings, by nature, seek after meaning…but why?

No other creature on Earth ever bothers itself with wondering why it is here; apart from human beings, the chief concern of every other animal seems to be eating and (significantly) not getting eaten. Once the scramble for food, clothing and shelter is over, only human beings pause long enough to wonder whether their lives actually “mean anything” over against the larger measuring sticks of time and eternity.

Learning Evangelism from JesusSo where did this pesky idea that we must have meaning come from?

Apart from our own lives of (at best) 80-100 years, why does the human heart relentlessly attach significance of any sort to people, places or things? Why do the most successful books, films and plays always seem to point beyond themselves to deeper truths? Leveraging this universal desire, one of the more helpful approaches I have encountered is taught by Prof. Jerram Barrs at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. Barrs insists that it is the duty of every Christian believer to make an honest attempt to understand another’s worldview so well that he or she can recite it back to the individual such that they give it their own stamp of approval, i.e. “Yes, that’s right, that’s exactly what I believe.”

According to Barrs, our “fact-finding missions” are to be conducted prior to the introduction of a Christian response or any attempt to disrupt another’s worldview without first obtaining permission. The approach to any non-Christian – or perhaps even especially “the confused nominal Christian” – must be conducted with the utmost in respect, kindness and (significantly) concern for the other person (1 Peter 3:14-16). We are never called to minister to people for whom we bear no love, let alone argue with them, and no one much cares to hear answers to questions that are not being asked.

All that being true, few people, if any, are content to live out their days apart from an overarching narrative, even if the narrative they must build for themselves is unbiblical, selfish, nihilistic…or even destructive. While those we engage with may or (more often) may not spend much time living in the way of contemplative reflection, they nonetheless carry with them “hidden answers” that they have either consciously or unwittingly adopted to answer the four fundamental questions of life. Because the human heart is so relentlessly “spinning the radio dial” looking for meaning amidst all the static, caring Christians who take time to really listen will almost certainly be given an opportunity to speak into The Big Four (as frequently articulated by Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias):

  • Origin: Where exactly did the human race come from? When did that happen?
  • Meaning: Why is human life significant, any more so than that of a mosquito, for example?
  • Morality: What do we use to define what is “right” and what is “clearly wrong?”
  • Destiny: What happens to us after we die? Anything?
    • OK, so what happens after the Earth itself dies?

One of the most treasured promises in all of Scripture is the oft-quoted Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” As we engage with others, one of the more essential (and ultimately terrifying) truths we can hope to bring to light is that, indeed, a life lived apart from Christ does not seem to make much ultimate sense, nor will it seem to be driving anywhere eternally meaningful; the promise given to us by Paul in Romans 8 applies only to those who have surrendered their lives to the Lord.

Though He owes us absolutely nothing, Christ is so gracious with us that He not only provides meaning going forward into the future, but also redeems our past forays into sin, folly and rebellion for our good and for the good of others (Genesis 50:20). Belonging to Christ brings with it the only – singular and exclusive – means by which any of the things that have happened to us will ultimately make sense in Eternity, yes, but Jesus is so over-the-top gracious that He even allows us to see and participate in glimpses of His redemptive work in this life.

In the late 1990s, I was lost in a deep sense of futility and purposelessness in the wake of the collapse of my first marriage, even reaching so far as to seriously consider suicide as “a reasonable solution.” How gracious God has been to redeem even that time of futility for the benefit of others by placing me (and my wife, who also went through a divorce) in ministry roles that have helped others navigate this sort of loss, albeit more faithfully than either of us could manage. When I was forced to move into an awful, filthy downtown apartment in the dead of winter, I could scarcely stop from gritting my teeth against the cold and the anger I felt toward God. It would never have dawned on me at that moment that something amazing was taking place, and that one day this story of loss would serve to grant me access to people at a level where we might both be healed.

Owed nothing other than death and judgment, Christ has spread before me a “rough outline” of what He has had in mind for me all along, and one of the greater delights in my life nowadays is showing others how they, too, can attach themselves meaningfully to the great Master Storyline Jesus is writing.

There was a time when I did not much like the idea of someone else – anyone else! – writing the storyline of my life. People who resist the idea that the best possible use of their time on Earth is to surrender to Jesus will find much in the way of sympathy from me…I get it. Even yet today, there are times when I am tempted to cut and run, sure, but looking back at the “successes” of those years when I was working it all out on my own always bring me back to The Big Four and a simple, softly-spoken question: “What are you running to?”

John 6:65-69 (ESV)
And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

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