With respect to those involved, I have changed all names except mine. 🙂
You asked me a great question tonight:
what am I NOT seeing in Stan that you can ??
What, indeed? A weighty question, requiring a thoughtful answer. I will do my best.
First, I think it must be said that I don’t necessarily have a great relationship with Stan. Certainly I would count him my friend, and I try to defend him when I think he is unfairly attacked (which doesn’t happen often, but…it’s worth defending him, anyway). But we sort of have a tense relationship, if you want to know the truth about it. He will be the first to tell you that I have loathed him and have cussed him out and have gone without speaking to him on several occasions; but we’ve also had deep conversations about God, about Christianity, about ourselves, about life in general, about the lack of resources available for those who seem to need resources the most, and about the oblivion that many people embrace in order to avoid the conscience that might reform their lives enough to change the lives around them. He is a deep and passionate fellow, and for that–I adore him, in spite of his hatred of others and his blatant lack of respect for Christians. Having said all of that, I hope you understand that my friendship with him is very ferocious. He brings out the very best and the very worst in my philosophical self. Good friends always bring out the best and worst in you in some fashion or another; if they don’t, then I don’t think they can truly be called friends. Consider the disciples, who brought out the worst in each other by arguing over who was to be the greatest in Heaven; and yet brought out the best in each other by working to advance the Kingdom of God. There is always a little bit of both in a good friendship. But again, referring to my friendship with Stan as a “good” one need not imply that we always feel amiably toward one another. We have certainly butted heads on several occasions, and will several times more, I’m sure!
But as to what I see in him? This is a much more difficult question, and I do not answer it lightly for two reasons. Firstly, because I am aware that my perceptions are not necessarily unbiased. I don’t mean that I hold prejudiced thoughts about Stan; but that every view of fallen man is limited, including my view of him. Secondly, because I’m not entirely sure what it is that I see all of the time. I see something. Just because I don’t recognize what I see, doesn’t mean it isn’t a good something.
In regards to Stan, I’ve seen a great deal of myself reflected in his life (what he has shared with me of his life, anyway). It has been a difficult but incredible journey for me. And no journey is without its reward; often, the journey is the reward. But I digress. I see much of myself in him. It would be easy to say, “I see hurt,” but I don’t. I don’t see “hurt” in him. I see anger. I see a healthy anger in him at the injustice in our world. I wish more Christians had an anger like that! I wish more Christians would step up and say, “This isn’t right! Somebody do something! THIS IS CRAZY!” In all, I think a lot of his hatred of Christianity comes not from his intellectual objections to it, but from his very real awareness that there are problems in the world that–instead of trying to solve–Christians have kind of brushed off and acted like we don’t need to address them.
I think you, of all people, understand that concept, Alice. You also have this same passion for people and this same burning desire to see changes made that will mend, rather than destroy, individuals. This is something you and Stan have in common, actually; and I wish the two of you could stifle your differences long enough to brainstorm on the kinds of changes we need to see in our societies.
But beyond all of that, Alice…beyond my appreciation of what angers him, and the reflection of myself that I see in him, and all of this…I have always tried to live by a piece of wisdom I stumbled upon in high school. It’s not Scripture, but it is incredibly profound:
If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I look back at my own life, Alice, and I see enough sorrow and suffering to make me the crazy, moody, struggling Christian that I am. When I look at Stan in context of that lense, of sorrow and suffering, I understand clearly: it doesn’t take much injustice in our lives to become truly angry and emotionally (and intellectually) distant from our Creator. Even as Christians, we question God; we throw our fists at Him and curse at Him and throw our tantrums; we weep, we wrestle, we struggle with who He is and where He is and…and where He isn’t; we look around us and we see so much hurt and brokenness, and we feel completely powerless to change the lives of those who most need change. If we, those who embrace the Savior and the Gospel, cannot make sense of God and how deep the wounds of life can be, then how easy must it be for a non-Believer to conclude that either God does not exist or He is simply unconcerned with our lives.
I’m not saying I agree with his Atheism. I’m saying I understand it. And in spite of the fact that he says he sees no evidence for the existence of God, I hold it to be true that no evidence can be found when we are broken and angry. If God does not show up when we feel we need Him most, then we stop looking for Him to show up anywhere. We stop looking to human kindness; we stop looking to the sunrise; we stop looking to the beauty of music and art and literature; we stop looking to the stars and the Aurora Borealis; we stop looking. Period. He would disagree with me on this point. He would vehemently state that he simply sees no evidence, and he enjoys these beauties without needing to believe in God. Again, we fall back to perspective.
Things are not always as they seem, Alice. And perhaps I could have spared you this long-winded answer by stating what I most believe to be true about this situation and this person:
Love your enemy. There is nothing particularly miraculous about loving your friends; love your enemy. Pray for your enemy. The surest way to see Stan in a new light is to pray for him. And if you cannot talk to him, and find yourself unable to be loving around him, then I ask you to pray that I will be a better friend to him; pray that he would see Christ in me. Nothing else matters.
Pax Christ, my dear friend.