Ask Questions Before You Confront
Jeremiah J. Gumm
When Michael first walked through our doors, I wonder if he even knew what he believed. One thing was certain, his search for answers had left him with a confused “religious” worldview.
Growing up, his family had been Episcopalian, but in late junior high, he became an atheist. A teacher in high school helped him return to the Episcopalian church. In time, he got fed up with the liberal teachings of his church. So he started dabbling in Islam. Michael was a security guard and a couple of his co-workers were Muslims. He found Islam’s strict, morally conservative teachings to be attractive and fascinating. He considered converting, but was not quite ready to take the plunge.
He started checking out Lutheran churches. Liberal Lutheran churches failed to provide the answers he sought. Then one Reformation Sunday, he showed up at our church for worship, full of questions, misguided views, and searching for truth.
Really listen to objections
I have to admit that my initial conversations with Michael were rather frustrating. I had difficulty identifying whether he was raising an actual objection or if he was simply playing devil’s advocate from the perspective of Islam, atheism, or a liberal, progressive Christianity. I would have been wise to remember what James wrote, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…” (1:19). Unfortunately, I tended to be slow to listen and quick to speak, which caused our early conversations to circle round and round without actually getting at the heart of Michael’s objections and questions.
In time, though, the Lord taught me to listen to Michael’s objections, to ask questions to better understand what his objections actually were. For example, when Michael and I would discuss Christ’s death on the cross, he would often bring up an objection that likely came from his conversations with his Muslim co-workers—an objection he himself could not answer satisfactorily. “If Jesus is God’s son and God the Father had Jesus die on a cross, then God would have to be an abusive father since he would be putting his son through so much suffering, torture, and pain.” By that logic, Jesus’ death on the cross would make God no better than an abusive father.
How do you respond to that? Without taking the time to unpack that objection with thoughtful questions to get further explanation, it would be very tempting to attack that objection with a vengeance. After all, this objection blasphemes our God! But what was at the heart of Michael’s objection? What questions could be asked “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15b) that would peel away the layers of misunderstanding and help Michael to truly see the compassionate love of God for sinners demonstrated in the sending of his Son Jesus Christ? What questions would help me understand the source of Michael’s objection and enable me to respond?
Michael’s objection started from the premise that God is a holy God of power and control who forces people to submit to his will. That is a commonly held view of Allah among Muslims. Tied to that initial premise is the question whether Jesus Christ is truly God or not—another Muslim objection to the Christian faith. Jesus is acknowledged to be a prophet, but he is not Allah. From that perspective, Michael’s objection makes sense. If Jesus is actually God’s son and if Jesus did actually did suffer and die on the cross, then God must be forcing his son to suffer and die, rightly earning him the charge of “abuser.”
Yet what was Michael missing? He was missing a complete picture of the God of the Bible—the God who is love—described in 1 John 4:9,10, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” That is not the God of Islam. Yet Michael needed to see the God whose love for sinners moved him to act on our behalf, to sacrifice what was most precious to him—his one and only Son—to reconcile us to himself. Michael needed to see that that God is not an abusive father forcing his son to suffer, but the God who loves us even when we were dead and hostile in our sins. So questions needed to be asked to help Michael see the God of love he was missing.
Discover what knowledge is missing
Yet Michael still had objections and questions—objections that required further investigation, further questions to sort through the confusion of his religious worldview, further discussions on what he actually believed and what others tried to convince him to believe.
Related to the last objection, Michael would sometimes say, “If Jesus is God and if Jesus willingly died on the cross, then he is a suicidal God.”
To that I would often ask him, “What about the parent who pushes their child out of the way of an oncoming truck only to be struck themselves and severely injured or killed? Were they ‘suicidal’ in that moment? If not, then what would you call that?” “What of the soldier who falls on a hand grenade tossed into a mess tent full of soldiers? Was he ‘suicidal’ in that moment? If not, then what would you call that?”
While there was logic to Michael’s argument, he was missing the element of love and concern for others. He again was missing the most important element when it comes to any discussion on the death of Christ—the love of God for undeserving sinners demonstrated in the death of Christ our Savior.
Take time to understand
So what can you do when others object to Christianity? Being prepared “to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15) means you need not cower in fear at their objections. In fact, many objections to Christianity actually do not make sense when you explore them further. Ask questions to help you understand what they mean. How does that person support their opinion? Why do they believe what they believe? Do they have proof for their objection or is this just opinion? Are they just parroting what they have heard from others? Much like trying to understand the context behind an objection, it is vitally important that we ask questions to understand the actual objection that is posed to us.
At the same time, we do so “with gentleness and respect.” We do not rush to confront the one who poses the objection. Instead we take time to explore further, to better understand why that blood-bought soul before us has these objections to what God’s Word has to say, to take time with people like Michael.
In the end, Michael eventually moved on. Yet after we had spent considerable time studying God’s Word together and sorting through all his confusion, for the first time in his life, he recognized that the alluring teachings of various “-isms” and Islam did not have what he sought. The Bible was the only reliable source for truth. The questions asked helped Michael to see that.
So don’t be afraid to ask if someone objects to your faith. The Lord may just give you an opportunity to help them see the truth for the first time in their lives.
This is the fourth article in a 12-part series on sharing your faith.
Author: Jeremiah J. Gumm
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019