Not Encouraged To Believe
Not Encouraged To Believe
“Good morning,” I said to the tiny, lean, rugged woman standing at the sink in a Utah KOA Bathhouse.
“Good morning,” she said in a heavily accented voice.
“Where are you from?” I asked as I stepped completely out of the shower. I always wonder how seriously I’ll be taken when I’m wearing my pink terrycloth shoulder-less romper.
“Germany,” she said. “How about you?”
“Florida and I’m freezing,” I said, huddling up under the wet blue towel. She laughed. “Are you here on holiday?” I asked, knowing “holiday” was the European word for “vacation.”
“Yes,” she said. “We’ve been here a month.”
“Are you the ones in the tent behind me?” I asked. She nodded. “I hope the coyotes howling didn’t keep you awake last night. I could hear them all over the hills. My dog usually barks along with other dogs but wisely, she didn’t make a sound in response to those coyotes. Someone warned me yesterday that coyotes would attack a dog so I was nervous walking her late last night.”
“We didn’t hear a thing,” she said. “We had a beer before going to bed and it knocked us out.”
“That’s an approach I haven’t tried,” I joked. As we walked out together into the bracing early morning, we got to know each other. Stephanie had just finished her PhD in Microbiology and she and her boyfriend took an extended trip to America to celebrate. “We had planned to get married when I graduated but as the time got closer, I couldn’t think of a good reason to get married. We’re eventually going to marry but we decided to spend the money we’d saved for the wedding on this trip.”
“Do you live together back in Germany?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “It’s as if we’re already married but we don’t get the tax break. I suppose if we ever want children, we’ll go ahead and get married.”
“Do you want children?”
“My boyfriend does and I suppose I’ll have to be a good sport. It’s hard for women because employers always ask if you have children. It would be better for my career not to have children but I need to do it for him.”
“For what it’s worth,” I said. “I’ve had children and a great career. I had to field a few questions from time to time but I don’t believe my children ever held me back. They’re adults now and are great people so I don’t think my career hurt them.”
Eventually, we got around to talking about Pocket Full of Quarters. When she heard I wrote about people’s spiritual stories she said, “I don’t believe in God but I respect those who do. We don’t go to church in Germany like you do in America. They tax those who go to church, you know.”
“No,” I said surprised. “I didn’t know. That doesn’t seem like much incentive to go to church. Your government isn’t encouraging belief in God.”
“It isn’t,” she agreed. “You have to tell them if you are Catholic or Protestant and the taxes go where you designate.”
“What if you are neither?” I asked.
“Well,” she said. “You can formally exit the church and you don’t have to pay taxes. My father exited the church when I was a child so I never belonged. Since I never belonged, I don’t have to pay taxes.”
“So you’ve never been to church at all?”
“I’ve been to weddings. My parents wanted to make sure I knew about God so I took some classes on religion. The classes were good because they taught me about all kinds of religions. My mother and father asked if I wanted a confirmation but I didn’t care anything about the money people give you from that so I said no.”
“What about Jesus?” I asked. “What are your thoughts about Him?”
“Scientists tell us that He lived,” she said. “It’s been proven so I believe He was a man. I just don’t believe He was the Son of God or anything about rising from the dead. He was probably a good man.”
“If it were true, would you want to know it?” I asked.
That stumped her for a moment as she thought about it. “I’m a scientist,” she said. “If it were true, certainly I’d want to know it.”
“I often ask this question of non-believers,” I told her. “Not everyone wants to know. I had a scientist friend who responded with the same answer as you. I challenged her to ask this God she didn’t believe in to reveal Himself to her. She took the challenge. It took about a year but God revealed Himself in such an amazing way that she could no longer deny Him. She’s now a Christian and in church. During that process, she asked her scientist father if he believed in God. Her father surprised her by saying yes. ‘But Dad,’ she argued. ‘You’re a scientist. How can you believe in God?’ His response was, ‘You have more faith in science than I do.’”
Stephanie laughed at my story. “Everywhere I go, Americans talk about God. Even your President talks about God.”
“It’s hard not to talk about someone when you have such a close personal relationship with them. Not talking about God would be harder for me than not talking about my husband. For the most part, Americans believe in God, and many have a close relationship with Him. What about the Bible? Have you ever read the Bible?”
“I looked at it,” she said. “Some of my classes made me read it. I couldn’t understand it.”
“It’s no wonder,” I said. “I depend on the Holy Spirit to interpret the Bible for me. There are three parts to God. God the Father created us. God the Son came to earth to show us how to live. When He went back to heaven, He left us the Holy Spirit. When you ask Jesus to be a part of your life, the Holy Spirit enters and becomes part of you. I’m not sure I could understand the Bible without the aid of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit and my relationship with Him is the main reason I have no doubts about God. Have you ever tried asking God to show you what the Bibles means?”
“No,” she said. “I hadn’t ever thought about that. My dad likes the Bible. He can’t go to church anymore because he exited it but at night, he reads the Bible. I never understood why. He just says he likes it.”
“It sounds like your Dad believes in God. Think about it, Stephanie. If the Bible is God talking to us and you love God, you would want to hear His words. I love the Bible. I have already spent much of my morning today reading it.”
“I had a disappointment when I was fifteen,” Stephanie said. I felt the conversation turn serious. “I had an American pen pal who was a Christian. She asked if I was a Christian and I wrote her no.” Stephanie’s voice tone changed from controlled scientist to vulnerable teenager. “I didn’t say anything bad about God or tell her she shouldn’t believe. I just answered her question. She never wrote me again. It hurt me.” I wondered if she knew that it was still hurting her, years later, and why. That 15-year-old pen pal asking her about God was her link to the unfilled deep, soul craving need for God.
“Stephanie,” I said. “I’m sorry she didn’t answer you. Fifteen-year-olds are fickle and her lack of response may have been nothing else than some boy in her life.”
“She had written that her boyfriend proposed,” Stephanie admitted.
“Rejecting you because you aren’t Christian is not the Christian way and if she rejected you, she was wrong. As Christians, we love you as we love ourselves. It’s our job to reach out to you and share the wonderful love of Jesus Christ. The best way to see Jesus is through other people. What about the challenge I gave my friend? Are you willing to take that very same challenge? You said if God were real, you’d want to know. Are you willing to ask Him if He’s real?”
“Yes,” she said. “I think I am.”
“I’m going to pray for you Stephanie. I know you don’t believe, but I do. Wonderful things are ahead for you,” I promised. “Here’s my card and the URL to my website. I’m a faithful pen pal and if you write me, I promise I’ll answer, even if you never believe.”
“Thanks. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation,” she said sincerely.
I stepped into the warm camper and was grateful I’d turned the heater on. Brrr, I thought. I’ve got to start dressing warmer to walk to the bathhouse.
HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS one LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH. The second is this, YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. There is no other commandment greater than these. NASU