Monday, March 19, 2007

The Meeting on the Way

This weekend I met Sloth, Simple and Presumption from Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Well, not really, but the personifications fit just perfectly. My wife and I are getting in the habit of going downtown to Starbucks near USC Campus on Sunday nights (we have no evening service at church) with the intention of evangelism. We met some friends from church, got some coffee and while the ladies stayed inside, Alan and I went out to the fountain to do some “fishing.”

Here is Bunyan’s scenario:

“I saw then in my dream, that he went on thus, even until he came at the bottom [of the hill], where he saw, a little out of the way, three men fast asleep, with fetters upon their heels. The name of the one was Simple, of another Sloth, and of the third Presumption. Christian then seeing them lie in this case, went to them, if peradventure he might awake them, and cried, you are like them that sleep on the top of a mast, (Prov. 23:34), for the Dead Sea is under you, a gulf that hath no bottom: awake, therefore, and come away; be willing also, and I will help you off with your irons. He also told them, If he that goeth about like a roaring lion, (1 Pet. 5:8), comes by, you will certainly become a prey to his teeth. With that they looked upon him, and began to reply in this sort: Simple said, ‘I see no danger’; Sloth said, ‘Yet a little more sleep’; and Presumption said, ‘Every tub must stand upon its own bottom.’ And so they lay down to sleep again, and Christian went on his way.”[1]

Alan met James with two friends smoking on the far side of the fountain and they jumped right into a lively conversation. I stood off to the side and prayed while Alan reasoned with them from scripture. James’ two friends (a girl and a guy) got very defensive and the guy took the girl off by the arm, loudly proclaiming, “You can’t mix religion and politics!” I still don’t get what that was all about. Alan was left with James, who would not relent his position of denying the existence of God and his accountability at final judgment. When Alan looked to me, I jumped in.

[note: I am reproducing as much of the conversation as comes to mind. The conversations were much longer and more detailed than I could give. Please pray for these people]

Simple (“I see no danger”)
James admitted that as a human he was fatally flawed, but would reason his way out of every flaw on the basis that all humanity was “screwed.” When confronted with God’s perfect law, James would not admit to breaking any of them, yet confessed to breaking many laws. His attitude was that he could go through life as a good person and when he died, would just be assimilated into the universe (“I guess I’ll come back as a nebulae or dirt or something.”)

I asked if he’d ever told a lie. Sure, he had. But he would not confess to being a liar. Alan asked, “if I told a lie, what would you call me?”

“I don’t cast stones, man.”

I asked James, “what do you call someone who murders someone?”

“A murderer,” he said without blinking.

“And what do you call someone who commits rape?” I asked.

“A rapist,” he answered.

“So what would you call someone who tells lies?”

He smiled, shook his head, “A liar. But . . .” then began to justify lying for good causes. I reminded him that good causes don’t matter because a lie is a lie, and people who tell them are liars, just as murderers are murderers, etc.

“But what does it matter,” he shrugged.

“It matters because in the end, a person is accountable for their thoughts and deeds,” I replied.

We carried on a good conversation about his disbelief in the afterlife and the relativity of morals. He made his case that all matter becomes assimilated, so the eternal does not matter, neither do the sins we commit.

Sins? Did he have a religious background? Sure, he was Catholic and grew up in Catholic school and all the pain that came with it. Ah. That’s what he was reacting against.

I asked if he’d ever blasphemed, used God’s name as a curse word. Yes, he had. Funny that he should use as a curse word the name of someone he does not believe.

Yeah, but the problem lies in that God all the religious people believe—nothing wrong with religion, it’s just not useful to him. I wondered to him what he really did think of God. He said that he just could not conceive of a God that the church believed. I showed him from Exodus 34 that God is not the loving God that many make him out to be—He is also a God of justice and righteousness.

His problem now fell to my quoting from scripture, “where’d it come from,” he asked?

“From men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

“There’s the problem. Men wrote that book.”

I asked him where he heard that. He made some argument about the Bible being written by fallible men who interpreted divine intention through pre-historic and pre-cultural mindsets. I asked him again where he heard that because certainly he did not just “get” that one day. He told me he learned it from school. I asked who taught him.

“Nuns and priests,” he responded.

“Men, right? You take the word of men over the word of God spoken through men?”

He looked stunned. I asked him, “when you want to put something on paper, who does the writing: you or the pen?” And I illustrated this is how inspiration works: men moved by the Holy Spirit wrote as instruments of God.

I went back to conscience and told him that even though he rejects scripture, he still knows the difference between right and wrong. His conscience still works (I think). He told me he still did not believe in hell.

“Get up and come with me,” and he got up. I walked toward the street and told him, “let’s walk into the middle of the road and deny the existence of trucks.” He did not move. His friend covered his mouth so he could not be heard laughing. I told him that he could deny the existence of trucks, but the reality of trucks would hit him right square between the eyes. Same with hell—deny it’s existence and still be hit with the reality of it. He told me it still didn’t matter to him, but I could sense he was wavering.

Alan and I left him by telling him his need to repent and turn from his sin and throw himself on the mercy of God, or he would die in his sins after facing God on judgment day. He thanked us for the good conversation.

Sloth (“Yet a little more sleep”) and Presumption (“Every tub must stand upon its own bottom.”)

Alan and I went back inside to join the ladies. A couple that had been sitting next to us heard our conversation (they were there most of the time and heard us talking about Jonathan Edwards and his theology that God is obligated to save no-body from hell) and the guy leans over and notices my colored beads hanging from my fanny-pack (I carry my tracks in a fanny pack).

“Hey, don’t those beads mean something about sin and Jesus and being clean and stuff?” We talked for a while about where he’d heard the “wordless book” and the meaning of the colors.

I asked launched into the “Good Person” test. Yes, he considered himself to be a good person.

Did he keep the 10 Commandments? “Oh No! I’m not good person!” he said outloud. His female companion agreed. I took him through some to see which one’s he’d broken. He’d lied. He’d stolen. He’d shot a guy, and doesn’t know if he lived. Then I asked her, “what about you? Good Person?” Before she could answer, I asked, “ever commit adultery?”

Her head spun and she said, “I’m doing it right now.” And she reached across the table and took the guy by the hand.

I asked what’s going to happen on judgment day when God judges them. They both said, “we’re sunk.”

We talked about that and confirmed it with scripture: 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Rev. 21:8. They had no chance. They were sunk. I tried to let it sink in a little bit: there was no way they were going to inherit the kingdom of God. I said nothing. “That’s it?” they asked.

“Yep, that’s about the shape of things,” I said. “By your own admission you are liars, thieves and adulterers. You will not inherit the kingdom of God. What do you suppose He will do with you?”

She rolled her eyes and said, “well, God’s supposed to send us to hell and all that, but what about forgiveness?” And crossed her arms in finality.

“What about it?” I asked.

“Isn’t God supposed to be forgiving?” She asked.

“When it comes to justice, what do you think?” I presented to her the scenario about appearing before a judge who has a list of crimes and is about to pass sentence. What can she say for herself? “Forgive me?” What’s a good judge supposed to do?

She made an argument that God is not like that and we could argue courtroom stuff all day. I opened my Bible to the above-mentioned passages, put the scripture in front of her and asked, “where does it say one has the opportunity at judgment to ask for forgiveness? The sentence is being passed, and for not believing you stand judged already.” Her male companion sat back in his chair, “I’d never thought of that. Looks like we’re sunk.”

Strangely enough, I sensed no urgency in their confession or realization of their eternal destiny. The longer we talked (I presented as much bad news as possible about the wrath of God) the less they seemed disturbed. This puzzled me. I came down hard on their need to repent, turn from their adultery and other sin and cry out to God for mercy. The young man started to say how he’d been in church all his life and had never heard this kind of gospel.

Then I brought in Christ Jesus, His substitutionary death and their need to not only acknowledge Him as Savior, but live under His Lordship. I made it clear they were not obeying the gospel.

Somehow we got off talking about tattoos and she showed me one on her wrist of a chain and lock. I was caused to remember Deuteronomy 28:47-48 and told her she could be free of her chains, or be forced under the iron yoke to bend the knee and be destroyed in sin.

At this point she began packing up her books and he took this as his cue they were leaving as well. I knew the conversation was over. I asked if they had a Bible at home. She said she had four. He didn’t have one, but would count on her to be his Bible for him—and he kissed her hand. My heart broke. How could they hear the gospel, know the gospel and hold onto their high-handed sin? I told them my heart was broken and they had their conscience to live with. I once more reminded them of their need to repent and forsake sin and take up Christ Jesus. They said they would much rather not repent and take their chances.

Bunyan closes that frame with this: "Yet he was troubled to think that men in that danger should so little esteem the kindness of him that so freely offered to help them, both by awakening of them, counselling of them, and proffering to help them off with their irons.”

[1]Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim's Progress : From This World to That Which Is to Come. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995.

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