“I am so certain of what I believe that I’m willing to go to hell if I’m wrong.”
Karl shrugs and gives half a smile, like he’s impressed with his own confidence.
I return his half smile, but not as a reaction to him. Because no fear is rising in my heart.
We were in the gym with the fans whirring overhead. Karl sat comfortably on a bench, his gorillaish arms resting loosely in front of him. I didn’t say anything, and neither did Jason, lounging against the pull-up machine. An hour and a half I had been listening to Karl and Jason go back and forth in their intellectual debate.
Jason’s a well-educated, well-meaning young Christian man. His enormous beard gives the impression of many years’ experience, but up close there’s a youthfulness in his eyes.
Karl’s not a meathead, even if he does have biceps the size of my head. He wears trendy square glasses and talks circles around us, even if they are contradictory. He speaks with authority, even if he responds with many “Maybe”s, “Possibly”s, and “Could be”s. He’s all about love, even if people get to define it how they want; truth, even if it’s relative; meaning, even if it’s arbitrary.
I’m passionate and a little perceptive, dreadful at debate and agitated in argument. I listened for a while and then asked God what to say.
Nothing, he answered.
I spoke anyway.
The conversation went down a dead-end street as I made several attempts on Karl’s logic and tried to keep up as it made figure-eights that never joined.
Finally I shut up, realizing why God said not to speak in the first place. You can’t get anywhere in intellectual persuasion.
In my quest of the workings of the human heart, I have learned that there is always something deeper motivating what someone says and believes.
One of my favorite authors says that a man doesn’t form his convictions, but that they are formed within him (by his experiences and the way his heart receives the world.)
It made me wonder what convictions formed in Karl by his abusive, alcoholic father, his party days and arrests, his finding love and getting engaged. He isn’t concerned about the literal translation of the Bible so much as he is afraid that God can’t be trusted. He isn’t sold on his claim that people are guided by their internal compass to do bad or good–let everyone do what they believe is right and love as they think love is–so much as he is trying to make sense of a world that is hurtful.
There is always something deeper and that something deeper is always desire. A person can’t get away from their desire.
Intellectual reasoning, I am discovering, is the result of that desire unfulfilled.
As I listened, there was something curling and uncurling deep in me. It’s why God told me not to speak.
Once, when I disagreed with a friend on a theological issue, I asked God why I felt so agitated.
You are afraid you don’t know me, he said.
It wasn’t about the issue at all, but the doubt it stirred in me that I didn’t know my Father.
But that’s not true, God added. You do know me, and are coming to know me more.
It was enough to let the disagreement go. It didn’t matter. I know and am known by the God of the universe, which answers the basest desire of my heart.
My desire to challenge Karl’s logic had nothing to do with wanting to persuade or convert him. I felt compelled to defend God and my faith in him. I only feel that need to be vindicated when I’m not resting in his heart, in his absolute acceptance and delight of me.
Someone once pointed out, “God has been misrepresented by people for thousands of years. Do you not think he is able to defend himself?”
Defending God was a hill I was willing to die on for so many years, just as Karl is willing to spend eternity in hell if he is wrong.
Karl asks if we have any closing remarks. I check in again with God and this time he says, Say what’s on your heart.
So I jump in with admitting that I always walk away from theological debate feeling dissatisfied. That I feel the need to defend what I believe about God when I forget his heart for me. That I desire a whole heart and a whole world, and a life lived in the restoration of Jesus.
“That’s so good!” Jason agrees enthusiastically. Karl smiles and tacks on that none of us love each other any less for what we believe.
We each walked away not one increment persuaded. I wondered. Would I be willing to go to hell if I’m wrong? Is this a hill I am willing to die on?
There’s always a deeper desire…
I don’t need to find a hill to die on. Jesus already did that.