My life is richer for having known Bob Passantino. He understood people as well as arguments.
When a woman became a Christian, her husband mocked her and said she was stupid because “God cannot exist.” Instead of arguing, she asked him to visit with Bob.
Bob listened to his arguments for atheism, and realized the man was poorly read. He said, “There are better ways to argue for atheism. Let me help you improve your arguments.” He had the man’s attention at that point and they discussed a long time.
Then Bob said, “Would you be willing to read if I gave you a short list? I think these books would really help you with your arguments.”
The man agreed to read what Bob recommended.
I would have started him out with William Lane Craig’s “Reasonable Faith” or John Lennox’s “God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?” I would have included something by the scientist Gerald Schroeder. Antony Flew, the world’s leading philosophical atheist, returned to belief in God’s existence after reading Schroeder.
But that is the difference between me and Bob. Bob didn’t put any books on his reading list that were by Christian or Jewish believers. Instead, he recommended only atheist and skeptical writers.
Bob said, “These writers can help you improve your arguments against belief in God. You need to read and study more before we continue.”
The man went home and read the atheists. Then he was more confident than ever that he had the best arguments.
Even though his arguments improved, Bob still argued a better case for atheism than the man had ever heard.
Finally, in amazement, the man asked Bob, “But if you can argue like that, why aren’t you an atheist?”
Bob’s answer was, “Because there are answers to these arguments. Good answers to every objection.”
What were they? Bob talked a few more hours and gave a reasoned argument from a Christian perspective. Then what happened?
The man said, “Stop. You have arguments I cannot answer, but I don’t want to believe. I will never believe no matter what you say.”
The key word here is “will.” The problem was not with his intellect but with his will. He intended to disregard God’s existence or God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ. In the end, he just did not want to believe.
The problem of the will is a problem with Christian people as well as atheists, though the focus is different. Here are some examples.
Some people want to believe in God, or believe in forgiveness and heaven after they die, but they do not want to answer the Lord’s call to enter into fellowship with other believers. They just want their own private faith, without any hassles or churches or Sunday worship services or teaching. They do not want commitment to a community.
Jesus never calls anyone to a private faith alone, but to communal faith. You are invited to belong to a community, to a worldwide family, to a heavenly host. You are called not only to receive blessings but to give them, to encourage others.
Some people take part in congregational life, but seek personal control and power. It is not a question of “Thy will be done” but “my will be done.” This is a destructive attitude. People are hurt when churches are full of power games and manipulation.
Some people will not forgive. They choose anger instead of God’s help.
God gave us free will. It is a blessing, but also a curse. Our misuse of free will is very dangerous.
As Christians we can neglect duty or opportunity to encourage others. We can abuse others even in churches.
As atheists we can play games and pretend to be wise while we exclude every rational argument that takes us in the direction of God, or exclude every historical argument that affirms Jesus Christ.
So often the human will is like the neck that turns the head. A problem with our will may turn our intellect and attention only in the direction we choose. If you have a stiff neck you cannot turn very easily.
As a Christian I have to examine my will, intentions, desires and plans, and ask whether they are conformed to God’s will. It is hard to pray like Jesus before his arrest and death: “Thy will be done, not mine.”
Jesus is the only one who perfectly trusted God enough to conform his will to God’s will. He did this as our representative. His obedience atones for my lack of obedience and lack of trust. He atones for you too.
He makes it possible for us to know God in grace and peace. His Spirit helps us conform our wills to God’s will, giving fresh starts each day.
The Rev. Mark Koonz is pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Walla Walla. Email him at EmmanuelOffice@wwelc.org or call him at 509-525-6872. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.