Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Mormon ... and His Dr. Pepper

"Remove God and your life is as meaningless as a can of soda."
Curtis is a 17 year old convert to Mormonism who my pastor George met in the park next to our church. He's been in the foster system since he was five and has been bounced around between 30 homes over the past 12 years. He's understandably a mixed up young man. George has had conversations with Curtis about Christianity over the past few weeks but Curtis has been fairly combative.

This past Sunday George saw him sitting alone on a bench again and so we both walked over and engaged him in conversation. After a few minutes George had to excuse himself from the conversation but it continued chugging along at a pretty fast clip with Curtis zealously articulating Mormon doctrine.  

All of a sudden he hit the conversational brakes and turned down a side street (there were no blinkers to warn me). It happened so fast I almost missed it. "I'm about this close to leaving the church anyway" he casually blurted out. "Huh???" Was my reply. Not very articulate I know, but I was confused. He explained that since his conversion six months ago he'd had doubts. "I think I'm just going to go back to how it was before. Just my own ideas about God."

"Really?" I inquired. This struck me as ironic. "I'm not sure that's such a good idea. If you go that route you'd be making the same mistake that Adam and Eve made and that resulted in the huge mess we're in today. They wanted to rebelliously try to mold God in their own image too. They wanted to figure out right and wrong on their own. And what resulted is the self-centered sin that ultimately bounced you into 30 homes over the past 12 years and that has resulted in all the other evil that has plagued the world since. You'd be falling into the same trap that they fell into and into which we all now fall apart from salvation in Jesus Christ. You'd be advocating the philosophy of idolatry that got us into this ugly mess."  

"But I'm not even sure I believe in God." He lobbed back.

I'd been eyeing his Dr. Pepper covetously the whole conversation. Suddenly that Soda seemed to be more than just a delicious beverage and source of my personal sanctification, it became a good object lesson. Taking my cue from Douglas Wilson in his debate with Christopher Hitchens (go to minute
6:33) I encouraged Curtis to think through the ramifications of a godless world. "I think you might be getting more than you really want by removing God from this picture." I pointed to the Dr. Pepper. "If you give up God what you end up with is a life that is just as meaningless as if you were that Dr. Pepper." His brow furrowed skeptically. "Without God you are nothing more than a container of fizzy chemicals. Containers of fizzy chemicals don't have meaning and purpose. They just are." He seemed to be listening so I continued, "The problem is not just limited to throwing away meaning. You also give up other parts of life that I'm guessing you would like to hold onto: right and wrong, beauty, love, and anything else that cannot be made sense of in a world that is just fizzing molecules bouncing around."

"If hell is real then I'll just have to deal with it when I get there. I don't want to believe something just because I'm supposed to be afraid of hell."  

I could understand why he'd be under the misapprehension that fear of hell was a central motivation of the Christian message. We'd spent so much time talking about the strange Mormon view of hell that I could see how he might think I'd been trying to use hell like a boogie man or big stick with which to scare him into the church.

I pointed to my son across the park. "Curtis, if my son only obeyed me because I bribe him with candy or because he's afraid of being beaten, then there is a serious problem in our relationship. In the same way Jesus is not held out as some sort of lollypop to bribe people nor is the Father a big stick to threaten people into belief. The whole Christian message is about Jesus, through his death, satisfying the father's justice so that we might come to have the kind of restored relationship with Him that would cause us to obey because we genuinely love Him, apart from bribery or threats. That is the beauty of the Christian message." His eyebrows raised and he muttered, "Now that's interesting ..."  

The conversation ended shortly after that. It seemed like a fruitful conversation. But please pray for Curtis that the fruit born from this conversation will be a new brother redeemed out of bondage to sin.

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