I have probably been through 3 crises of faith. Every time I came out on the other side changed for the better, I believe. My take is this: If something is true, and God is also true, yet the two seem contradictory, then there must be something that is unknown or in revealed. I found that I had to be willing to hold those ideas in limbo for a time.
Many Christians aren’t willing to do that. They want to decide TODAY what is true on every aspect of the sciences and philosophy. That makes us come across as haughty, which is basically like saying we’re smarter than everyone else. That’s how others read it, anyway. But when you are willing to consider others’ perspectives, it shows you value them as human beings. In one of my classes once, a kid was asked why he had a particular belief. He said “because the Bible tells me so.” That argument doesn’t fly in college.
Christians are too quick to write off “disbelievers” as egotistical etc, but when we do that, we ignore legitimate questions about our faith, and no thinking person has respect for that. So this is a chance to understand those questions and objections, not because you necessarily think they are right, but because you respect other people. Jesus did that and he was criticised for it. He did it because he wanted to start conversations and develop relationships. Ask a lot of questions – not to prove a point, but to understand where people are coming from.
One reason people hate religion is because religious people have a tendency not to think for themselves and to believe at face value whatever a trusted leader represents us with. On the news, this looks like Westboro Baptist, or ISIS, both of which are abominable organizations. If the process feels rocky, don’t worry. If God is truth, then you have nothing to fear.
I have a lot of atheist friends. Some of them are very intelligent. You don’t win them over by arguing. You do it by developing relationship that starts with respect for their conviction. They have life experiences that lead them to one conclusion or another, same as us. My friends know if I ask them why they don’t believe in God, it’s because I actually want to know, not because Im trying to start and win and argument. And then one of them the other day asked me about death, because a friend of hers lost a baby. The classroom is not a place to win, really – it’s a place to understand. Only when you understand, and you have reflected on the validity of your own beliefs, can you give a meaningful answer to questions like “why did my friend’s baby die.”
Those are the moments where Jesus can reach people. They don’t even always want a rational explanation, either. When people come to the end of themselves, that is when they can hear Jesus speaking.
Something good to remember is “respond, don’t react.” If someone speaks angrily about God, we feel defensive – that’s our reaction, but that will not help them. It’s better to set aside our knee jerk reaction and seek to respond to what is driving their actions. That usually starts with asking questions, where you listen. Sometimes just listening, not trying to give an answer in return, is a huge testimony. It surprises people, because they view Christians as defensive and attacking. Giving no answer, but considering what they say instead, leaves the door open instead of shutting it.
One of my friends told me the other day that I’m a different kind of Christian. She invited us to a party where as far as i can tell, we were the only religious people present. I didn’t see the other guests as potential converts – I saw them as interesting people worth knowing, people with different perspectives that I could learn from. Jesus did that with people. He wanted to develop relationships. He was/is intensely interested in people.