Shaking off the dust
Some people think if you’re a follower of Christ you must have the same attitude towards everyone, no matter their attitude towards you or your God…love your enemies, turn the other cheek, and all that. They expect that if you are going to rightly represent your Lord, though others may treat you with contempt, scorn, and ridicule, you must never respond with anything other than gentleness and unimpassioned, kind respect. And a smile.
If this were true, one would expect to find only gentle, unimpassioned expressions of loving kindness on the lips of Jesus and his closest followers. This is not the case.
A few examples:
- “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. You blind fools! …You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” – Jesus in Matthew 23
- “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” – Jesus to the Jews in John 8
- “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.” – Stephen to the Jewish leaders in Acts 7
- But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, [in other words, may you perish with your silver] because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” – to Simon the magician in Acts 8
- But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?” – to the Jewish false prophet and magician Bar-Jesus in Acts 13, emphasis mine
- Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” – to the Jewish high priest in Acts 23
There are more. We also see God’s chosen prophets in the time before Christ being less than deferential when conveying God’s judgment. One of my favorite Old Testament accounts is of the prophet Elijah assembling the 450 prophets of Baal in a reality-TV-type challenge to see whose God will come through with a miraculous bonfire. After watching them call on Baal and dance around their altar all morning till they were limping from exhaustion, he begins to mock them “saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” – 1 Kings 18:27
Was Elijah displeasing God in this mockery of men who had rejected the true God to worship and serve false ones? I don’t believe so. The mockery was a judgment on them just as any straightforward condemnation would be. Should we really expect that because Elijah was representing the God who is love, he must instead offer words of encouragement and affirmation to these infidels? “Keep shouting…you can do it! Here, let me help you around the altar. Would you like me to tell you again why Yahweh is the true Creator God and Baal is a lifeless, meaningless, worthless imposter?”
Though gentleness and respect should characterize a Christian’s default response, when we are dealing with hostile, obstinate, stubborn, condemning, accusatory, argumentative individuals, I believe we are no more obligated to resist responding with a little more bite when warranted than Jesus and his disciples were. Even to the point of identifying them as those whom God labels “fools.”
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” – Psalm 53:1
As virtually every Christian blogger defending the faith knows, some (certainly not all) atheists and skeptics are like sharks searching the blogosphere for any sign of bonehead believer blood. They are not after truth and understanding but conquest and confirmation…confirmation that Christianity really is a religion for dummies so that they can confidently continue in their skeptical superiority.
I’ve had my share of these sharks since I began blogging four years ago and I no longer have the patience with them that I once did because I’ve too often experienced the utter futility of trying to persuade someone who’s only interested in argument. So I’ve taken to blocking them once I’ve discerned that they are indeed an internet inimical infidel (I, yi, yi). And I make no apologies for it.
The funny thing is, I believe my seemingly “un-Christian-like” approach to dealing with hostile commenters is more likely to have a positive impact for Christian apologetics, on skeptics in particular, than demurely begging their forgiveness for taking so long to respond to their barrage of questions and objections with evidence that they already are familiar with but have chosen not to believe. Skeptics and unbelievers are more likely to give credence to the views of people they respect, and they are more likely to respect people who don’t allow themselves to be bullied and belittled.
When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach, he instructed them not to put up with and waste their time on folks who had no interest in what they had to say. “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.” – Matthew 10:14. In other words, separate yourselves from them, shake off any evidence of your presence there, and don’t go back.
As an amateur Christian apologist, my desire and goal is to persuade the skeptic and unbeliever that God exists and Jesus is his Son…that the good news of the Gospel is for everyone and that includes them. Because the bad news is that if they continue to reject God’s sufficient and sole provision for the restoration of our relationship with him, they will be choosing an eternity of grief and despair. And God knows what else.
But he doesn’t force anyone to believe and I wouldn’t if I could. So if anyone will not receive or listen to my words, I feel no Christian responsibility to continue in dialogue with them and reserve the right to shake off their dust.