Giving up the chase
Imagine reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John and coming to a scene like this:
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” But those gathered disputed his claim and walked away, sneering in contempt and self-righteous offense.
“Don’t leave!” Jesus implored as he chased after them. “Please, give me another chance to show you the way, tell you the truth, and give you the life!” But they just walked faster, laughing and joking at his pathetic insistence.
“Alright. Go home,” he shouted at their backs. “But I know where you live! You haven’t heard the last of me!”
Most of us familiar with the Gospels recognize immediately that this depiction is incongruous with the Jesus revealed in them. He never chased after those who rejected him and his message, but rather chastised them or simply left them to their unbelief. I have often considered this seeming indifference of his when trying to discern my responsibility as a follower of Christ in sharing my faith with others. How persistent should I be with those in my circle who deny Jesus as God or deny the very existence of God?
It’s possible that with his family Jesus was a little more intentional and persistent with his message. Not everything he said and did is recorded. But judging from passages where he appears to minimize his earthly familial relationships, I’m inclined to believe he didn’t. Didn’t he love them? one might ask. Yes, but he loves everyone, and still I can’t think of one instance where he pursued someone. He proclaimed, he preached, he predicted, but he did not persistently pursue.
I’ve recently been charged with forcing my beliefs on others because I pursued, and angrily told in no uncertain terms that my latest efforts to persuade were rude and inconsiderate. Jesus also encountered some pushback when his words didn’t line up with what some of his hearers thought of themselves and their beliefs. They didn’t like it when he accused them of being hypocrites, vipers, slaves, and Satan’s children. Lest you think otherwise…this has not been my tactic. I’ve been respectful, reasonable, and not sarcastic nor condemning. As an amateur apologist, my modus operandi has been to present the evidence for the Christian worldview that has convinced me, with the hope that if they consider it with an open mind they too will be convinced.
If after one presentation a person is unconvinced, must I conclude that any further attempts to persuade will be unfruitful? Should I simply “live out my faith” and pray they notice something different about me? I understand the power of a changed life marked by good works to attract an unbeliever or skeptic. But contrary to a Christian sentiment commonly attributed to Francis of Assisi, words ARE necessary at some point for the Gospel to be known and understood. And often the same words which were once rejected will have a completely different effect at a later stage in someone’s life.
Perhaps when I’m accused of forcing my beliefs it is because the accuser is feeling the force OF my beliefs and misapplying that onto me as the messenger. The Gospel is a demonstration of the mercy and love of God but it necessarily is also a conviction of sin and a declaration of the holiness and righteousness of a sovereign Lord. That may feel like a threat to one who is unwilling to be accountable to anyone but himself. But though he takes a defensive position, such a one may eventually respond in faith if compelled by a comprehensive Christian apologetic that makes unbelief more intellectually costly than belief.
And yet some will pay any cost to maintain their independence from God, but only he knows who will never give up. For my part, I will never give up caring about the eternal destiny of those I love. But I will give up the chase.