I have learned something both surprising and shocking this week. I dared to post a piece called ‘Old Friends’, and was castigated royally by Crracker and RodinsThinker for daring to mention that I have friends who are atheists. I wonder if they know the meaning of ‘friend’, and what it means to be one.
Friend: A person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.
We are friends, and nothing can change that status. Peter Ustinov wrote a book called ‘Dear Me’, and one of the things he mentions is friendship and how friends are thrust upon us in very much the way family is.
I met my one cousin for the first time when he was eighteen, and we hit it off immediately, largely because he was in awe of my guitar playing, as he was a beginner. There was a common connection and, although he is my cousin, I would consider him a friend. He is a tick-the-box Christian, and I do discuss spiritual matters with him as I do anyone.
If Jesus is the most important Person in my life, and I truly believe we are lost without Him, how could I not share this news? I don’t belabour it with him, as he feels he’s okay. I also don’t leave it where it lays.
My unbelieving friends, both agnostic and atheist, are my friends because we share a common interest, be it music, literature, cricket (sport in general) or anything about which people talk. These people are precious to me, because they have chosen to be my friends. They have challenged me to search the Scriptures in order to challenge their assertions that either God does not exist, or that they are not sure of His existence.
My faith has been strengthened by their challenges. I never leave off challenging them either, otherwise what purpose would it serve? In my response to Crracker, I said I had the privilege of leading a friend to the Lord when he was told he had three months, or less, to live. He was dying of liver cancer. I know he died in utter peace.
So, is this the reason I’m being called a hypocrite? Because I care for my friends and weep at their intransigence? John died and I believe He is in heaven with Jesus. I cared deeply for him then and miss him now. His other friends, mostly agnostic or atheist, attended the funeral service and heard what had happened. No-one there accused me of being a hypocrite: they thanked me for being with him to the end.
If one of my unbelieving friends were to die, I would weep inconsolably, because I believe they are lost, and whether hell is a lake of fire, or just eternal separation from Christ, as some people believe, they are going to be infinitely worse off than they are now.
My father died in 1999 and he died as he had lived, making a mockery of God, while claiming to deeply love Him. To my knowledge, he never read the Bible, never prayed and constantly teased me about my faith. I had a dream one night about a year after my father died, and I saw him in hell, sitting in a dark cavern, his mouth wide open and screaming silently. Obviously I could not go back to sleep after that, but that image has remained with me.
I care enough for all my friends to share my faith with them, and they care enough for me to put up with my prattling and challenge me on my faith: something I appreciate. They don’t mock me, except perhaps gently, because I become very impassioned when I talk about Jesus. They appreciate and respect my view and I theirs. I pray for them, as I do the atheists on this forum. I am an evangelist and make no excuse for it.
I had my last alcoholic drink over twelve years ago, because it shocked one of my friends. He is not a Christian and I would very much like him to become one. I could tell him the Bible does not speak out against alcohol in moderation, or do the better thing. Stop drinking out of respect for his sensitivities. He obviously believes Christians should not drink, and I will not try disabuse him of his belief; I will rather stop doing the thing that offends him.
So, am I a poor friend because I believe that, if my unbelieving friends die, they will go to hell? I don’t believe so. As I said, I will weep inconsolably, as I did for my father, but I have done everything in my power to make sure they know the truth, as I see it. The choice is up to them.
But until I die, or they do, they will remain my friends, and they will be there for me, and I for them and that, ultimately, is the true meaning of friendship.