His Name was John and he is a Master's Degree student
His Name is John
I see myself as being like the little (ROOMBA) robot vacuum cleaner, bumping into things, turning slightly this way or that, then proceeding merrily on my way. “Yes life sucks,” I seem to say, “but life goes on--let’s make the most of it.”
Yesterday at the Starbucks on the hill, I hit a bump in a conversation with a young, bearded Master’s Degree student. The topic suddenly veered from laptops and cloud computing to religion! The thing is, little old Mr. Roomba couldn’t seem to turn about and move on. Let me explain . . .
His name is John.
He’s obviously in his early twenties.
He sits next to me clack clack clickety clacking on his laptop keys in frustration.
My curiosity is aroused to the point I speak to him.
“Somebody owes you money and they won’t pay up, eh?”
“Huh? No . . . no, I’m behind in my Master’s thesis because of a virus I downloaded. I finally got rid of it.”
“I no longer have such problems. I use a Chromebook. The Google operating system is Linux based and is virtually unhackable. . .”
And so we were off to the races!
Where I finally went wrong was this. In trying to explain the security of cloud based computing, I used an unfortunate analogy.
“I store all my files redundantly in about five different cloud based locations--just like the hand of God--up there, watching over it all.” I then smiled smugly.
The next thing I knew, I was knee deep in conversation with a Seminary Student covering two-thousand years of religious history. Damn, how did that happen?
I won’t bore you with lavish details. In fact, I only mention the incident for one reason.
I posed a couple of questions I’d never done before which seemed to stop this fella dead in his tracks. Never has this occurred previously. Bullets bounce off Seminary students!
Here is how it went down.
Me: “Half the world population (4 billion people) have never made a phone call, have never seen a television set, or heard a single word about a fella named Jesus. Let that sink in a minute. Now listen to me. This is a WHAT IF. What if the Christian version of the End of the World came an hour from now--the Lord God Almighty takes you, John, aside and tells you the following . . . “
GOD: “John, I’m going to have to destroy 4 billion men, women, children and infants. Is that okay with you?”
Me: “So, what do you answer, John?”
At this point, my young bearded Master of Divinity student begins to squirm. He deflects, he dodges and rebuts and pivots to the point I step in again and say firmly:
Me: “John, please accept the premise and simply respond honestly. God has asked a question and He expects an answer.”
After more squirming and another intervention on my part, finally John answers.
John: “Yes. God is righteous and Just and Sovereign and can do no wrong. I have to accept that no matter what He does--it is always the right thing.”
Me: “Thank you, John. One last question--a variation on the first one. Are you ready?”
John (not ready at all) : “Okay.”
Me: “God now says to you, . . “
God: “ John, I’m going to leave the matter of LIFE or DEATH for those 4 billion persons entirely up to you. You are now able to save all of them by simply asking me to spare them. But, John---you have to die in place of them. Okay? What is your answer?”
Do I have to tell you, there followed another five minutes of wiggly, squirmy, pivoting? I waited for him to wind down making excuses. I cornered him and repeated ‘God’s’ question one more time until John answered wearily:
John: “Yes, I would have to do what Jesus did--as a Christian I’d have to sacrifice myself to save others.”
I smiled inside. I had him right where I wanted him. My only purpose in setting up this artificial dilemma was to get him to realize something he had never before considered at all.
Me: “John, do you realize what you’ve just done?”
Almost terrified (I kid you not) John’s eyes widened.
Me: “You’ve demonstrated that YOU are more merciful than God Almighty! You would rather die than see 4 billion sinners destroyed even though you acknowledge they DESERVE to die because they aren’t believers in Jesus. How can you explain that?”
Now, I won’t repeat all of his subsequent dialogue because it was all over the map, It was special pleading, diversionary rhetoric, and pure bombast. I waited till it died down before proceeding.
Me: “The meaning of “Good” and the meaning of “Bad” are opposite meanings--except when God acts--suddenly Justice, Mercy, Love--all disappear in a puff of whimsical smoke! How can you believe God is Just and Loving no matter whether He kills 4 billion people or lets them live? When left to your own sense of Justice, Mercy, and Love you do the OPPOSITE of what you believe God would do on His own. John--that makes you a BETTER PERSON than God Almighty!”
At this point, John went into rhetorical meltdown mode for a good (bad) fifteen solid minutes of self-exculpation and disavowal. I sat patiently waiting, waiting, listening, nodding--acknowledging his efforts as best I could.
Me: “ When you say God is Sovereign--you allow into your mind a Leader capable of any atrocity or miracle simultaneously. I submit to you--what is the difference between such a God and Kim Jong Un or Joseph Stalin, or Saddam Hussein? YOU are willing to give him a blank check and will sign off on both atrocity and miracles. If it were up to you (and trust me, it really IS) you wouldn’t approve of His outcome based morality. So, I just wanted you to face that situation squarely. It is not a MORAL position for you. It is an IMMORAL one.”
John didn’t like what I was saying. It wasn’t important, I fully expected him to bristle. I simply wanted to crack open the vault he’d sealed himself in whereby he detaches himself from humanity.
What I didn’t tell you was the previous fifteen minutes conversation. That conversation was John going on about Homosexual sins, abortion, transgender bathrooms and such!
I listened with my stomach tightening and blood pressure elevating. This was so clearly a person with a mind locked tight against his fellow human beings SOLELY because he thought God knew best--at least his version of God.
Me: “John, about 1% of babies born have both sets of genitalia and the physician and parents decide WHICH sex the baby will be by means of surgery! What if YOU were that baby--at the age you now are--your mind is one way and your body is another way. You are no better or worse a “sinner” in deeds, words, or actions--EXCEPT, you’re natural attraction will NOT MATCH what God has prescribed! I ask you, why is it you’d deserve to be condemned and destroyed?”
I don’t need to relate all of John’s answers. They were only knee-jerks and piffle. I had artificially constructed a way of placing John on the OTHER END of his smug certainty as the victim of bigotry instead the master of all he surveyed.
I left John after that long conversation with the following sentence. You judge for yourself if I was a big bully or not.
Me: “Your half of America sees the other half as THEM. Their half sees your half as THEM. Are you really willing to see them dead--or are you willing to die for them? Which is it really--and based on what? Christianity is many, many different ideas at odds--not a monolithic set of tablets with Do’s and Don’ts. When you earn your Master's Degree, what is it you’ve really “mastered” except a formula for condemning people who disagree?”
Thank you for sharing this Terry. If you are ever down in Austin or in the Hill Country, PM me. I'd love to sit and chat over several cups of coffee!
Interesting conversation. I hope I get a chance to use that analogy about saving 4 billion people some day.
It would be interesting to see how a witness would answer.
Love it. I will be trying this one.
Questions, questions, questions....
Questions are the answer to get people to think.... Good job!
I will try to apply that methodology to my future conversations with people stuck in their 'righteous' way of thinking.
Good job! (great patience!)
"My hands are tied because God is Sovereign" situation:
"Gee, I know destroying people is a nasty business but, the Boss says it's got to be done."
Armageddon for JW's is a Mob Hit situation. Loyalty and the oath of Omerta leave them with no choice.
If you can shine a spotlight on what a counterfeit argument this is--the moral cowardice jumps right out and bites them on the ass.
I was sitting outside Starbucks writing yesterday and I saw John pull up in his car.
He must have seen me, too.
He pulled out of the parking lot and drove off.