Some years ago, a relative asked me whether her being a good person made her a Christian. I did not have the wherewithal to give her the answer she needed at that moment. I had good intentions, though. I wanted to express the truth that being a Christian is a way of life that is more than just being “a good person.” At the same time I wanted to assure her that I thought that she was, in fact, a good person – and all the while I’m thinking of the truth that all people, even “good people” are sinners. What came out of my mouth at that time was true, even intelligent. But it was abstract, probably not very helpful, and almost certainly was not proceeding from the Spirit of God within.
What was missing? Why couldn’t I find the right thing to say?
We know with certainty that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8.1). But not just any love – it must be divine love. My weak human love gave me good intentions, but I believe that God was missing from what I said, because I did not remember in my heart the merciful forgiveness of God towards me, a great sinner who’s always been a “good person.” I forgot the love with which He made me His own, picking me up from the gutter to share with me His royal throne.
When someone asks you a question about God, faith, the Church, or something similar, in an honest, vulnerable way like my relative did, answer them with similar honesty and vulnerability. Whatever else you say, speak to them also with simplicity about the goodness of God and the great need that every person has for Him (“good people” and “sons of guns” alike). Speak from your experience, and give something of your own testimony.
Why give any soul who needs God something other than God?
What I said to my relative was, I believe, like what the Lord spoke of in the gospel, of a man giving someone a stone when they ask for bread (Matthew 7.9). If you give a man a stone, he’ll toss it aside as worthless, which it indeed is. There are many philosophies and spiritual worldviews out there that are simply variations on the futile philosophy of self-sufficiency that we will likely practice anyway, with or without a specific doctrine to follow. If we don’t bring God to people, but bring only theology, they will toss away the stone we’ve given them and find one of these instead, a prettier stone, that pleases the corrupt nature of all children of Adam – “good person” or not.
Everyone hungers for that sweet surrender to God that they were created for. But they need to be assured that God truly is good by someone who has experienced it for himself. Not by someone who experienced it only years (or months or weeks) ago when he had some profound conversion. They need to hear it from someone who experienced it when he prayed early that very morning, remembering God’s loving kindness to him in Christ, and joyfully praising Him in his heart.
St Paul, Great Apostle & Evangelist, pray for us!