This is one of the most frequently asked questions by our students. And, like most questions, context matters. Here are just a few possible reasons for the question.
- An older child has rejected Jesus and is offended when you speak of him.
- A neighbor has confided in you about ___________ (depression, an affair, past abuse by an elderly parent, . . .) and you judge that it is too soon to speak of Jesus.
- You teach in a secular setting and a student has spoken to you about her pain and shame from a recent hook up.
- You counsel in a Christian setting and you are speaking to a person who doesn’t want to hear anything about Jesus but is still willing to speak with you.
- You counsel in a secular setting and are not allowed to bring in your beliefs.
Each of these situations has its own unique challenges.
Here is an example.
An atheist husband was willing to see me because I was somewhat known to the family. He had no interest in becoming a Christian. His wife pushed him to see a counselor with her, and he was willing. During our first time together, he was friendly, upbeat and engaged. We went right into talking about the marriage. Though quite calm, his actual words were filled with disdain. He regretted being married and could recall very few pleasant days in the last twenty-five years. After about ten minutes, I briefly interjected.
“Do you hate your wife as much as it sounds?”
My first response was not exactly deft but he was a straightforward, unflappable fellow, so I spoke openly with him. He responded as if I had given him an intriguing new theory. The wheels were turning. Perhaps he did hate her. Hate is usually evidenced in anger and more florid displays of contempt, which he never demonstrated. But the observation made sense to him.
Then we spoke of the need for radical change. He was committed to staying married but he was not committed to love and humility. So we talked about those things and what they might look like in the home. The next time we spoke, he had acted on most of what we discussed. Over time, our relationship flourished and I had great respect for him.
Please don’t take this as a reason to lead with blunt words about a person’s wrongdoing. Instead, this is one illustration of how Scripture might guide us with those who don’t want Scripture. Two related biblical teachings guided me. One is that to be human is to distinguish between right and wrong. The other is sometimes called the third use of the law. From this perspective, the law identifies what is good and beneficial. It shows how we are intended to live. My initial question was a short version of calling him to recognize that his heart attitude toward his wife was wrong. Behind that terse question was something like this:
“I know that you are committed to your marriage, even to the point of being open to receive help. I so admire that. I also know that pride and disdain are not going to help your marriage, and you know that too. So, we will head toward what is best—humility and love. This actually heads us toward Jesus too. It can be a hard path but it is the best path. You will like it.”
What was important was that I wanted to offer him something that was very good, and, once he considered it, that goodness would be obvious to him. Then we could savor the possibilities together, and I, too, would be inspired to grow in that same love and humility.