Once again I appreciate Rev. F. Dean Lueking taking time to patiently and graciously respond to me [What we believe is affected by where we stand, Viewpoints, Oct. 25]. Rev. Lueking wrote the following:
"The life situation [of Christians in China] is marked by risk, harassment, and sometimes brutal persecution by a regime of state-sponsored atheism. Yet they gather in congregations-some legal and many more illegal underground house churches-to celebrate the Good News amidst bad situations. It's not that every worshiper grasps the full content of all that Scripture, hymns, and creeds offer. But the overwhelming reality is the presence of the One to whom the words point: Jesus is Lord."
Dean, I take you at your word when you say that you and/or Christians in China experience the overwhelming reality of the presence of Jesus in their gatherings. However, I don't think I would share this experience if I were there, and so I would feel alienated, uncomfortable and as if I didn't really belong. This was what happened when I was most recently at worship services in the U.S.
I do understand that just being in church in China, unlike attending church in the U.S., requires a great deal of courage and commitment. But I don't see how being in the same room as brave committed people would be sufficient to make me have the same experience of Jesus as they have.
You also wrote:
"I lean toward testing the language of worship and practices of faith through the witness of those who have given their lives for it."
When people give up their lives for what they believe in, that shows me their beliefs are strong and powerful, but it doesn't prove to me they are based on truth.
With all due respect, we only have to think of 9/11 to realize that someone giving their life for what they believe in (i.e. terrorists) is not sufficient reason for us to accept their beliefs as true and worth adopting.
Christians sometimes say, "This must be true because it has changed my life!" Not necessarily. A belief can give people hope. And that hope can change their behavior in ways that significantly alter the course of their lives, regardless of whether it later proves to have been real or false hope.
Dean, maybe a piece of my story will help you understand why I am so skeptical. One of the turning points for me came a few years ago when I asked myself, "How do I know I'm not making this all up?" My answer was "I don't." And so since I didn't want to risk living in a make-believe world, I decided to walk away from everything I couldn't be sure was real.
I'm fully aware that walking away was a deliberate choice. I didn't accidentally wander off and get lost. In Biblical terms, that probably makes me more like the prodigal child who cannot be reunited with her Father until she decides to repent and return home than the lost sheep the Shepherd goes out to find.
I'm not willing to return to a God I might be making up. On the other hand, if a God I couldn't have made up decides to come find me, I'm not going to shut him out.
I've heard that he did it for doubting Thomas. Maybe he'll do it for me too.