2 Corinthians 4:3-4
“And even if our Message is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the Message of the glory of the Anointed One, who is the Image of God.”
You want to talk about a struggle? Let’s talk about watching Super Bowl LI on February 5, 2017. It was one of the most thrilling – and nausea-inducing – emotional roller coaster rides I have ever experienced. Ha! In it, the Atlanta Falcons went up 28-3 on the New England Patriots only to squander the largest lead in Super Bowl history while snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. In Atlanta, I like to say, we invented Coke … and perfected choke.
I had more emotional investment in this game than the average viewer since I had to get up at 2 AM in the morning to drive with my team over half an hour to one of the few restaurants in the area that was opened for viewing it. Living in the Middle East means I have to miss a lot of things in life, but I would not miss this game for the world.
The setting was perfect. Nestled in the corner of a sports bar serving chicken wings and unlimited cappuccinos and lattes, with a glitzy flatscreen TV above us, several of my American friends came to enjoy the moment. We filled up most of the corner of that restaurant, yet one lone New England fan sat there, a somewhat reserved but friendly African-American from Washington DC named Kareem. We made chitchat about how he is in the city training to become an aviation technician.
At halftime, loth to watch Lady Gaga prance around in half an outfit, I started asking Kareem about his beliefs. I hate missing any opportunity, even if I am in media veg-out mode. He said he followed another “path” pretty strongly, a strict monotheistic belief that’s pretty common in this area and one that holds to many of the same holy books I do. There was much that we agreed on, but I’m not much for boring and unmemorable conversation. I wanted to get to the meat of what I knew he really believed, so our conversation progressed deeper. Both of us were pretty levelheaded and sensible folks, so it stayed decent despite some heated discussion. These sort of talks fascinate me.
His case was as follows. Basically, he sees all of life as a test. You pass it by believing in one God. The only way to fail that test is by not believing in God and repenting. I pressed for more clarification, but he was not really able to provide it. He gave someone muddled answers to questions regarding sin, end times, and judgment.
I let him present his side, and then I turned made my case pretty thoroughly. I took him through all the Old Testament prophets, even starting with Adam, and laid out the case for the Son of the Most High. I talked about Abraham and the poignant symbolism of God providing a sacrifice. I showed how the Law points to our need for forgiveness apart from works. I even used scriptures from his own holy book that point back to the New Testament. For about 30 minutes I continued on methodically and relentlessly, but it became clear he was not moved. At the end, despite everything I’d said, he still maintained this: trusting in the Son remains the only sure fire way (pun intended) to be judged eternally, NOT to escape judgment. I saw that the conversation was at a stalemate–not one where competitors of equal strength wear one another down, but one where no amount of twisting or leverage can get the rusty nut unfastened from the screw.
We graciously thanked each other for the conversation. I took my leave in the form of a bathroom break. Once in, I sank to my knees on the bathroom floor … not because I felt that I had failed … but because of this young man’s utter blindness to truth, even when presented so clearly … and the millions of others I know he represents.
By the time I got back to our corner of the sports bar, one of my friends had commenced to engage the guy in conversation. I knew by now it was futile, so I removed myself to try to enjoy the game. It didn’t bring much comfort, either, as you probably know. The surging Patriots erased a massive fourth-quarter deficit as Tom Brady cemented his legacy as the greatest pro quarterback of all time. By the time New England won the coin toss in overtime, I started packing up my backpack. I knew it was over. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt such a mix of dumbfounded disgust and resignation.
As we were about to leave the shopping area for the parking garage, I think I heard Kareem’s voice from a distance exulting in the New England victory. It was a nice little extra drop of lemon juice in the wound … but in my mind, it was not the biggest loss of the night by any means. Atlanta’s epic collapse was overshadowed by something far greater.
How ironic is it that a young American man in the most American of settings showed me the reality of my situation in this culture? I’m living on the far side of the world, a place where no amount of logic, sound reasoning, evidence, and–dare I say it?–truth can convince people. That night underscored to me once again that, ultimately, this is not a debate but a spiritual struggle … and a spiritual struggle must be engaged on spiritual terms.
1 Corinthians 2:1, 4, 5
“And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God…. My message and my teaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”
Several days later, we had a prayer meeting. This time, I had fresh fire in my belly. When I prayed for the lost, I prayed with new fervor … new conviction, new desperation … before the only One who can save wayward souls. That fire came from realizing that neither I nor my team will ever have any significant impact here without first shifting the spiritual atmosphere in prayer. It takes no less than the miraculous power of the Spirit to reveal truth to a human heart.
Stay hungry, my friends.