Why Did Peter Carry That Rock?
Elizabeth Elliott tells a parable in her book These Strange Ashes, and it goes like this:
One day Jesus said to his disciples: “I’d like you to carry a stone for me.” He didn’t give any explanation. So the disciples looked around for a stone to carry, and Peter, being the practical sort, sought out the smallest stone he could possibly find. After all, Jesus didn’t give any regulation for weight and size! So he put it in his pocket. Jesus then said: “Follow Me.” He led them on a journey. About noontime Jesus had everyone sit down. He waved his hands and all the stones turned to bread. He said, “Now it’s time for lunch.” In a few seconds, Peter’s lunch was over. When lunch was done Jesus told them to stand up. He said again, “I’d like you to carry a stone for me.” This time Peter said, “Aha! Now I get it!” So he looked around and saw a small boulder. He hoisted it on his back and it was painful, it made him stagger. But he said, “I can’t wait for supper.” Jesus then said: “Follow Me.” He led them on a journey, with Peter barely being able to keep up. Around supper time Jesus led them to the side of a river. He said, “Now everyone throw your stones into the water.” They did. Then he said, “Follow Me,” and began to walk. Peter and the others looked at him dumbfounded. Jesus sighed and said, “Don’t you remember what I asked you to do? Who were you carrying the stone for?”
Why Are Christians, Christians?
Most Christians would like to say they believe in Christianity because of the evidence for the truth of the bible, or because they’ve lived with Jesus a few years and have come to know him and trust him and love him. (see previous posts J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and the Gospel Accounts and Why Do I Doubt? Genuine Seeker (Part 4)) And while these are reasons for many, the reality is, people become Christians for all sorts of reasons. Some became Christians because of the inertia in their family. Their family members are Christians, so they just went with the flow. It just made sense so they could keep good relationships with mom, dad, and their siblings. Some others became Christians because in their part of the planet it’s what people do. So they also went with the flow. And they find acceptance with their peers and with the culture they live in. Some others become Christians because of the benefits of the community. Maybe where they live it’s good for business to belong to the local church. Or maybe they like receiving support from church members when times are tough. Or maybe they enjoy the friendships formed. Often these reasons are present at the subconscious level.
Most Christians would like to say they believe in Christianity for unselfish reasons, but sometimes the reality is different. There are social reasons, and selfish reasons.
An Agnostic Historian and Faith
I have a friend who is an unbeliever and also an amateur historian. I once asked him to recommend some history books about Jesus Christ so I could examine the evidence for his existence and for the reliability of the gospels. So he did. After I read them I came away with my faith strengthened. I shared with him the evidence I found for the Christian faith, based on his own recommendations. There was especially strong evidence in a volume he recommended written by Will Durant called Caesar and Christ. After I showed him what I found we had a lively debate about whether or not the gospels were true. Finally after forty-five minutes or so, he said, You know, what it really comes down to is that I know if I became a Christian, I’m the kind of person who would have to really live the way a Christian is supposed to, and I just don’t want to do that.
Why Are Unbelievers, Unbelievers?
Most unbelievers would like to say they don’t believe in Christianity for purely objective reasons. But the reality is, people choose not to believe for all sorts of reasons. Sex is among the most common. Aldous Huxley was very frank about it when he wrote in his book Ends and Means that he didn’t want there to be a God and meaning, because that would interfere with his sexual freedom.
Timothy Keller talks of how an associate of his used to meet with college students when they came home from school. He would talk with them over coffee to catch up. When the conversation came around to their spiritual life they would often share about their doubts and difficulties with their Christian faith, now that they’ve heard from a few college professors in philosophy or science classes. It was then that Keller’s friend would ask, “Who are you sleeping with?” Usually their faces would fall and they’d respond with their own question, “How did you know?”
I understand some of you might think this is an exaggeration, but before you dismiss it as such, you might want to check out the book Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think About Marrying by Regenerus and Uecker. According to their research 90% of young Americans will have intercourse before getting married.
Even Saint Augustine, before giving himself wholly to his God, confessed to saying this prayer: “Lord, give me chastity, but do not give it yet.”
But it’s not just sex, in fact for some, sex may not be a factor at all. Many unbelievers are unbelievers for the same reasons Christians are Christians. Their family members are unbelievers, so they just go with the flow. It just made sense so they could keep good relationships with mom, dad, and their siblings. Other’s are unbelievers because in their part of the planet it’s just what people do. So they also go with the flow. They find acceptance with their peers, their circles, and with the subculture they live in.
Seduction and the Self-life
And then there’s the self-life. The self-life has never been more seductive than it is today. Entertainment is so abundant it’s impossible to experience even a tiny fraction of it all. One generation ago they had three channels on a television, a telephone, a few movies, and books. One generation before that they had only the books! Today the phones are computers that can shoot video, track your workouts, and fly a drone. Today there are 3D movies, and 24-7 sports and news coverage, and 200 channels, and Netflix. Today there are millions of video games. Today books come in three choices: electronic, print, or audible. Today we need apps that will stop us from spending too much time on Reddit or Facebook.
All this entertainment conspires to create a self-life siren song.
And many people today want their self-life to remain undisturbed by the God of the gospels, who they find restrictive. And perhaps even more troubling, He asks for a position of primacy in their life.
Human Genome Project Leader and the Self-life
Dr. Francis Collins is a geneticist who led the Human Genome Project. He has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences and has received the National Medal of Science among other prestigious appointments and awards. In an interview with David Ian Miller he shared the following.
I grew up in a home where faith was not an important part of my experience. And when I got to college and people began discussing late at night in the dorm whether God exists, there were lots of challenges to that idea, and I decided I had no need for that. I was already moving in the direction of becoming a scientist, and it seemed to me that anything that really mattered could be measured by the tools of science.
I went on to become a graduate student in physical chemistry, and as I got more into this reductionist mode of thinking that characterizes a lot of the physical and biological sciences, it was even more attractive to just dismiss the concept of anything outside of the natural world. So I became a committed materialist and an obnoxious atheist, and it sounded very convenient to be so, because that meant I didn’t have to be responsible to anybody other than myself.
He didn’t have to be responsible to anybody other than himself, Dr. Collins said. Most unbelievers would like to say they don’t believe in Christianity for objective reasons, but the reality is different. The intellectual objections from science or post-modern philosophy are there at the conscious level. But at the subconscious level there are also social reasons. And sex related reasons. And the seduction of the self-life.
As it did for Dr. Collins, for many the bible becomes a lot more “doubtful” because of the impact the God of the gospels has on your sex life, and your social life, and your self-life.
Dr. Francis Collins eventually had a dying patient ask him what he believed about the afterlife (in addition to being a geneticist he is also a medical doctor). That prompted him to investigate the issue. Collins says the purpose of his investigation was to shore up his belief in atheism, so he could avoid any awkward moments with patients in the future.
He had always thought faith was based on emotion and illogical arguments. But eventually his research led him to read the writings of C.S. Lewis and other sources that proved otherwise. Ultimately he came to believe as Lewis believed. Collins puts it this way:
For me, that leap came in my 27th year, after a search to learn more about God’s character led me to the person of Jesus Christ. Here was a person with remarkably strong historical evidence of his life, who made astounding statements about loving your neighbor, and whose claims about being God’s son seemed to demand a decision about whether he was deluded or the real thing. After resisting for nearly two years, I found it impossible to go on living in such a state of uncertainty, and I became a follower of Jesus.
You Might Also Like:
Dr. Francis Collins, Collins: Why this scientist believes in God, CNN
Timothy Keller Podcast, Doubt: What should I do with my doubts?