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“I don’t think he’ll be harassing you anymore,” Bill said, “but let me know if he does.”
Paul laughed. “Dude, you totally shut him down.”
“I didn’t do any such thing,” Bill said. “If he had been willing to sit down and look at scripture, that would have been better. If we could have been reconciled, that would have been even greater.”
Bill really sounded sad. A part of Paul had no issue feeling smug about someone shoving Mr. Dorney’s words back down his throat, but it was hard to feel that way when Bill, who also claims to be a Christian, was the one who did it. On top of it all, Bill felt remorse.
“Why are they all so different?” Paul asked. They were still making their way back to the house, so Paul came to a stop. He wanted to understand.
Bill turned around to answer. “I assume you mean why so many people who claim to be Christian can have so many different views and attitudes?”
Paul nodded his head.
“There are at least four religions who all share a portion of the Bible,” Bill said. “They have at least the bulk of the same text, that being the Old Testament and even a significant amount of the New Testament, save those of Judaism, who do not recognize Christ as the Messiah.”
“You’d think God would make it clear,” Paul said.
“You mean like sending his son down to earth saying, ‘Listen to me’?” Bill said. “The trouble with religion isn’t God; it’s man.”
That caused Paul to cock his head in confusion.
Bill gave one of those knowing and patient smiles. “God is perfect. God is all knowing. Humanity was made in his image, after his likeness.”
Bill firmed his lips. Paul guessed that Bill was fighting the urge to cite the scripture he just quoted. Does he always cite the scripture he’s referencing in his head?
He didn’t offer the verse he was referencing. Instead, Bill continued. “But man has ever wanted to be God himself. That might sound harsh, but it’s true. We want to be masters in our fields. We want to be masters of our homes. We want to satisfy our own desires and our own goals. This is the nature of sin.”
“What does this have to do with why so many religions are so different?” Paul asked.
“I’m coming to that,” Bill said. “Humanity ultimately has two choices. The first is to honor God and submit to him. The second choice is to refuse to take the first. But there are those who want to maintain the appearance of faith, so they create new gods, idols. Or they deny the existence of God, thus making themselves an idol. True Christians will ever seek God’s authority on the matter. They’ll read his words and work to come to an understanding. Indeed, if the word seems unclear, they’ll accept the differing opinions as equally valid and let the matter go without judgement because True Christians are called to judge rightly.”
“Wait,” Paul said. “I thought they weren’t supposed to judge at all.”
“You’re referencing Matthew 7:1-3,” Bill said. “Where Jesus warned about hypocritical judging. There is absolutely a wrong judging, and I’d define it as judging designed to elevate yourself rather than bring the person you’re speaking to closer to God. There is also a right judgement, which Christ talks about in John 7:24. And that’s the answer to your question right there. When people seek after themselves, they might cherry pick parts of the Bible that fit their ideals, letting the rest of the word pass away, but no one who wants to honor God can only follow part of his word. Sure, we’re human, but we’re meant to pursue knowing and honoring him. We’re not supposed to just take the parts we like and cast the rest aside.”
“That’s what Mr. Dorney does.” Paul realized it as Bill was speaking. “That’s why he didn’t want to sit and look through the whole scripture with you.”
Bill nodded and smiled. “A True Christian would be excited to sit and look at scripture with another person. I’m not saying Mr. Dorney would have welcomed us into the house that moment. I’m not implying I don’t do anything but read the Bible. Otherwise, how would I be dating your mom. The point is, we’d have made arrangements. If the issue of dispute was critical, we might very well sit down that moment and look at it, but that, to me, is the difference.”
“I’m not sure it makes sense,” Paul said.
Bill nodded. “Let’s say you’re playing a board game.”
“During a board game, if someone breaks a rule, you have a choice to make. You can let it slide, or you can challenge him on it,” Bill explained.
“OK.” Paul was just trying to show Bill he understood, at least so far.
“Well if you challenge the player on it, you create a new choice. The simplest thing would be to open the rule book and see what it says.”
Paul scoffed. “Of course.”
Bill held up a finger. “But what if the person you challenge says something like, ‘I don’t play that way’ or “That’s not how we do it in my house’?”
Paul scoffed again. “Doesn’t matter. The rules are the … “
Bill smiled. “People unwilling to look through all the scriptures, are those trying to create their own rule books. That’s something I never want to do.”
“What if I don’t want to follow that rule book?” Paul asked.
Bill took a deep breath. The comment honestly hurt Bill to hear. Paul sort of understood. Based on religion, if you don’t follow God, you go to Hell. Bill obviously didn’t want Paul to go to Hell. The problem was Paul wasn’t sure there was a Hell, so why be afraid of it?
Bill shut his eyes, probably thinking or praying, or both. He opened them just before speaking. “Christians are supposed to evangelize and spread the Good News, you may not know what that is, and that’s also a place where Mr. Dorney went wrong, but for now, I’m just trying to answer your question.”
Paul nodded to encourage Bill to continue.
“If you choose not to follow God, that’s your choice. At least, it is in the simplest sense of the idea,” Bill said. “For those who aren’t of the faith, I’ll only ever be a light to shine for it, and I will continue to offer the Good News, but that’s it. If the word of God isn’t enough, nothing else I say is. I’ll be sad, but there’s no point in being angry. If I’m angry, it’s probably based on some degree of pride on my part. Think of it like finding a hungry person on the road. I bring him the tastiest fruit I have, and he rejects it because he doesn’t want it.”
“But if he’s starving, won’t he eat anything?” Paul asked.
“Maybe if you were inches from death,” Bill said. “But you’d be surprised how many people turn away perfectly good food because they don’t like the taste, so I think the metaphor holds up. Speaking of food, your mother told us to be back quickly.”
Paul smiled and followed Bill to the house for a few steps. But then he froze again.
“What …. what is the Good News?”
Bill turned. He had a huge smile. “Well, Mr. Dorney probably covered the first part. He’s not wrong when he says that those who don’t follow God are doomed. The point is, all men have sinned.”
“I get that part,” Paul said. Mr. Dorney really loved talking about how evil every man was, every man but those who went to his specific church.
“Every man needs to come to terms with the fact that he isn’t perfect.”
“Of course they’re not.” Even the statement sounded ridiculous.
Bill nodded as he sighed. “But one needs to understand that the fact that you’re not perfect means you’re evil in the sight of a perfect God, in whom there is no evil.
For some strange reason, Paul took a step back as if Bill had shoved him. It’s one thing to admit you’re not perfect, but to think that being imperfect makes you evil?
“That’s the part most people struggle with,” Bill said. “Who wants to think that the slightest imperfection makes you intolerable? But that realization, that hopelessness is why we need a living hope. It’s only the first part. God knew this from Eternity Past. So he sent his Son, God in the flesh, to pay the price of man. It is Jesus who gave himself up, so that his perfection could become ours, if we earnestly confess he is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead. So we need Christ to give us his righteousness, so that we can enter God’s presence as adopted sons.”
Paul waited for a few moments, but Bill just turned back and started walking to the house.
“That’s it?” Paul asked.
Bill kept walking, but he answered. “Yep.”
“But I didn’t say I believed.”
Paul waited again. He actually had to jog to catch up to Bill. He managed to get along side him. “But aren’t you going to say more?”
Bill still didn’t stop walking. “Like I said, if the word of God hasn’t taken root, nothing I think of with my mind or say with my mouth is going to do anything. But please know that won’t stop me from offering the Good News again. Maybe the soil needs a bit of tilling, but I’ll keep planting because that’s my job.”
“Planting?” Paul asked.
“I’ll explain later.” They had made it to the driveway of Paul’s house. “For now, let’s have dinner.”
Paul was willing to wait, but he was far more interested in how Bill spoke. He sounded exactly like Nobody. But how could Bill be Nobody? Could it be coincidence? Paul meant to figure it out. It was a new puzzle, but at least he felt pretty sure he could think about that puzzle on the way home. He didn’t think Mr. Dorney would be botching him anymore.
The end of Chapter 8. To Be Continued.