Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
March 27, 2016
I can do it if you hold my hand
I had no idea it was after midnight until I glanced at my watch. For several hours I had been engaged in an intense conversation with a friend who insisted he was “a Judas” because he did not believe in God. He was an officer in our church, one of our trusted leaders.
At his invitation I had stopped by earlier that evening for a chat. Almost immediately he had said, “I feel like Judas because I don’t believe there is a God.” His confession shocked me so I took on the challenge to persuade him he was wrong.
Our conversation was not heated. He said he wanted to believe and hoped I could help him overcome his skepticism. But no matter what I said, he remained unconvinced. Wearily, with a look of utter sadness, he said, “I think I am an atheist, and worse than that because for years I have pretended to be a Christian.”
Weary myself, and feeling defeated, I could think of nothing more to say. Feebly I expressed the hope that I had been of some help to him and asked if I might offer a prayer before we parted.
His response pierced my heart like an arrow. Calmly he said, “You can pray if you want to but I don’t think there is anybody out there listening.” I prayed anyway and left for home quite discouraged.
I wish I could report that sometime later my friend chose to have faith in God. But alas, I cannot. I do not know if he ever chose to believe in God. We never discussed the matter again. I was shortly in another town and another man was his pastor. Years have come and gone and I have often wondered if he ever got to know the living God.
Many people find it difficult to believe there is a God who cares about each of us. There are seven billion people in the world. The idea of a loving God who cares about each of is mind-boggling. And if you accept the idea that God loves us, you must then explain why he allows bad things to happen to us.
Difficult questions remind us that most religions, including Christianity, involve faith. And while there are many ways to define faith, most would agree that faith is believing in something for which there is no visible proof. So to believe God exists requires faith.
At age four our youngest son Steve insisted that he did not need major surgery on his chest. The doctor insisted that without the surgery Steve would soon be dead. Finally, Steve surrendered to the inevitable and said, “Daddy, I can do it if you hold my hand.” I held his hand tightly until the anesthesiologist had put him to sleep. When he awakened hours later I was holding his hand.
Believing in God is like trying to hold the hand of someone you cannot see. It is a biblical figure of speech that is also imbedded in the songs of the church.
Just before Jesus died, he said from the cross, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). And I love what God said to his servant Isaiah, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
Jesus knew that God is a spirit and that spirits do not have hands. But still our faith is buoyed by simple songs we learned as children, such as “He holds the whole world in his hands; he holds me and you brother in his hands.” To speak of the hands of God is to use a metaphor that expresses faith.
When my sister Laurida was dying I held her hand as I stood beside her hospital bed. At her funeral I choked up trying to sing the poignant song, “Precious Lord, take my hand.” There is a phrase in that song that expresses the cry of every heart, “When my life is almost gone, hear my cry, hear my call, hold my hand lest I fall; take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.”
I hope my friend who felt like Judas finally decided to ask God to hold his hand. Perhaps, on a Sunday in some spring, he realized that Easter is God’s gift of hope and took the hand of the risen Christ. If so he is now enjoying that greater life that awaits believers on the other side.
Until then we who are still here can look death in the face and fearlessly proclaim the best news the world has ever received: Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! + + +