Lunch with an Agnostic

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Recently, I was sitting in the middle of my apologetics class, listening to a debate about agnosticism. Two of my peers stood before the class, one defending the agnostic position he did not agree with, the other defending her own Christian faith. As I listened to the back and forth, I drifted back to a homeless ministry I visited a few years back.

A sophomore in high school, I had climbed into a church van with several of my peers to attend a weekend youth conference at a Christian college across the state. During a break in the conference, our adult leaders drove us to this ministry to help out in whatever ways we could. We cooked, cleaned, set up tables and chairs. Finally, lunchtime arrived! Now came the easy part: grab a plate of food and chat with the homeless men and women who came for a meal.

Nervously, I slipped into a chair across from a giant African-American man. He greeted me enthusiastically and began chattering away. I can’t remember his name, so for the purposes of this post, we’ll call him Chase. As I sat across from him, Chase began relating his life story to me. He was very open and intensely interested in being heard. I got the impression that not many people listened to him. If I broke eye contact to take a bite to eat, Chase would pause his story and gently bellow, “Sarah! Sarah, you listening to me?” Needless to say, most of my food went uneaten. I smiled quietly and listened to him relate everything he could think of.

At one point, Chase stopped abruptly. He stared straight at me and asked, “Sarah, do you know what an agnostic is?” He knew I was a Christian. Not wanting to assume too much, I mumbled something about not being entirely sure. Graciously, Chase smiled his jovial grin and announced, “An agnostic is somebody who’s not sure if God exists. My problem is how there’s so much pain in the world. What do you think, Sarah? Could a good God let so much bad happen?”

I was floored. How could I, a 15-year-old girl, answer this grown man’s question about the nature of God and of suffering? What could I know about suffering? This man had clearly suffered. He was out of work and homeless.

More than the question itself though, the man who interrogated me caught my interest. I marveled at his frankness. He wasn’t asking a question to make me falter. He wasn’t trying to mock the teenager sitting across from him. No. Good ol’ Chase genuinely thought a young girl might have the answers he couldn’t find on his own. I don’t think I answered his question very well; I don’t remember what I said.

But I do remember Chase. I remember his earnest desire to believe in God. But he had seen so much. Chase knew pain. He wanted to know God. But if there was so much pain, he wondered, could God be here? If so, was God trustworthy? Big questions. Deep questions. But honest questions.

For me, Chase was a modern Socrates, except he didn’t always have the answers. He just plopped down at a table, introduced himself to those around him, and asked questions. He philosophized and wondered at the world.

Chase, if by some chance you’re reading this, I hope you’ve found your answers. I’m sorry I couldn’t give you better ones. I think of you often and fondly. I pray that you’ve found God and found Him to be both trustworthy and good. Thank you, Chase, for being the homeless philosopher who made a young woman think. I won’t forget you. May God be with you. I hope I’ll see you again someday.

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