The morning sun glows warmly on the horizon as an exhausted Mr. A sits deep in thought on a pile of dirt in his garden. He had intended to pull weeds, but is bothered by the thoughts that kept him awake for most of the night. He chuckles at his nightmare and wonders how a few hot peppers before bedtime could produce such realistic and ridiculous drama. But that was just a sideshow. Something bigger is on Mr. A’s mind—something real, beyond his mere earthly existence and the crazy world of jalapeño-inspired dreams.
What, then, is bothering Mr. A? Well, in the span of a few weeks he has gone from being a hard-core atheist to a rather non-committal agnostic, and he doesn’t really know why. His recent conversations with his friendly neighbor Mr. C were unlike any he had experienced with other Christians over the years, and he is still not sure what to make of it all. Mr. C didn’t fit the description of an arrogant and ignorant hypocrite, and that was a problem.
For the first time in his life, Mr. A is questioning his own ability to make claims about the existence of God. And worse, he is no longer sure where he would go when he died, a question made more urgent by his nighttime adventure, perhaps. In countless discussions with other religious folks (sometimes arguments, sometimes near riots), Mr. A had always walked away confident in his ability to tackle the big questions and convinced that he could accept or reject the arguments for God and Christianity as he saw fit. Today, however, he is not so sure. And so he sits, deep in thought on a pile of dirt in his garden as he ponders the delicate beauty of a butterfly on a nearby flower. Mr. C approaches...
Mr. C: Good morning Mr. A, are you in need of a lawn chair? Weeds do find it difficult to grow when they are being sat upon, but it may be a bit time consuming, I think. Should I bring you lunch later, oh troubler of dandelions?
Mr. A: You are too witty for me today, oh troubler of atheists. Pushed anybody into a volcano lately?
Mr. C: A what?
Mr. A: Never mind.
Mr. C: Okay [looking a bit perplexed]. Interesting you should use a biblical reference, Mr. A, is that possible?
Mr. A: I can still remember a Bible story about some nasty king calling a prophet the ‘troubler of Israel.’ My parents made us all go to Sunday school when we were little, thinking it might teach us a few things and keep us out of trouble.
Mr. C: Did it work?
Mr. A: I suppose that depends who you ask. It certainly did not keep me from pondering my existence on a pile of dirt in my garden.
Mr. C: No doubt the neighbors will think you have good reason to do so.
Mr. A: I intended to pull weeds, but I can’t stop thinking about your illustration of the little brown box. I lost a great deal of sleep over it last night. How could something so simple say something so profound, and how did I miss it for all of these years?
Mr. C: I am glad that you have been thinking about it.
Mr. A: I am not about to join your Bible study, Mr. C, but the idea that my views of God are built on faith, and blind, unjustified faith at that, is not comforting. Perhaps I might visit your study group someday, but don’t hold your breath.
Mr. C: I will not hold my breath, Mr. A, but I will continue to pray. In the meantime, I do enjoy our talks, I hope they can continue.
Mr. A: I would enjoy that, though my wife might have something to say about it—she is protective of my sleep, you know. In any event, I do agree that pulling the weeds would be more effective than sitting on them, so I best get on with it. But one more thing, Mr. C—by any chance is your chain saw red?
Mr. C: Why yes, Mr. A, how did you know it was red? Would you like to borrow it? Mr. A? Mr. A!? Why are you running away?
Mr. A is thinking. And more than that, he is considering what he thought impossible just a few weeks earlier. He enjoys his talks with Mr. C, but they challenge him to the very core of his beliefs. Moreover, he was graciously able to answer the toughest questions Mr. A was able to throw at him. But why? What had Mr. C said that had brought Mr. A to his crisis of faith? And what was it about Mr. C’s little brown box that cost Mr. A his sleep?
We’ll soon go back in time to listen to the talks between Mr. A and Mr. C that brought Mr. A to his reflections in the garden. But before we do, we need to set the stage with some preliminary remarks about the nature of atheism, arguments, and unbelief in general.
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