I was drained. It had been an emotionally and mentally taxing class period. This lesson always was. Having experienced this lesson with students near the start of semesters past, I knew what I might expect. Some left class very perplexed. They wanted to have answers for our guest, but they rapidly realized they didn’t have any that would ultimately satisfy his questions. Others left angry, upset by the certainty and commitment of our guest’s convictions, which were so different from their own. Some left amused by the clever wit and arguments they had heard. Some simply went on with the rest of their day, nonplussed by what they had witnessed. Still others I needed to spend a few extra minutes with because they were visibly upset, even crying at their own feelings of frustration and at the realization of the ultimate destiny of our guest, my friend, given his faith commitment and ours.
You see, my friend is an atheist. And with the blessing of my principal, I invited him into my senior Reformed doctrine class at the start of the semester.
Let me tell you how I met him and how we became friends.
I was twenty-five years old. I grew up in a Christian home and was catechized in the Christian Reformed Church. A graduate of Holland Christian Schools, I publicly professed my faith in Christ as a young adult. Before becoming a Bible teacher, I worked as a cost accountant for a large office-furniture manufacturer in West Michigan. Shortly into my tenure at this company, I found myself part of a rather eclectic group of employees from around the company who gathered for an offsite, overnight, corporate culture-building training conference. Richard, one of my small group colleagues, used this provocative teaser to introduce himself as we each took a turn around the circle sharing our names, our positions in the company, and something interesting about ourselves: “Hi. My name is Richard. I work in computer programming, and I’m running for the job of God because I think I can do a lot better job of running this place than he is.”
I was stunned and bemused, if not just amused, by the tongue-in-cheek yet serious tone of Richard’s audacious statement. I wasn’t sure I should laugh, but I wanted to. What truly bothered me though was that I had no response. I did not know how to speak my faith to someone who brought such a bold challenge. So, intrigued, I smiled and listened some more as a smaller group of us lingered and talked with Richard beyond the official end of this introductory meeting.
Another coworker, fired up in her faith, pounced and took the offensive, challenging Richard’s assertions. He smiled and with witty rationalism, and not a little irreverence, refuted everything she had to say. This was not Richard’s first conversation about this nor were his thoughts and commitments lightly considered or off-the-cuff. He had rejected his childhood faith while at a public university when a professor challenged the class to believe only what they could rationally defend with their own eyes, ears, and minds instead of what someone had told them was true. Richard was convinced; Christian faith was irrational and of little use. Any faith, for that matter, had little to no value for Richard. His mind was his only arbiter of truth, right and wrong.
Little did I know that in my silence Richard was drawn to a Christian who didn’t have simple or prepackaged answers to launch back at him. To my surprise, a friendship with Richard emerged from this initial meeting, and there would be many, many more conversations around faith, the Bible, and Jesus for years to come; these conversations would challenge my faith and raise doubts that I had never considered before and wasn’t prepared to face. Through the grace of God, the encouragement of dear friends and mentors, and continual growth in my church and in my faith, the Spirit comforted, equipped, encouraged, and carried me through this time of challenge, question, and growth.
Rod Brandsen is the principal at Rose Park Christian Elementary School in Holland, MI. Always a Bible teacher at heart, having taught Bible at Holland Christian High School for many years, Rod loves to speak and encourage people in their faith, and Christian educators in the cause of Christian education.