Tuesday, March 09, 2010

When I Was an Atheist ...

... I knew people who said and believed that unless one knew Jesus Christ and accepted Him as one's Lord and Savior, one would go directly to hell.*

But I used to wonder about the "knowing" Him portion of that idea.

I seem to recall someone telling me that I couldn't possibly, being an American, not know Jesus. It's a Christian country, isn't it? How could I grow up (I suppose the reasoning went) without knowing what it was to be a Christian?

I recall thinking that I knew of Jesus (as in, "I've heard of Him ...."), that I knew bits and pieces about His life (as in, "Christmas is His birthday, and Easter is about Him rising from the dead, right?") But I certainly didn't know Him.  Being exposed to someone's name or knowing when his birthday is celebrated -- and even knowing that people worship Him -- is not on a par with a personal connection.  Knowing my friend is married to a man named Roger doesn't give me the same relationship with Roger that she enjoys.

Being told that I'd failed at or rejected a relationship that I'd never really had a fair shot at seemed decidedly unfair to me, not to mention that the idea betrayed a lack of understanding of real relationships. If I was going to love this God, this Man, I had to get to know Him. And I needed people who loved Him to be His representatives to me. In other words, I needed to see Him in action, through the actions of His followers.

That is indeed what happened for me. True lovers of and followers of this Man called Jesus slowly revealed Him to me. They did it with patience. With long talks. With understanding of the fact that I had not grown up steeped in Christianity. With the knowledge that to be American is not ipso facto to be a Christian. With a firm grasp of the fact that many, many people -- like the person I was -- have never truly heard the Gospel, despite the fact that we may have grown up with a church on every corner of our town.

During the years of this slow revelation of Jesus to me, I was not always particularly lovable, and I sometimes stubbornly held on to past sins and ways of life, to past viewpoints that were not compatible with Christianity and Catholicism. But my friends, one in particular, kept showing me a side of Jesus that I had never encountered before. Slowly I began to realize that I had indeed developed a relationship with this Man, and it was time to either make some commitments or break it off. And so I was baptized. And so, five years later, I embraced Catholicism.

And now that I am no longer an atheist nor an outsider to Christianity, a question I often ask myself is, "What am I doing to show Jesus to someone else?"

Am I assuming that they already know Him? Or am I doing everything I can to let Him shine through the imperfection that is me?

Some days I don't care for the answer to that question.  Other days are better.  All days are a cause to thank Him for the people He sent to me, and a cause to pray that I can be that kind of person.


*The Catholic Church teaches the following about Jesus as the way to salvation (this is from paragraphs 846-848 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church):
"Outside the Church there is no salvation"
846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?335 Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.336

847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.337

848 "Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men."338
(Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng.)


Jennifer said...

Did you write this just for me? ;) It's so helpful to have this as a reference. Especially living in the south. Well written.

Karen E. said...

Jennifer, you're so sweet. Thanks.

Theresa said...

You most definitely are "that kind of person." You practically glow.