As it turned out, Ron Bronski survived my cynical attempts to skewer his story. The street-savvy police detectives were absolutely convinced that the changes in his life were authentic. So was the prosecutor. After hearing the evidence, the judge agreed, and instead of sentencing him to the penitentiary, he set him free on probation. "Go home and be with your family," he told a surprised and grateful Bronski.
Today, more than twenty years later, Bronski is still a minister to street kids in the inner city of Portlandand he remains a close friend of mine.3
My initial attitude toward Bronski was reminiscent of the doubts that I had raised as a spiritual skeptic. At first I had heartfelt and thoughtful objections to the Christian faith. But over time, after I began finding adequate answers to those issues, I started to bring up new and increasingly marginal challenges.
Then one day I remembered Leslie's comment about Ron Bronski, and I imagined how she might confront me again with similar words: "Lee, are you trying to poke holes in Christianity because you really think it's an illusion-or are you raising objections because you don't want it to be true?"
That stung. Admittedly, I had a lot of motivation to find faults with Christianity when I was an atheist. I knew that my hard-drinking, immoral, and self-obsessed lifestyle would have to change if I ever became a follower of Jesus, and I wasn't sure I wanted to let go of that. After all, it was all I knew. Consequently, instead of trying to find the truth, I found myself attempting to fend off the truth with fabricated doubts and contrived objections.
I don't think I'm alone in doing this. Many spiritual seekers have legitimate questions concerning Christianity and need to pursue answers that will satisfy their heart and soul. Yet I think some seekers get to the point where they are subconsciously raising smoke screens to mask their deep-seated motivations for rejecting the faith.
The same is true for Christians who fall prey to doubts about their beliefs. Often, they're having a bout of sincere misgivings about some aspect of their faith; other I went on and on, my hypotheses getting more and more outlandish as I speculated about the real reason he was turning himself in. I considered every far-out possibility-except that his life had legitimately changed and that he had decided to do the right thing by facing the consequences for his crime.
Finally, Leslie put up her hand. "Whoa, whoa," she said. "Those are pretty bizarre theories." She put down her cup and looked me in the eyes. "Tell me something," she said with an edge to her voice. "Are you trying to poke holes in his story because you really think he's a con man? Or are you raising objections because you don't want his story to be true?"
I jumped on the defensive. "Hey," I shot back, "it's my job to be skeptical!"
But she had struck a nerve. To be honest, I didn't want to believe that Christianity could radically transform someone's character and values. It was much easier to raise doubts and manufacture outrageous objections than to consider the possibility that God actually could trigger a revolutionary turn-around in such a depraved and degenerate life.
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