The coffee is hot and two slices of homemade lemon pie sit on amber plates. I’m eager for my beloved 80-year-old dad’s visit.
After hello hugs, he hands me my copy of The Case for Christ.
I’d lent the book to him because my brother and I had noticed that our father balks when asked to say a prayer before our infrequent family gatherings. We ask him to say grace because he does it so well. Later, my brother told me he’d learned that dad is reluctant to pray because he’s a skeptic.
“I read most of it,” Dad says of Lee Strobel’s investigation-cum-award-winning best-seller. “I don’t buy all of it, though. The author has an answer for everything.”
“The author didn’t have the answers,” I say. “He went to people who did have the answers. Until then he was atheist.”
Dad changes the subject…something about his neighbor’s Siamese cat, but I’m still chewing on the irony of rejecting a book because it has all the answers. Dad notices my puzzled expression. “What?” he asks. “What?”
“You reject it because he has answers?”
“All the religions have stories.”
“No other religion is corroborated by history, multiple witnesses and archeological evidence.”
Not accustomed to my disagreeing with him, my dad says, “I don’t want to argue!”
The lemon pie is sweet and tart at the same time. I’m feeling both unconditional love and shock toward my dad. He’s the guy who took us three kids to Sunday school, who attended church even though mom never did, who now serves as usher at the retirement village chapel.
“I don’t want to argue either. I’m telling you that puny me realized she could no longer ignore more than 2000 years of history and contradict millions and millions of Christians.”
“I’m a skeptic,” he says.
“Being a skeptic is good,” I reply. “If you’re going to bet your life on something, don’t you want to look into what the truth is? Lawyers, scientists and others tried to disprove the bible and became Christians in the process.”
“C.S. Lewis,” Dad says, as an example.
“Yes. What have you got to disprove them?” I ask.
“Well, they say that because parts of the bible were written only 100 years after Christ that people would have protested if it weren’t true.” He goes on a bit, but I lose Dad’s line of reasoning. Seems as though he’s debating for the other team.
He’s tamping pie crumbs with his fork and picks up the story about the neighbor’s Siamese.
I say, “That would be the same as someone writing a book in 1965 claiming that the South won the Civil War and no one disagreeing with it.”
Dad’s not tracking. “What? I don’t follow you?”
“If someone wrote a serious book claiming that the South won, no one would believe it. The author and book would be ridiculed. The same is true for the bible. But the bible is correct and true, that’s why there’s no record of anyone refuting it back then.”
We’re lost in our private thoughts for a moment. I’m recalibrating my image of Dad. I thought he was a Christian all these years. Now, I feel as though he’s been faking it. I’ve been duped, hoodwinked, fooled. Another childhood belief washed away.
I blurt, “So why did you make us go to Sunday school all those years?”
He says, “I wanted you to make up your own minds. I wanted you to learn morals, right from wrong.”
I nod as if understanding. I don’t understand. What 10-year-old is mature, wise and knowledgeable enough to make up her own mind about something as huge as eternity? Were Christianity and atheism my two choices?
I collect our mugs, plates and forks and set them beside the sink. I don’t challenge him about taking communion, something that only those who have been born again are to do. I don’t suggest that if he wanted us kids to make up our own minds, shouldn’t he have exposed us to the other religions he’d alluded to earlier?
Our parents made sure that we kids were driven to the YMCA for swimming lessons, joined the scouts to earn badges, and participated in the 4-H to sew and grow stuff. Now I see that church ranked equally with those activities in my dad’s view. In hindsight, I acknowledge that we NEVER discussed what the Sunday school lesson was about, or any other religious and spiritual topics. Maybe these days, in my dad’s opinion, going to church is the equivalent of going to his Rotary meetings. A pleasant social event.
“Would you like another cup of coffee?” I ask.
“Yes.” He holds out his mug. “I don’t have to get up early tomorrow, so it’s OK if I lose a bit of sleep tonight.”
My prayer is that he’ll see the light one of these days or nights. Soon.
And I know Someone who wants that even more than I do.
Thank you, Jesus.