Sharing the Gospel with an Atheist Israeli Jew
Last week I concluded the Weekly Word saying, “I believe that God will be faithful to give us opportunities as we depend on him to provide them.” As I prayed this week for opportunities to share Christ, God gave me one.
I take my girls on a short hike just about every week. Last week, we went on a gorgeous hike through the Naches Peak Loop in the Mt. Rainier area. Midway through, there is a small lake. For several hours, we enjoyed the lake, ate lunch, and searched for tadpoles.
Breaking the Ice
Then I heard a man in the distance speaking what I thought was Hebrew. I called out to him, “Ivrit?” which means “Hebrew” in Hebrew. He immediately responded and we began talking (in English because I had used up 1/3 of my Hebrew repertoire already).
He told me his name was Asher. He and his wife had moved to San Francisco after growing up in Jerusalem. They also had two children, both close to my girls’ age. As our children played together at the lake, we had a great opportunity to chat.
Crossing the Jordan
At that point, I started to get a bit nervous. I knew we could have a spiritual conversation, but I felt unprepared and anxious. So I prayed, “God, please give me the boldness and right words to speak.” I did this because God had clearly already given me an open door to share Christ.
I call this “crossing the Jordan” because I never feel “ready” or “confident” to share my faith. It's always hard for me. My heart beats fast. My legs feel weak. I don't know what to expect and I don't feel confident in myself. Like Israel crossing the Jordan, when we share Christ we enter the unknown depending on God alone.
Then I asked, “Do you have any spiritual beliefs?” I’ve found this is one of the best questions to transition to talking about spiritual things. It allows you to listen to their values and learn how they think about God. It also lets you see how (un)comfortable they are with spiritual discussion.
He told me he was an atheist. I asked, “What percentage of your friends in Israel had a similar belief?” He told me many of them were atheists, too. This was surprising to me, but a recent survey of Israeli Jews confirms this (see page 49 here: https://en.idi.org.il/media/5439/guttmanavichaireport2012_engfinal.pdf). Apparently 20 percent of all Israeli Jews are not only not religious, but atheists.
Listening and Responding
Interestingly, though he was an atheist, he said he grew up in an orthodox Jewish family. What led him to atheism?
He explained that three factors caused him to change: 1) learning about the theory of evolution, 2) the man-made religious system of orthodox Judaism, and 3) the hypocrisy of the rabbis. Asher had learned to trust in science because the religious system around him had lost his trust. To him, their system was all about fear and control. It was fascinating to hear him, an atheist, share criticisms that closely resembled Jesus’ own criticisms of the Rabbinic Judaism of his day.
Throughout our time, I shared three important things: 1) I shared why I have found the Bible to be trustworthy. I shared some archeological finds in Israel that point to the Bible’s historicity. 2) I shared that Jesus also criticized the same exact extra-biblical rabbinic rules that Asher had criticized. 3) I shared John 3:16. I explained that God’s love for me in sending Jesus was what motivated me to return love to him. This was in contrast to some of the things he resented in Rabbinic Judaism.
I don't feel completely satisfied with how I did sharing the gospel. I wish I could have had more presence of mind to find a way to talk about matters like sin and faith. But I opened the door and did my best. I try to learn what I can as I reflect on it and leave the rest to God.
Closing the Sale
Asher didn’t pray a salvation prayer that day. He didn't even acknowledge God's existence. I don’t believe my success as an evangelist depends on whether these opportunities end that way. I think it’s my job to present the truth and to show love in the way I do it. If I have done that, I have succeeded.
So for the rest of the hike, I just got to know Asher and his family better. I gave them tips about Washington and discussed anything he wanted to talk about. I asked him to clarify things he had mentioned. I asked him about how to speak Hebrew. We had a fun time.
It’s not crucial to get people to confess Christ on my timeline; it’s crucial to ask God to draw people to Christ in a saving way. So I pray that God brings Asher and his family to salvation one day.
I say all this to encourage you to pray regularly for opportunity, boldness, and accuracy to share the gospel. It can happen at any time. And it doesn’t require that we know the person already. God is in charge. He will use us if we are depending on him.