Reaching the Skeptic
“I will believe it when I see it!” says the skeptic! Have you heard that line before? I sure have.
When it comes to witnessing conversations about Jesus, what do we do with this objection? For underlying the objection as it pertains to Jesus is the idea that God will have to somehow prove to the individual the veracity of Jesus’ saving work, namely His death and resurrection, in a personal and profound fashion.
How should we respond? Can we respond? Or do we just pack it in and move on?
There are a number of ways we can respond. First, let’s acknowledge there’s nothing new under the sun.
Two thousand years ago, Thomas, one of the disciples, displayed skepticism. From this brief but fascinating account from the gospel of John, there are lessons for you and me as we strive to reach the skeptics in our lives.
The scene – The resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples for the first time:
“Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” – John 20:19-20
Jesus’ appearance must have been awe-inspiring, to say the least! In a moment, His promise of resurrection had become reality.
Fear of the enemies of Christ had, in a moment, turned into joy, as the disciples stood face to face with the risen Savior! But not all of them were present.
The skeptic – Thomas, who was not with them when Jesus appeared, displayed unbelief:
Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” – John 20:24-25
Since Thomas had spent over three years with Jesus, I would call his skepticism a healthy skepticism. What do I mean by that? Well, the key word is “unless.” You see, Thomas’ belief in the resurrection was conditional, a condition that Jesus would soon meet. Or in other words, Thomas was actually open to believing.
In our life and witness to the skeptic, we need wisdom to discern healthy skepticism from unhealthy skepticism. What is unhealthy skepticism? Well, it’s actually hardened obstinance, unbelief that is not interested in evidence.
How do we discern the authenticity of the skeptic’s statement, “I’ll believe it when I see it?”
We ask a direct question regarding their actual position. Are they open to believing if the Lord reveals the truth to them? Or are they closed and will not believe regardless of the evidence? The the critical issue is determining whether that statement is genuine or disingenuous
In my years speaking with people, delineating between those two positions has been essential when dealing with the so-called skeptic, and it will save you much time and effort.
If they’re open, provide evidence and pray for them! The evidence can be the Bible itself plus any number of other resources you’re compelled to share. Additionally, challenge them to pray a “skeptics prayer.” For the one who is an atheist or agnostic, encourage them to pray something like, “God, if you’re real, reveal yourself to me.” And for one who does believe in God, “God, please reveal the truth about Jesus to me.” Remember Jeremiah 33:3, where God says, “Call to Me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things you know not.”
If they admit they’re really not interested in honest inquiry and no amount of evidence will change their mind and heart, move on. That doesn’t necessarily mean leaving an existing relationship. It simply means to respect where the person is at.
For example, I’ve had unbelieving family members tell me they didn’t want to talk about Jesus with me. I have continued to pray for and demonstrate God’s love to them – understanding that just because a person is closed today doesn’t mean that some soon tomorrow they may not be open to the things of God. For the one who is closed, ask God for wisdom and discernment as to how best proceed.
Give them time and space. In the case of Thomas, the disciples didn’t convince him over the course of 8 days. Yet at just the right time, God’s time, (Ecclesiastes 3:11) the Lord proves Himself to Thomas.
The substantiation – Jesus Himself is the one who convinces Thomas:
And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20-26-29
I remember 34 years ago when my fear turned to joy when I met the resurrected Jesus. No, I didn’t have a visual encounter, but through the eyes of faith, He brought me, an unbeliever out of the miry pit and set me on a high place. He ushered me, a man walking in darkness, into light. He saved a wretch like me, for once I was lost and in a moment I was found…by Him. I, who was spiritually blind, was given spiritual eyes to see, and I believed!
It was a process. In fact, it took about four years from the first time people told me about the resurrected Jesus and salvation found in Him to the time I actually believed. My initial response to people testifying about the death and resurrection of Jesus and life in His name was not healthy skepticism but outright rejection! Yet the Holy Spirit kept moving, His witnesses kept coming and my heart, over time, became more and more open. It took time.
In Thomas’ case, it took eight days. In some sense, for someone that close to the Lord and so familiar with His promises, including the resurrection, perhaps this was a long time!
Ultimately, it was the Lord Himself who revealed Himself to the doubter and removed the obstacles to belief.
But you say, Larry, Jesus said, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). How then does He move the skeptic from unbelief to belief today, demolishing the obstacles to believing and clearing a way for faith to take hold?
In the mystery of God’s providence, God’s power, and God’s promise, the “author of Salvation” reveals Himself to people and moves them from a position of unbelief to a position of belief:
“I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles,To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the prison, Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.” – Isaiah 42:6-7
As we engage the skeptic, may God grant us wisdom and discernment in our witness, continually imploring the Lord to do what only He can, giving sight to the blind and saving that precious one who is lost. Amen.
“…for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” – Jesus (Luke 19:10)