A common criticism non-Christian have goes like this: “Religious people think they are better than everyone else. They are so judgmental. I don’t even want to be around them.”
How do you answer? You go back to Jesus. “I don’t know if you know this, but Jesus felt that way too. The people he liked to hang out with most were the ones religious folks looked down on. When they put them down, Jesus stood up for them.”
Jesus had a lot to say about that too. Check out: Matthew 7:1-6; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 10:3-37 (the story of the Good Samaritan); all of Luke 15; Luke 18:9-14.
Some people say, “You know, I’m just not the religious type.” Whenever someone says that to me, I always respond, “I’m not either.” They can hardly believe it. But then you can go on and say: “And you know what? Jesus wasn’t either.” Then you can tell them about Mark 7:1-13, where Jesus distinguished between religion and knowing and loving God. Religion wasn’t his thing, but he was all about God. You might go on to say that the Bible hardly ever mentions religion – that’s not what it’s all about.
Then you can ask: “What? Did you think Jesus was really religious or something?” You will get their curiosity up. Who knows? That may open the door for further conversations – either with you or with some other person God will send along.
Sometimes people say, “Look, I know I’m perfect or anything – but I try to be a good person.” Your answer might be: “I think that’s great but Jesus said that God wants something a little different than just trying to be a good person. He said that what God really wants is for people to love him and to love their neighbors – the people who come in and out of their lives.”
Then you can follow up with a question: “Or is that what you meant by being a good person?”
If you are living an optimistic, connected, and principled life as a follower of Jesus, sooner or later someone is going to say to you: “If God exists, why does he allow suffering?” That is a big and intractable question. Some people will ask it as a smokescreen. Others will really want to know the answer. It helps to know which kind of person you are talking to. So, you can ask: “Is that something that really bothers you?” Or even, “Would you become a Christian if that question didn’t bother you so much?”
When I am asked that question, my conditioned (and unhelpful) response is to launch into an explanation – a kind of philosophical argument. I want to regurgitate C. S. Lewis’s entire book, The Problem of Pain. I talk about human free will and the glorious kind of world God wanted and still wants. I wax eloquent for twenty minutes – or an hour, if I’m given that long – and, when I’m all done, the person is no closer to Jesus than they were when I started.
Don’t get me wrong. I think those arguments are important and helpful. It’s just that people aren’t argued into the kingdom of God; they’re drawn into it. That’s why they need good news more than they need logical arguments. So, consider telling them the good news that God is not indifferent to our suffering. He actually lived – and lives – a human life in Jesus. (Always bring people back to Jesus.) He experienced pain and suffering, just like we do. Even more than we do. He suffered betrayal by a friend, gross injustice, and a ghastly death.
For whatever reason God set things up the way he did, he at least plays by his own rules. He hasn’t put us through anything he has not experienced himself. He is able to sympathize and to help us when we suffer. He knows – better than we do – how bad suffering can be, yet he has promised that our present suffering won’t compare to the great things that are waiting for his loved ones.
Then you can add something like: “What I’ve found is that answers to why people suffer don’t satisfy me. But the Answerer does. Is that the way it is for you too?” Keep bringing people back to Jesus.