Starting Point for Understanding

We know something about our unbelieving friends.

Vanity Fare (2)

I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.Ecclesiastes 1.14

Made in God’s image
We will not succeed in communicating the Good News of Jesus to our secular age if we refuse to understand their worldview, and the ways that worldview shapes their daily lives.

But this does not mean that we agree with the secular worldview, nor that, in our approach to our secular neighbors and friends, we will allow their views or opinions to dictate the terms of our conversation. It further does not mean that we will ever be content for our unbelieving friends and neighbors simply to believe whatever they want, without urging them to reckon with the truth that is in Jesus.

The secular person has concluded that God is not relevant for his life. If we grant this conclusion, we will not make the effort to show Christ’s love or urge our neighbors to believe in Him. We would simply leave them alone.

But in fact, this is precisely where many Christians are in our day. They are allowing their unbelieving friends and co-workers to pipe the tune of conversation. They don’t want to hear about God – or at least, so we suppose – so we oblige them by declining to initiate conversations on spiritual matters. We keep our religion to ourselves, because we do not understand that our secular colleagues are image-bearers of God, no less than we, and that they will not find any lasting peace, purpose, or joy in life apart from a relationship with their Creator and Lord.

We know something about our unbelieving contemporaries which they deny, but cannot escape: They are made in God’s image, and they will only realize full and abundant life as that image is revived, renewed, and refurbished through believing in and following Jesus Christ. This must be the starting point of all our efforts to understand the times and know what we as Christ’s ambassadors must do.

Solomon understood this, and he urged us not to lose sight of this important fact.

The tough questions
The starting and ending point of secular thinking is that there is no God, no spiritual realm, nothing beyond what we can see, feel, hear, taste, and touch. All that exists reduces to some form of matter or energy. “The cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be,” as the late Carl Sagan limned the secularist’s basic presupposition.

But even though one may start with only himself and the material world, he must nevertheless address the tough questions of life: Who am I? Where did I come from? What kind of being am I? Why am I here? Where is it all going? And so forth. Something in us wants to know the answers to these questions, as reams of literature, an unending chorus of pop music, and miles of cinematic film have repeatedly shown.

Animals do not ask such questions. Human beings are not animals. Human beings are homo sapiens – the creature who knows. People are engaged, if only to some extent, in a conscious quest to understand themselves and their world, and to make sense and meaning out of their experience. Our secular neighbors may deny the Biblical teaching about the image of God in people, but they cannot escape the reality of that image, or the quest for knowing it engenders.

Solomon on life without God
Solomon’s decline into a form of secular thinking was a gradual process, as, indeed, it has been in the Western world. We can see in his experience a distant mirror of our own since the days of the philosophes.

Having achieved the pinnacle of wealth and success, Solomon began to think too highly of himself and his achievements (Eccl. 2.1-9). This led him to speculations about the world and experiments concerning his place in it that rejected the revelation of God and relied on the strength of observation, reason, and experience.

Yet nagging questions drove him to seek answers by observing the patterns of nature – rain, sun, the winds, and the cycle of waters – and to reason about lessons to be gained from history (Eccl. 1.1-11). But no solid answers presented themselves.

He reflected on his experience in government, and on the ways of rulers and nations. He explored the realm of madness and folly, and plunged himself into his work, as well as a variety of relationships, in a futile attempt to forge meaning out of experience.

In the end, he could not; he hated his life and what he had become, as he realized that, at the end of it, nothing would remain. His observations, reasoning, and experience apart from God led him to the conclusion that one cannot make sense of life without fearing God and submitting to His Law (Eccl. 12.13). He did not learn the answers to all his many questions, but he relearned the most important point of all.

In his quest for understanding from an “under the sun” perspective, Solomon ended up disappointed, disillusioned, and despairing – much the place our secular generation has come to in the box canyon of its worldview. The secularist trumpets with confidence his conclusion that life makes no sense, has no purpose, and is devoid of absolute meaning or value, but he says it with such absurd conviction and passion (“Methinks the lady doth protest too much”) that he seems almost to be pleading with someone – anyone – to talk him out of his views, and give him something other than stale, secular, vanity fare to feed on.

Our unbelieving friends and neighbors may not always show the unrest and discontent residing in their souls, but we can be sure it is there, a futile attempt to suppress and deny a spiritual reality that just won’t go away.

For reflection
1.  What does it mean that people are made in the image of God? How can you see that, even in the lives of those who do not believe in God?

2.  Just because don’t agree that they are made in the image of God, does that mean we should not keep that in mind in our dealings with them? Explain.

3.  What do you consider to be the “tough questions” everyone thinks about during their lifetimes?

Next steps – Conversation: Ask one of two of your unbelieving friends about the tough questions they wrestle with from time to time.

T. M. Moore

For a more complete study of the book of Ecclesiastes, download our Scriptorium series on Ecclesiastes by clicking here. Ecclesiastes is an excellent book to share with an unbelieving friend, as it confronts all the idols and vain hopes of unbelief, exposing their folly and holding out the hope of life in God alone. We’ve prepared a verse translation of Ecclesiastes which is suitable for sharing with believers and unbelievers alike. Order your copy of Comparatio, by clicking here.

We look to the Lord to provide for our needs, and He does so through those who are served by this ministry. Please prayerfully consider becoming a supporter of The Fellowship of Ailbe with your financial gifts. You can send your tax-free contribution to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452, or use the Contribute button at the website to give with a credit card or through PayPal.

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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