REACHING THE RESISTANT
It was a gray, rainy day late in the fall. Having finally found the object of my quest, I parked my car, walked down a dingy alley way passing under a simple sign which bore a single word “mosque.” There was a troubling discontinuity between the squalid appearance of the building and the happy hubbub emanating from it. Anxiety increased as I rounded the last corner and ascended worn, creaking stairs to the entrance. Shaking the rain from my coat I cautiously pushed open the door the effect of which was instantaneous. The chatter of the faithful preparing for Friday afternoon prayers fell silent and I the intruder was impaled on the stunned, inquiring stares of a dozen Muslims. Several seconds of painfully embarrassing or was it hostile silence passed before an elderly man advanced a few steps and barked out his query: “What do YOU want?” Overcoming my own apprehension I asked if I could speak with the Imam. With that question I was thrust into a world about which most Christians know very little.
Islam has been referred to as everything from the greatest threat to Christianity to a harmless Christian sect. For some it is a
demonically inspired trap which has ensnared millions, while others view it as a cheap, legalistic imitation of true Christianity.
No matter what the reader’s attitude toward Muslims might be, we can all agree upon the fact that they are one of the world’s most resistant peoples. Convinced of the superiority of their own belief system, scriptures and prophet they have a tendency to look down upon Christians, especially our doctrine on the Trinity, the divine nature of the Son and, therefore aggressively resist our proclamation.
Unfortunately recent missions theory has given many the impression that we should avoid or at least not concentrate on the
resistant areas of the world. Rather than investing large teams it is suggested that we keep only a few individuals working in those areas waiting for the Spirit to facilitate receptivity and then move in. As a result, only a small percentage of North American missionaries are working among Muslims.
What then should our attitude be? How should we approach those who consistently reject our witness. How did Jesus engage those who were highly resistant? Jesus’ attitude towards that first resistant skeptic Thomas is instructive. The exchange develops along three lines.
1. THOMAS DEMANDS PROOF. John reports that that Thomas was not present during Jesus’ previous appearance. We are not told why he was absent, but we do know that he had already shown himself to be resistant. He was, after all, the one who had sarcastically declared a willingness to die with Christ on the occasion of Lazarus’ death (John 11:16). And wasn’t it Thomas who pressed Jesus for “logical” explanations (John 14:5)?
Although he did not see Jesus, we do know that the other disciples told Thomas what they had experienced. They had seen him,
touched him, and heard him (John 20:19; Luke 24:13-35). Nevertheless they met only with resistance. His response to their testimony is rather like the modern skeptic who declares that “he will only believe what he sees.” It is not unlike the resistant peoples of the world.
He demands proof. One might ask what lies behind that attitude. Is it an arrogance which puts itself above the testimony of others, as in the case of Muslims? Is asking not only to see but also to touch the wounds simply poor taste or a genuine search for the truth? Perhaps it is a stubborn resistance which rules out that which is considered unbelievable. In any case, Thomas’s behavior can obviously be characterized as resistant.
2. JESUS’ ANSWER. A week later Jesus reappears. John describes the scene in such a way as to highlight the similarities between the several appearances (compare verse 19). Thomas should see what the others saw.
3. This time Jesus turns to Thomas and offers him the very proof he demanded. It is interesting to note that Jesus does not condemn him. Even his statement “you believe because you see” is only a mild rebuke and certainly not a rejection of his faith. Rather than avoiding or turning away the resistant disciple, Jesus seeks him out and initiates renewed contact. Immediately Thomas’s resistance melts away and he recognizes his Lord. Resistant Peoples should not simply be bypassed or avoided. Jesus maintained contact with them, sought them out and patiently showed them himself (compare Luke 14:1-6). In some cases he won even the most resistant. What about us?
Computers for Christ – Chicago