Jesus is in the life-changing business. From the very beginning all kinds of people were drawn to him and would come to him — satisfied people, messed-up people, lepers and injured people, forgotten people, despised people, prostitutes, tax collectors, admired people, wealthy people, religious leaders. There was something about this man Jesus that made their hearts cave in and then be born again.
A proud, vindictive, violent, arrogant, self-occupied religious leader named Saul of Tarsus was traveling down the road when suddenly he had a vision of Jesus. As a matter of historical record, he became Paul — a different man with a different name, whose mind, writings, love for people, and self-sacrificial gift of his life to the world were so compelling that human minds are still fascinated by him two thousand years later. People devote their lives to studying what he wrote. How did that life get changed? The evidence of lives changed by Jesus is so abundant that the full story can never be told. It can never be matched. Not by any culture, by any book, by any program, by any hero.
I have never heard anybody say, “One day I realized there was no God, no one behind reality, no life after death. I realized existence is a meaningless accident, begun by chance and destined for oblivion, and it changed my life. I used to be addicted to alcohol, but now the ‘law of natural selection’ has set me free. I used to be greedy, but now the story of the Big Bang has made me generous. I used to be afraid, but now random chance has made me brave.”
I have never heard the story of an accidental, meaningless universe changing a life like that. Now, I have heard people say they were oppressed by the form of faith they followed and felt a sense of liberation when they didn’t believe it was true anymore. But I have never seen anyone receive the power to live the kind of life and become the kind of person he or she wants to be by hearing that there is no story behind the universe. I have never heard anyone say, “Now I have found a meaningful existence from a meaningless reality.”
But Jesus has been doing that for two thousand years.
A guy by the name of Bill Moore, who grew up in poverty, got drunk one time and shot a man for five thousand dollars. He ended up on death row. Lee Strobel met Bill and writes about him in his book The Case for Faith.
A couple of guys went into prison (because God prompts people to go into prisons) and told him, “Bill, there is a man, Jesus, who loves you, and he gave his life on a cross. He died for you. He went to death row for you.” Nobody had ever told Bill about Jesus before. He’d been sitting on death row for years. He turned his life over to Jesus, and it changed him so much — changed the darkness and bitterness and hatred inside him so much — that other people began to be drawn to him. People started meeting Jesus through this guy on death row. He became known as “The Peacemaker.” His cell block was the safest place in the penitentiary because so many people were coming to Christ through Bill Moore.
Churches found out about this, and when people needed counseling, no kidding, churches started sending people to the penitentiary to get counseling from Bill Moore. Can you imagine calling a church to ask for a referral and hearing, “I want you to go over to death row. There’s an inmate there. . . .” What does that? Jesus does that.
Bill Moore was changed so much that he won the love of the family of the man he killed. It changed him so much over the sixteen-year period that all kinds of people wrote letters for him. Eventually, the authorities not only canceled his death sentence; they not only commuted his sentence, which was unprecedented; but they paroled him. Bill Moore now serves as head of congregation in a couple of housing projects in a desperately poor area. When Strobel met with him, he asked, “Bill, what in the world turned your life around? Was it a new medication? Was it some kind of rehab program? Was it a new approach to counseling?”
Bill said, “No, Lee, it wasn’t any of that stuff. It was Jesus Christ.”
Atheism really has nothing to say to a guy on death row. Because when you’re living on death row (and we’re all living on death row), there’s really only one thing you want to know.
Ortberg, John. 2014. Know Doubt: Embracing Uncertainty in Your Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.