If it felt like an ambush, it wasn’t meant to be. We had our fourth détente on Friday night. Howie and Mrs. Howie joined us. Two new friends rounded out the eight at the table. Vance and his bride couldn’t attend and we all missed them. Toward the end of four fruitful hours of conversation I looked at J (CC) and said, “I think it is unlikely that Russell will return to faith.” And then the slow motion began.
Why would I say such a thing about you after meeting regularly for over a year? What did I mean by it? Did I realize the effect it could have on your best friend? She likened it to a cancer diagnosis.
Why say it? I didn’t say it out of despair, disregard, disdain, or hopelessness. I’ve spent over a year trying to learn your language – – one that I don’t naturally speak. I tend to speak and think narratively. You tend to speak and think paradigmatically. They are both valid and can complement each other beautifully. After a year of reading what you read and reading what you write, I think it is unlikely that your criteria to come back to faith will be met. And that’s okay. We can continue to model a friendship going forward. I said it largely in support of the theme I come back to frequently in our conversations – – be truthful. It is better to declare where you are and who you are than to keep a tenuous tally on who knows what when. There is less cognitive burden, and I argue, less internal strife.
What did I mean by it? I certainly did not mean that I can or will judge your soul. The God who made you knows you in a way that I never could – – knows you in a way that you can’t even know yourself. That God loves you and my love for you is a faint reflection. But I do love you. I want the best for you and for your family. I want you and J to thrive and for your girls to be able to face the world honestly and with hope. You are very quickly approaching the honest questions of a precocious child – – and evasion is not the best path.
Did I realize the effect this could have on your best friend? I think that I did. One of the first things we talked about one-to-one, then with J at the détente table, was your fear that she would take the girls and leave when you first expressed your doubts. I don’t think that is in her character. If she stays a believer there is a clear scriptural imperative for her to stay. But your very reason for doubt centers on the unreliability of scripture. So I did understand your worry and promised you both that Mrs. Pascal and I would stand for your marriage. I loathe divorce (not the people broken by it). I felt that your bride introduced us and in part encouraged this blog in an effort to bring you back to faith so that you both could regain that point of shared experience and strength. I felt that she experienced your doubts through the lens of a wife who loved and through the words of a husband who loved. You have never been antagonistic to believers in your doubts – – especially not to the believer with whom you share your life. Was it my place to speak this to you both? Only you can answer. I waited for two and a half years and dedicated hundreds of hours of thought, reading, writing and prayer – – tens of hours in face to face conversation. I hope that I earned the trust to speak truth.
What if you don’t come back? I’m your friend and will stay. I stand for your marriage and for your loyalty as a husband and father. I count you as evidence that one can love deeply while not believing that God is in his heavens or that Jesus walked the earth as his sign of compassion. I will continue to listen and to write with you and will try to stand on the bridge between those who follow Christ, follow other gods, or follow none at all.