A friend asked me that question today in the changing rooms after a game of squash. When I say he asked me that question it's perhaps more accurate to say that he challenged me with that question. It wasn't a soul searching 'I'm really worried' but more of a 'do you see how ridiculous your worldview is?' sort of challenge. It came in the middle of a 'conversation' (read 'attempt to discredit my faith') about eternity, morality and God.
He started it Miss. Promise.
The blunt and abrupt framing of the question caught me off guard. I struggled since I didn't know what the 'right' answer to give was. 'Right' because I was torn between a blunt, but potentially misunderstood, 'yes' and a wishy-washy 'God is love and life is long and who really knows anyway...'. The danger of simply answering 'yes' is that he would hear my answer to be '...because you're a wicked sinner and I'm a holy moralist who goes to church. I'm a good person and your a bad person.'. That is not the answer I'd want him to hear, nor is it even close to the truth about the Bible's teaching on hell and the afterlife. That's the risk we run in any conversation when we don't first qualify the terms we're discussing.
In those moments as a Christian, I rarely know what the 'right' thing to say is. Conversations move so quickly. Before I know it, arguments and counter arguments from both sides have come flailing out of our mouths, so much so that I rarely have time to think, pause, reflect and say something wise or just, well thoughtful. I always drive home afterwards running the conversation through over and over again, and then I always draw a line under it all by coming to the conclusion - if God can speak through donkeys he can maybe use me. And so I pray.
Jesus' disciple Peter writes to a church in the New Testament and tells them to 'always be prepared to give a reason for the hope you have, and do so with all gentleness and respect.'
Be prepared, & answer with all love and respect. That's it. That defines what the 'right' thing to say is in any conversation. That's Peter's way of defining a 'win' for us. Winning isn't about convincing someone else or shouting them down so that they go home feeling stupid. 'Winning' in conversations with anyone over something you disagree about has more to do with the way you say what you say than it does the arguments you use. That is all. Answer the person and not the question, love the person more than the fray.
As to the question we began with. It's a fascinating and emotionally charged question that it deserves another blog post...