BOWEN COLUMN: The infidel who loves Jesus, still

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, April 19, 2022

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As we prepare to hear again the world’s greatest story at the world’s celebration of Easter Sunday, we fully expect those biblical heroes who make their way to the tomb on that ‘Easter’ morning to believe in Jesus with all their hearts. The great ones, such as Mary Magdalene and the disciples John and Peter, gladly confess their faith in the risen Lord, both there at the tomb and for the rest of their lives.

Not only that, we rightfully expect that ninety-nine percent of those who visit our front-porch columns weekly — from Texas and Oklahoma to Georgia — will confess very freely their faith in the Lord this Sunday.

But here’s something we do not expect, and it’s a thought that I think will enhance your worship every Sunday morning. We do not expect a self-proclaimed infidel to make a curious, jaw-dropping confession for the world to hear about our Lord. It may fall a tad short of the mark, but the confession is stunning, nonetheless. I think you’ll agree.

I revisited this account a couple of years ago as the amazin’ blonde and I took off down the runway at the Atlanta airport. I reached for a book as soon as we boarded the plane, one that I carry with me on every trip I take. It is Lee Stroebel’s The Case For Faith.

As I read, I came to a section early in the book where Stroebel — a journalist who was once an infidel — interviews a current atheist whose path in life curiously mirrored Stroebel’s own. Strobel began an atheist and converted to faith. Mr. Charles Templeton began an evangelical preacher and finished up an espoused atheist. Naturally, such a 180-degree turn intrigues Stroebel, and he knows that Mr. Templeton’s story would tell him a great deal about the subject of faith.

Stroebel finds Templeton in his modest home in a high-rise in downtown Toronto; and for several hours the two men now on opposite sides of the fence converse politely — one asking the most probing of questions, the other offering candid answers for his rejecting faith. Stroebel has one question he knows he has to ask, and it would lead into the conclusion of his interview. He says, simply, “What about Jesus?”

Without hesitation, Mr. Templeton speaks favorably of the character of the Savior for a good while; but, then, suddenly — says Stroebel — “his body softened,” and he lets down his guard and opens up about the Jesus he once served. He says that Jesus was a moral genius, that he was the wisest of all men, and, in a stunning admission, that he was “the greatest human being who has ever lived.”

Such praise for one in whom Templeton no longer believes shocks Stroebel, and he responds by saying that it sounds to him as if Templeton really cares about the Lord.

That’s when Templeton drops the bombshell.

“Well, yes,” Templeton replies, without hesitation,  “he’s the most important thing in my life,” and adds, honestly: “I adore him.”

Stroebel waits quietly as Templeton gathers his thoughts. He slows down at this point, his voice begins to crack, and, in a powerful admission, he says, “I miss him.”

At that, tears begin to flood down the face of the sad atheist and he turns his head away, his shoulders bobbing as he weeps.

Mr. Templeton goes no further — What more could he say? — but I know the words that echoed through Stroebel’s head as he left that Toronto high-rise and made his flight back home. The words have echoed through my own ever since I read them on that flight home that day from Atlanta:

“I miss him” — Surely, it must be the greatest confession an atheist has ever made.

Oh, it falls short of “I will serve him” — That, we regret — but it bolts out the thunderous truth that Jesus is the most sublime character in all the world’s history, even without a belief in his powerful resurrection that we now call Easter morning.

We will not be surprised on this Sunday as we hear of the humble faith of Mary Magdalene, and John and Peter. But we will have to smile at the thought that the blessedness that convinces those disciples of Jesus’ genuineness is the same blessedness that grips even a sad unbeliever. He is so great that even he, irrevocably, even he cannot help but miss the Master. — April 20, 2019