A Day at the Office
I thought that an occasional short story might illustrate certain points better than a straight article. It’ll be good practice for that novel I’m hoping to write.
Rob dreads coming to work, but he has goals and ambitions. First, moving out of his dreary apartment into a house. Then, marrying Rachel. At some point, a nicer car would be great.
Wedding expenses and honeymoon expenses, as well as down payments for houses, require money. Unfortunately, they require more money than this pencil-pushing low-level administrator’s position pays, but that’s what Rob’s night classes are for.
It really wasn’t so much the repetitive job that gets to Rob as Terry. Every office has someone that is into something weird and puts it out there. Terry is the guy that does that here. His weird thing: atheism.
Well, maybe that’s not weird. According to Terry, it’s the most reasonable and rational way to view the world. Actually, the only reasonable and rational way to view the world. Accepting supernatural nonsense such as God, ghosts, spirits, souls; or separating humankind from other animals; or rejecting evolution–anything of that sort was tantamount to mental illness.
But Rob is a committed Christian. And Rob’s desk is right next to Terry. That’s a recipe for irritation at work if there ever was one.
There’s two types of Christians. The type that learns it, embraces it whole hog, and finds out why it is reasonable to believe through researching ancient history on the Internet and reading Lee Strobel books. Then there’s Rob, who pretty much doesn’t care why (or if) Christianity is true–it’s true for Rob and that’s all Rob really needs. The epitome of child-like faith.
The problem is that Terry keeps shooting Rob’s faith full of holes. Today didn’t seem as though it was going to be any different. As Rob approached his desk, he could see an ear-to-ear grin on Terry’s face, eager to engage in arguments against God.
Rob had barely sat down when Terry started.
“So, you’re a Christian, right?”
Rob heaved a sigh as he pulled a fresh stack of papers out of his inbox. “You know I am, Terry,” he said.
“And you own property, right?”
“Yes, I own a car, a computer, and many other things. Technically, I own an engagement ring but it’s on Rachel’s finger.”
“Why?” Terry asked.
“Because we’re engaged,” Rob replied.
“No, no, no, no. Why do you own property?”
“What do you mean, why?” Rob asked, annoyed. He really wanted to get this stack of papers cleared before lunch.
“Well, in Matthew 19:21, Jesus says that if you want to be perfect, then you must sell all of your possessions and give them to the poor, then follow him. You own stuff, so you’re disobeying God.”
“No, I’m not,” Rob said. He pretended to be busy, so that Terry would leave him alone. It didn’t work.
“Yes, you are. Jesus said it, plain as day. You’re a sinner by your own admission.”
“No, Terry, really, I’m not,” Rob said, adamantly. “You’re taking that verse way out of context.”
Terry scoffed. “Typical Christian cherry-picking his Bible, and when I expose the cherry-picking, you claim I’m taking the verse ‘out of context.’ A fancy way of saying you know I’m right, but you don’t want to obey your Jesus.”
“No,” Rob said again, “it’s a fancy way of saying you’re wrong. Jesus said that to one man, one man only. He said it to that rich man, it wasn’t issued as a blanket command.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Terry said, matter-of-factly.
“How could the context possibly not matter?”
“Because Jesus is God. He means what he says. He said ‘Sell everything,’ so that’s what he meant. You can’t twist the plain meaning of the words Jesus said by claiming that he only said it to one person.”
“But he did only say it to one person.”
“Stop cherry-picking your holy book and admit that I’m right.”
Rob heaved a long, painful sigh. Then, probably by the Holy Spirit, he got the most amazing idea. Long had Rob prayed for a way to best Terry, and now, somehow, with this inspiration his prayer had been answered.
Rob picked up his Verse-a-Day calendar from the left side of his desk, and tore a page off. It was James 1:22, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” But Terry didn’t know that.
Rob pretended to read the calendar. “Joshua 1:9, ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.'” Then he asked Terry, “That’s a great inspirational verse, wouldn’t you say?”
“No,” Terry said, disgusted. “That’s a terrible verse. Your God only meant Joshua when he said it, not you personally. And, he’s talking about blessing the genocidal war campaign Joshua waged against the Canaanites. So, if anything, that makes your God look like an asshole and a tyrant–it’s blessing a war that will kill millions of innocent people! That’s cherry-picking if I ever saw it. I seriously wonder about your morals if you actually think that is a ‘motivational’ verse!”
“Okay, so you agree that this verse is taken out of context.”
“Very much,” Terry affirmed.
“Which means that context includes who someone is talking to, as well as what they were talking about?”
“Of course,” Terry said.
“Then you have a serious double standard,” Rob stated.
“How so?” Terry asked, puzzled.
“Because you just told me that if God says it, then God means it, context be damned. But, if I pulled Joshua 1:9 out of context by ignoring who it was said to and why, then you’re pulling Matthew 19:21 out of context by your own standards.”
Terry looked nervous. “Okay, what I meant was…”
“Oh no you don’t. I’m not letting you backpedal out of this. If we can assume that the Bible is a single, unified work, then consider for a moment everything the Bible says of wealth and property. The Ten Commandments specifically forbid stealing. That doesn’t make much sense if we are also forbidden to have possessions. Stealing is, legally speaking, the taking away of something that isn’t yours with the intent of depriving the owner of his property. Can’t deprive someone of something they have no right to possess in the first place!
“Deuteronomy 15 commands no poor to be found among the Israelites, and orders the wealthy to give portions of their blessings from God to the less fortunate. Not a tithe, but whatever they can spare. Freely.
“Wealth and property, therefore, create a responsibility in the biblical picture. However, for most people, they create a dependence. God only wants us to depend on him, not on our possessions or wealth. Those are ultimately his, to deal out as he sees fit and we are responsible to find the best, most God-honoring use.
“In the example of the rich man in Matthew, Jesus wanted to test the rich man to see which he loved more–God, or his property. So he created a serious dilemma: he ordered the rich man to sell everything and then follow after him. The rich man’s other choice was to keep his property, but receive no eternal life or reward. The man chose his property over his life. That’s the moral of that tale, and (as you can see) it fits better with your own definition of context and the rest of the Bible’s teaching on wealth and property.”
Rob was pretty proud of himself, and he awaited Terry’s reply. In Rob’s fantasy, Terry admits defeat and pledges not to bother Rob ever again. Perhaps, if Rob played his cards right, and truly gave a gentle and reverent response, perhaps Terry would pledge his life to Christ right now.
Terry appeared deep in thought. Had Rob gotten through to him? Would they be praying together for Terry’s salvation in a matter of moments?
“Well, you know,” Terry started, tentatively.
Rob held his breath, hoping for the best. Terry’s salvation. Or, at least, a pledge to leave him alone for today.
“That Jesus guy didn’t really exist,” Terry declared triumphantly. “So, really, it doesn’t matter what the Bible claims he said. It’s all myth and fabrication, anyway.”
Rob’s head fell to the desk with a loud thump. He felt the sting on his forehead, and as the metallic echo faded away, Rob knew that this was going to be a long day.