“Because the Bible says so.”
That is a phrase many kids hear while growing up in the church. When a question is presented which may be controversial or hard to answer, the go-to answer always seems to be something along those lines.
But what if this answer did the opposite of what it was intended to do; what if it actually turned people away from God? For Lee Strobel, who was raised Lutheran, hearing this answer was the start of the infamous skepticism which ran his life for years.
“There were three stages to my atheism,” Strobel said. “The first was when I was in junior high and middle school. I would begin to ask those questions that middle schoolers ask, ‘Why does a loving God allow suffering?’ ‘How can God send people to hell?’ and nobody would engage with me. So, my conclusion was, ‘Oh, I get it, nobody wants to talk with me about this stuff because there are no good answers.’”
Strobel is an award-winning author of numerous books including “The Case for Christ,” “The Case for Faith” and “The Case for a Creator.” Before he began writing books over Christianity, he served as a journalist for the Chicago Tribune. Strobel spoke at Memorial Road Church of Christ on Saturday evening as well as on Sunday morning in the college class, where afterwards he sat down with The Talon for an interview.
During his time as an atheist, Strobel looked for anything to fulfill his longing for pleasure.
“To me, and not all atheists think this way, but I did, that if there is no God, no heaven, no hell, no accountability ultimately, then the most logical thing to do with your one shot is to go after every pleasure you can find,” Strobel said. “And that is how I lived my life, but ultimately that is a dead end.”
Strobel took solace in alcohol, often coming home drunk and enraged. He has previously stated the thing he is still to this day most ashamed of was his anger problem. It got to the point where when his daughter Allison would be playing in the living room and would hear him coming in the door from work, she would instantly pick up her toys and go lock herself in her room, a place where she knew she was safe from her dad’s rage.
One day, that rage would be the driving factor of his determination to disprove Christianity.
After work one day, Strobel came home to find his wife Leslie sitting in their kitchen. Leslie had an anxious look on her face, which was not abnormal due to his usual outbursts of anger after work, but before he could get a word out, his wife said, “I gave my life to Christ. I’m a Christian.”
“This was the emphasis of me starting my investigation,” Strobel said. “When she came to faith, a couple things happened: there were a lot of positive, winsome changes in her that drew me towards the faith, but on the other hand, I wanted to get her out of this cult. So, I thought I could use my journalism and legal training to get her out of it, and my hopeful conclusion was to find out it was false so that I could save her from this cult.”
Through his investigation, Strobel himself came to the conclusion there must be a God and Christianity ultimately was infallible as far as he was concerned.
Since his conversion, Strobel has dedicated his life to answering the hard questions.
With prominent atheists like Sam Harris claiming there is no need for God, it poses many questions: is there a point to believing in God? Can morality just exist without God being present?
“Can we be moral without God? Yes,” Strobel said. “But is there an objective morality without God? No. If morality is merely a cultural conditioning or a product of neo-Darwinism and adaptation, then we have no confidence that there is an objective morality. And we know there is an objective morality. It is immoral to intentionally torture a baby for fun. That is true in any culture and any nation, rather than just your truth versus my truth. Sam Harris has debated William Lane Craig at Notre Dame University over this topic, and I just don’t buy his reasoning.”
During his time at Memorial Road Church of Christ, Strobel spoke in the college class, answering questions submitted by students. One of those was about hell and his belief in it. Strobel claimed his belief in hell is there are multiple levels, using an example stating, “Adolf Hitler will not be on the same level as your atheist friend who just didn’t believe in God.”
Strobel quoted Matthew to back up this belief, where Jesus says, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”
“In Deuteronomy, the Bible says he’s fair, and that seems to be fair,” Strobel said.
One question brought up often is about those who might not get the opportunity to hear about God or for those who would be killed if they converted.
“I talk in my book on miracles about this phenomenon in the Middle East about Muslims having dreams in which Jesus comes to them,” Strobel said. “These dreams have external verifications because Jesus points them towards someone else who can share the gospel with them. So, God will go through all kinds of permutations to try to reach those who are in unreachable cultures.”
Even when it comes to people who may not ever get the chance to have these dreams or hear about God, Strobel states his view on how God will judge them.
“I do find some appeal to the thought that God in his omniscience may very well judge people who didn’t have a chance to hear the gospel based on how he knows they would’ve responded had they heard the gospel,” Strobel said. “So, in his omniscience, he knew that they were in a place where they were closed off from the gospel, but he also knows had they heard the gospel this is what they would have done.”
Strobel has dedicated his life to his calling and truly believes it is the job of churches and every Christian in their personal relationships to be willing to talk about the hard topics of Christianity.
“If you look at the top reasons why young people are leaving the church, it is because churches are not safe places to raise doubts and have questions,” Strobel said. “I think it is really important for all kinds of ministries, as well for Christians in their individual relationships with people, to not be offended by questions, and if they don’t know the answer to not be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know, but let’s investigate it together.’”
Strobel also wants churches to be more open to people.
“I would hope that churches would foster an atmosphere of receptivity to everyone who comes in, especially those who are spiritually confused and help them find answers to the questions that are holding them up,” Strobel said. “We’re beginning to see this more and more. A friend of mine said, ‘Evangelism in the 21st century is spelled apologetics.’ It’s an overstatement intentionally, but the point is well taken. In the 21st century, it is going to be increasingly important for churches and for individual Christians to be willing to engage with people who have doubts and questions. And that is OK.”