This past month, while looking for a car for my college daughter, I responded to a craigslist ad. A few moments later, the buyer sent an enthusiastic reply, expressing with certainty that God wanted me to have her car.
Her assumption that I’d be interested in what she was selling sounded much like what I heard from another salesman a few days earlier after I’d finished my daily neighborhood jog.
During the cool-down portion of my jog, I heard a voice behind me asking, “How are you?” I turned toward the inquisitor to see two collegiate men dressed in starched white shirts, their dark neckties dangling over the handlebars of their carefully balanced bicycles. Their cherub faces suggested a relationship with a church that bestows the title of Elder for their young missionaries.
“Fine,” I told them with a touch of huff.
After a few more salutatory comments, they asked me if I’d be willing to read some of their literature.
I recognized the ecclesiastical bravado from my younger days when I helped to conduct “community surveys.” Knocking on doors in pairs, we presented a loaded question to anyone answering the door: “If you were to die tonight, do you know where you’d spend eternity?”
Like the young missionaries, and much like a timeshare salesman, our training gave us a veritable flowchart of canned responses. If the resident wasn’t sure of their eternal destination, we’d ask them, “Would you like to be sure?” The narrative was designed to drive the dazed respondent to recite a canned prayer — much like a theological swearing-in ceremony — that promised celestial assurance, holding full privileges thereof.
Now these years later, I was on the receiving end of this same ecclesiastical entrapment. I knew I’d been cornered. If I told them to get lost, they’d have proof that my faith was heartless. If I listened to them, they’d be unduly encouraged.
Caught between my desire to be gracious and their need to add another convert, I tried to make some friendly small talk about where they were from and how long they would be in Sacramento. They weren’t budging.
“Can we come to your house to study the Bible?” asked the one from Australia.
My reply was a more direct approach because sometimes you have to just tell people, “I’m not buying what you are selling.”
“Look” I said, “It sounds like we are both perfectly content with our individual faiths, so I hope you can respect that and pick another subject.”
The Pacific Islander then fired their most loaded question.
“If we could show you another way, would you pray for God to reveal it was right?” Their question led me to believe that they were undoubtedly sure that in this game of mystical roulette, they had the lucky number.
The truth is faith needn’t be a roulette game or even a potluck supper for that matter. When people of faith earnestly search, most will find a specific path that puts them in touch with their creator and helps them to live out ethical lives. I’m sure this was true for these young men, but at the end of the day, God isn’t in anyone’s pocket. He simply doesn’t limit his appearances to necktied bicyclists nor is God a used car salesman.
By the way, the woman trying to sell me the car found another buyer when I hinted that God might be happier if I could get the car for a lower price. As for my daughter, she’s still afoot — which has led to some interesting encounters with two bicyclists of her age wanting to study the Bible.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of No Small Miracles. He also serves as an Air National Guard chaplain and is board-certified in the Association of Professional Chaplains. You can call him at 321-549-2500, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit his website thechaplain.net or write him at P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759.