Monday, February 7, 2011

What We Mean and What People Hear: Communicating God’s Mercy to and Loving the Secularized Person

Sir Anthony Hopkins was interviewed by Piers Morgan the other night on CNN and it got me thinking about how people outside the church hear us when we talk about our beliefs in God and scripture. Here are some snippets from an article describing the interview:

When asked if he believes in God by Piers Morgan on his CNN talk show, he said: "Yes, I do. I'm not an atheist. I don't know what it is. None of us do… I believe in a God that Einstein believed in, a sort of Spinoza kind of interpretation."

Discussing the absolute beliefs of organized religions, he said: "I think it is dangerous. Certainty is responsible for some of the most awful terrors in the world.

"I made a point in the film ('The Rite'), I was saying to the young priest, 'So what do you believe in? The truth? Oh, yes, the truth. Look where that got us. Hitler, Stalin - they know the truth.'

For those of us who have a Christian faith or other specific faith convictions, we might take offense at this, but I believe it’s more constructive to think about Sir Anthony’s reaction to the idea of intellectual certainty (Stalin could hardly be called a person of religious certainty unless that he was certain that God didn’t exist). Intellectual certainty, in Sir Anthony’s mind, leads to a destructive arrogance and a devaluing of human life.

Whether we agree with this logic or not is not my concern at the moment. The fact that many people in our culture think this, logical or not, does interest me. It interests me because when I seek to talk about God’s mercy in Christ, I want to make sure they hear what I mean. When I talk about God's mercy, I mean 'God values you and so do I... God has shown me grace and that has humbled me... that humility leads me to service and care of any person who crosses my path.' Saying “I am a Bible-believing Christian” may be akin to saying, “I am a religious extremist,” in the minds of many people. Is this what we mean to communicate?

I have no formula to vault over the prejudices of our culture against those who have religious convictions, but I can tell you how I have sought to present to people the orientation of my life. When someone asks, ‘Do you believe in the Bible?’ I answer, ‘I believe in God… I trust Him… and I believe that he has spoken to me in a way I can trust: namely, the Christian scriptures.’ I don’t imagine that this would dispel all fears a secularized person might have of me, but at least it puts my faith in terms that don’t hit upon his or her worst fears: bigotry and arrogance.

If we are to communicate what we mean to say about God’s love and mercy, we must spend time thinking about what people are hearing when we talk. And this kind of sensitivity and care is usually the first step in answering God’s call upon our life: loving your neighbor

For the full article about Piers Morgan’s interview with Sir Anthony Hopkins, click here.


  1. The best witness is a life filled with God and His joy. Words are important but deeds....deeds are the coin of the realm.

    Great post. Thanks.