By L. Alfred James
“You are giving up so many things. You don’t act the way you used to. And now you spend so much time with Christians. And you give a lot of your money to your church, and also give money to the poor. That’s all cool, if that’s what you are really into. But I just wonder if it’s a good idea. How do you know it’s all true? How do you know you aren’t wasting your life on a lie? I mean, you don’t know for sure that this Jesus stuff is real. Are you really willing to bet your life on this?”
This was a conversation that I regularly had with a couple of my friends in my late teens and early twenties. They said, “I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to live like a committed Christian because I don’t want to give up a bunch of things (and make all kinds of sacrifices) for something that—in the end—might not be true. Since I can’t know for an absolute fact that Christianity is true, then it just seems like a big gamble. It’s a gamble to give your life to it. And I’m not willing to take that risk.” They thought I was a little crazy because I was giving up a lot of things for something that might turn out to not be true.
But what my friends didn’t realize-and what you might not realize-is that everyone is gambling. Everyone is betting their life on something. Nobody knows with mathematical certainty that their worldview is true. Everyone is making a wager. Everyone is gambling.
Even if you have no concern about spiritual matters are and, say, are just pursuing success in your career, you are still gambling. First, you don’t know that apathy about spiritual things is an appropriate attitude to have. What if it isn’t? What if your eternity really is at stake? Second, you don’t know that achieving success will really make you happy. In fact, there is a lot of empirical evidence that it doesn’t-millions of people who’ve achieved it and will testify that it didn’t fulfill them.
Fact is, everyone is gambling. Even you. This is what Sheldon Vanauken realized when he was considering the claims of Christ:
In my old easy-going theism, I had regarded Christianity as a sort of fairy tale; and I had neither accepted nor rejected Jesus, since I had never, in fact, encountered him. Now I had. The position was not, as I had been comfortably thinking all these months, merely a question of whether I was to accept the Messiah or not. It was a question of whether I was to accept Him-or reject. My God! There was a gap behind me too. Perhaps the leap to acceptance was a horrifying gamble—but what of the leap to rejection? There might be no certainty that Christ was God—but, by God, there was no certainty that He was not.1
If you think Christianity requires a “leap of faith” (a phrase I hate, and that I rarely use), you need to admit that rejecting Christianity also requires a “leap of faith.” You don’t know with mathematical certainty that Christianity is true. But you also don’t know that it isn’t. Either way, you are taking a leap.
What does that mean? It means that—no matter what your present beliefs—you are wagering. You are betting your life. You do not know that your view is true. So, you are already gambling.
The dice have been thrown, the cards have been dealt, and you already have your ante on the table. The ante is what we call your life, and you are betting it all. Why don’t you admit this to yourself—admit that you are gambling—and actually play to win?
It is time for you to figure out what you believe.
The stakes are as high as you could possibly imagine. What if Jesus really is right and there is such a thing as an eternal afterlife as he has described it? Then, if you reject him, according to Jesus’ own words, you face a conscious misery for eternity. You have lost everything.
But what if it turns out that atheism is true and you give your whole life to Jesus and it turns out to be false? What if there is nothing beyond the grave but total oblivion? What have you lost then? Nothing, because your life was ultimately meaningless anyway.
1. Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1987), 98-99.