LOPEZ: It’s still Christmas time, and there are a lot of people suffering. In New York, people have lost homes, lost lives. Many faced Christmas without loved ones. Many had a tough time making it a special day on account of finances. Why does God allow this? Why does he allow evil and suffering? It’s a question you raised tangentially in your speech.
METAXAS: This is the great mystery, and of course no one can have an easy answer to it. But the more we know God and love God, the more we begin to understand the Scripture that says “All things work together for good for those that love the Lord and are called according to his purposes.” If we submit our pain and suffering to him and ask for his help, he can do things we can hardly dream about. We don’t always see those things, but we need to know that God is a God of redemption and if we look to him, our suffering is never the end of the story. And we have to remember that God entered human history and suffered and died. He enters into our suffering. So the God of the Bible is not some aloof deity. He is either Emmanuel — God with us — or let’s face it, he’s not worth bothering about.
LOPEZ: At the breakfast you said, “Keep in mind that when someone says, ‘I am a Christian,’ it might mean absolutely nothing.” How can you tell when it truly means something? We’re not all going to be William Wilberforce and end the slave trade in England. We’re not all going to die at the hands of the Nazi regime like another one of the great men you’ve written about.
METAXAS: The Bible says we can be known by our fruits — by our actions and our character — and not just by our words. If our behavior doesn’t give people the impression we are serious about God, then it’s possible we are not serious about God. People know when someone really believes or when it’s just mostly talk or ritual. And God knows. So yes, our actions — small and large — are at the heart of what we are and what we believe.
LOPEZ: What might Bonhoeffer say about the state of things in America today? We’re supposedly mostly religious, but our culture doesn’t seem to reflect that.
METAXAS: The main reason my Bonhoeffer book has been such a best-seller is that people are seeing dramatic parallels between some of the things that were happening in Germany in the Thirties and some of the things happening in our own culture today. The state of the church in America today is oddly similar to the state of the church in Germany during that time. There is a complacency. If the church were really being the church, it would stand up heroically for what is right; it would stand against all injustice; and it would stand up for religious freedom, which is under tremendous threat right now. The very idea that most readers of this article don’t know about or haven’t signed the Manhattan Declaration speaks for itself. We’re drifting along and there’s a waterfall ahead and we don’t seem to notice that the water is getting rougher. I pray that we would wake up and take action.
LOPEZ: Why did you say the following? “You know Jesus is not just for so-called Christians. Jesus is for everyone. For everyone. The grace of God is for everyone. I hope you know that.” Isn’t that a fairly intolerant thing to say in a mixed crowd?
METAXAS: First of all, the contemporary idea of “intolerance” is so subjective as to be extremely silly. Who defines what is “tolerant” or “intolerant”? Usually it’s people who are tremendously intolerant of anyone who dares disagree with them. “Tolerance” has become code for “intolerance.”
But for Christians, Jesus is the God who loves everyone. So he loves those outside the Christian fold as much as those inside it. We don’t earn his love by becoming Christians. We can never earn his love. He loves us when we hate him, just as a parent loves his child when that child is rebellious. And therefore he loves everyone and is for everyone. It’s a bit of a conundrum, but it’s not a tautology. Jesus is for non-Christians. And there you have it.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.