A couple of months ago, I had a brilliant conversation with a friend. It started with a discussion of different kinds of evangelism. We both came fairly quickly to the conclusion that ‘explicit’ evangelism, that of engaging in direct conversation for the sole purpose of trying to convert someone, is mostly ineffective. This style of proselytising often promotes the wrong things: first and foremost, it tends to push the idea that accepting a very particular set of dicta is akin to being essentially ‘fixed’, the only alternative being eternal condemnation decreed by a supposedly loving God.
Evangelism isn’t, and shouldn’t be, its own programme. It should instead arise naturally from one’s deeply personal and individual faith, the faith which both requires and compels us to live the most Christlike life possible, the faith which, above all else, asks us simply to love. Most importantly, it’s about developing and learning to express a real and a deep love for God’s creation, the pure emanation of God’s love: us. The full spectrum of humanity and the natural world. To appreciate the world around us is to appreciate the divine. To quote the fantastical musical version of Les Miserables, ‘to love another person is to see the face of God’.
The expression of this love, hard as it can be, is how we must introduce others to God. If we can really live out our lives in the spirit which Jesus calls us to, no explicit evangelism is necessary. The experience of this love is often seen as the result of successful conversion, a sanctioned conduit to understanding the nature of the divine, but I disagree. This love, and this tenderness, is the divine. It is God, and it is Jesus.
While I was talking to my friend, she mentioned an experience she had a few years prior. She was watching her parents sitting at the kitchen table, talking and laughing. In that moment, my friend saw her parents’ faces transfigured into what they described as the personification of perfect beauty and love. In their laughter, and in their smiles, she felt that she was truly seeing God. What greater evangelism, and what greater testament to God, than to be love and beauty in the world? To be the loving kindness of God? To be the harmony and peace which Jesus has given to us?
Far from needing to have God explained in cold and necessarily inadequate terms before feeling this peace and love, the peace and love is itself the essence of faith. Thomas a Kempis, talking about the superfluity of ‘lofty discourse’ on the nature of God, says that he would ‘far rather feel contrition than be able to define it’, and I feel the same about the topic at hand. It’s of infinitely more importance to feel God than it is to understand God, more important to feel than it is to be able to define the cause of that feeling, and that experience.