ot long ago, I watched a hockey game and marveled at how the Chicago Blackhawks dominated play against the Tampa Bay Lightning. No matter how hard Tampa Bay tried to intercept the puck and clear their zone, the Blackhawks relentlessly pummeled the Lightning goalie. After what seemed like an eternity, the worn out goalkeeper hung on to a shot to stop play with the hopes of resetting the game in a more balanced way. I smiled when the play-by-play commentator tried to make sense of this lopsided contest by announcing, “It seems like the ice is tilted!”
Of course, the ice was not tilted, but the phrase got my imagination running. What if the players came out from their locker rooms before the game and saw a tilted ice rink? I imagine one team would rejoice while the other would call its lawyers. No hockey player in his right mind would even put his skate on the ice to compete until the rink was leveled. The same would be true for any athletic contest. If the playing field isn’t level, you shouldn’t even start the competition.
I wonder if our world today, spiritually speaking, doesn’t resemble a tilted ice rink or an uneven playing field. Before we even start some evangelistic conversations, the deck is stacked against us, as nonbelievers assume they’re morally or intellectually superior to us. Many outside the faith see us as narrow-minded, intolerant, homophobic simpletons. Before telling people the good news of God’s love, perhaps we need to level the playing field so our words are considered rather than dismissed.
I believe Paul employed a version of this strategy when he began his oration on Mars Hill with the provocative words, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious” (Acts 17:22 ESV). Given what we know about his audience, made up of Epicureans and Stoics who liked to talk about whatever was the latest idea, they might have argued with Paul. They might have insisted that, in fact, they most certainly were not religious. They were intellectuals who didn’t fall for such silly superstitions like the majority of Athenians who erected all those statues and monuments. But Paul knew—as we need to realize—that everyone is religious about something. All people base their lives on something that gives them meaning, purpose, hope, or a reason to get out of bed. And some people hold some aspects of their worldview “by faith” even if they would never use that terminology.
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