“When I’m in nature, that’s god to me!”
The man looks at me and grins widely, displaying teeth a hygienist would envy. A river breeze ripples through his long, wavy brown hair. He would make a great shepherd in a Christmas play. Wait, my brain catches up. He believes that nature is god? Really?! Hmm. There’s a word for that, I think. Yeah. Pantheist. They believe basically everything is god.
Tomas’s question interrupts my thoughts. Oh, I hope I didn’t zone out. I don’t want to be rude. He seems sincere, even eager to talk with me.
“Sí!” I reply, trying to show off my Spanish. “Pero hablamos en inglés, por favor?”
“Sure. No problema.” Tomas winks.
“Everything is the god,” he continues. “The sun, the trees, the sky. This rock. You.”
I raise an eyebrow, putting on my best I-am-skeptical face. “Really?” Good luck convincing a follower of Jesus that sticks and leaves are god, buddy.
Tomas sits down on a remarkably comfortable-looking rock and clasps his hands behind his head. “Yes, yes, Zachary. When I walk in the forest or feel the breeze or hear my baby laugh, I know this is the god. All of it.”
I’m at a loss for words. Lines from “How Great Thou Art” spring to my mind. He’s so close! But yet, way off. “So you’re saying there’s no Creator?”
“Then how did the universe begin? Didn’t it have a beginning?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s always been here.”
As it splashes and sloshes exuberantly, the nearby river forms eager arms ready to embrace the city where I was born.
“Is this all-encompassing god both good and evil, then? Is there even such a thing as a difference between good and evil?”
My last question seems to poke a tender spot. He looks away from me and down at the ground. Ashamed?
“When I pregnant my girlfriend . . .” His voice trails off. “I knew that was wrong.” For the first time, I hear regret clog in his throat. But then he smiles, jovial as ever. “But look how the god brought us a child, and what a good thing that is!”
I allow his statement to hang in the air. I can’t spend too long talking about pantheism. He needs to hear about Jesus. Yeah. That’s the most important thing to cover!
“Are you familiar with Jesus Christ?” I ask, trying to conceal my nervousness. I’m afraid I’m going to mess up this part.
“Yes, I was raised in a Catholic home.”
“Did you know that Jesus died on the cross?”
“No. He didn’t.”
“But He did. It’s right in the Scripture!”
“That part isn’t true.”
“How do you know?”
Tomas rubs his beard. “I believe in what I can see. You know, the birds and the stars and the river. My girlfriend and our baby. These things, at least, I know are real.”
“You don’t believe that the Bible is the Word of God?”
“No. I mean, maybe. But no, I don’t think so. Jesus did not die on a cross or be resurrected!”
It’s so amazing to have an opportunity to share Christ with this precious soul! What if this were his last opportunity to hear the Gospel? Lord, help me! I can’t do this without You! “Tomas, the Bible is from the God. The God Who is separate from His creation yet became part of it by taking on a human body. The Bible tells us that Jesus is the Son of God who died to suffer the punishment for sins and was resurrected three days later.”
“No, that cannot be.” He seems almost annoyed with me.
“Will you think about it?”
Tomas looks at me skeptically.
I smile back at him hopefully. What am I seeing in his eyes? Hesitation? Curiosity? Worry?
He sighs. “Sure.”
Author’s Note: I recently had the opportunity to take part in street evangelism in downtown Greenville’s Falls Park. This piece is a selective paraphrase from my half-hour conversation with a man near the Reedy River. Some details have been changed. Please pray for the salvation of “Tomas.”