“If there is a god,” said the photographer, her voice muffled by the tower of equipment in her face, “point your chin down a little, that’s it. If he or she exists, then he just wants me to be kind to others. And to be happy. God just wants us to be happy. Chin up a bit. Good.”
It was tough to maintain a pleasant expression in the face of this all-too-familiar tripe. But I was paying plenty for the privilege of being contorted into these painfully photogenic positions, so I gave it my best shot.
“I think that’ll do it, if you want to relax,” she said, standing erect again and beaming at me. She was a pretty young woman, with dark eyes and shiny dark brown hair and dimples that had probably driven many a high-school boy to distraction a decade ago.
“The thing is,” she added, turning her attention back to her camera to do whatever it is that digital photographers do to transfer their work to the computer screen, “I’m a really good person. If there’s a heaven, I know I’ll be a shoo-in. Now, just give me a few minutes and I’ll get this on the computer for you.” She dashed out of the jewel-toned room, leaving me alone with the props covering every spare square inch in the room.
I argued silently with the real God.
“Lord,” I said, squeezing my eyes closed to keep my mind from wandering, “can I just give it a rest? I gave her my testimony, I told her why I believe in you and your precious Word, can I please just let it go now and leave?”
Silence. Of course. God doesn’t speak to us through our ears, just in our hearts, through His word.
Luke 15:7 popped into my head: “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” I could almost hear Jesus saying these words.
I’ll be honest: My heart did not leap at the prospect of bringing joy to my Savior; it sank with the burden of needing to explain the Gospel to someone who obviously hadn’t been listening to my in-a-nutshell overview of how I’d discovered the Bible to be uniquely true, the inerrant and infallible word of God.
I sighed loudly to express my unhappiness. “Okay, Lord,” I thought. “But make her bring it up, will you?”
I looked around at all the stuff on the floors and shelves and chairs in the room. There was enough to open a toy store, everything from balls and dolls to teddy bears and funny hats. I spotted a beautiful globe hidden behind three balloons on a shelf in the corner. I wished for a moment that I could go back to being a normal person, able to look at these items and enjoy them, instead of worrying about the immortal souls of the photographer and her kids and everyone else she was in a position to influence.
And then I remembered what I’d been like as a normal person, and where I’d been unwittingly preparing to spend eternity. Not a pretty picture.
“All set,” the photographer called cheerfully. “Come and look!”
I was her only customer that afternoon, although with her puppy-dog personality she probably shouted out such instructions even with a waiting-room full of subjects. She’d told me she had two children and three dogs; maybe yelling was the only way to communicate in her household.
I found her in a little nook off the waiting room, seated at a computer desk and clicking away enthusiastically with her mouse. One by one, she showed me the portraits she’d just taken, she apparently thrilled with her work, I cringing inwardly at the double chin I’d never noticed before, not to mention the bags under my eyes and the thickening of my cheeks and neck.
“I quit smoking three packs a day a few years ago,” I volunteered, answering the question she must surely have been asking herself about how I could’ve let myself get so pudgy. “I used to be thin.”
She paused the slide show and looked at me curiously.
“How’d you quit? I’ve tried and tried and I just can’t seem to do it.”
“Well, I was praying for a dear little boy,” I said, trying to tell in a few words a story I’d told at length so many times that it bored me, “and I just sensed that it was time – that my quitting smoking would be the answer to this particular prayer, as nonsensical as it seemed at the time. So I did.”
“Wow,” she said. “So, didn’t it bother you?”
I admitted that it hadn’t been the easiest thing in the world, and that it still bothered me at times.
“But the point is that I couldn’t have done it at all without God’s instruction and His help,” I said. “No way.
She nodded, staring at me intently, as if I’d just revealed some complex mathematical equation that was taking a while to sink in.
“I quit drinking at the same time, to make the smoking easier,” I added. “And I was not a casual drinker. But that part of it was a piece of cake – He took away my taste for booze entirely.”
“Wow,” she said again, swiveling her chair towards me now, apparently forgetting the reason we were sitting there.
Encouraged, I pressed on. “The Bible says that when we make Jesus our Lord and Savior, He makes us new creatures, so that we’re able to put off the old and put on the new. I guess maybe this is an example of that happening.”
“I can’t imagine giving all that up,” she said, wide-eyed. I couldn’t tell whether she was awed or horrified by the idea.
Uncomfortably aware of the chipmunk-cheeked, full-screen photo of someone who looked vaguely like me watching on, like a third person in this conversation, I continued.
“Jesus said that if He makes us free, we’ll be free indeed,” I said. “And being free of cigarettes and alcohol is pretty cool. But it’s nothing compared with being free of the fear of death.”
She lifted her eyebrows at that one. “What do you mean? You’re not afraid of dying?”
“Not really,” I said. “I know I’m going to heaven, and it’s going to be unimaginably wonderful. But let me ask you this: Has anyone ever explained the Gospel to you?”
“Not really,” she said. “We weren’t really brought up that way.”
“Then let me tell you about it,” I said, and since she didn’t bolt or change the subject, I plunged ahead. I told her about how heaven is a free gift from God, how man is a sinner and can’t save himself, how God is not only totally loving but is also totally just and will not tolerate sin in His heaven.
“If that’s true, then I’m in trouble,” she said brightly. “I know I’ve sinned. And more than once.”
“Who hasn’t,” I said, “countless times?” I explained that sin means breaking any of God’s commandments – lying, for instance, or coveting what other people have, or failing to love the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength. Then I delivered the good news about how God the Son had shown up on earth in the person of Jesus, had lived a perfect life in order to become the perfect sacrifice, had died a tortuous death on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, and had risen after three days to defeat death once and for all.
“We sinned and God paid the penalty for us,” I concluded. “The book of Ephesians tells us, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.’ And we can receive that free gift by repenting – sorrowing over and turning from our sin – and by confessing Jesus Christ as our Savior and our Lord.”
But halfway through that last sentence, her eyes glazed over, and I knew I’d lost her.
“Well, that’s all very interesting,” she said, turning back to the computer screen and reaching for the mouse again. “I’m just not sure it’s for me.”
Sighing inwardly, I fished a gospel tract out of my purse.
“Well, why don’t you give it some thought?” I said, handing her the tract, a great little synopsis of the gospel points I’d just covered. “Maybe take a look at this when you have a chance?”
“Sure, thanks,” she said, tucking it under her mouse pad. “But like I said, I don’t think I have anything to worry about; I’m really a good person. So, anyway, take a look at this shot – I think it’s pretty nice …”
I wondered if the tract would find its way into the wastebasket as soon as I walked out the door, and comforted myself with the thought that, if it did, a cleaning person might find it tonight.
Either way, God had promised: “My word will not return void.”
I left a few minutes later carrying a CD with a bunch of pictures that I wouldn’t want my dog to see (my fault, not hers) and feeling discouraged by her failure to jump for joy over the Gospel – or my failure to explain it coherently.
I was halfway home before I realized with a happy heart that God had done it again: in a snit, I’d asked him to get the photographer to bring up the subject of Him. He’d answered my prayer just like that.