Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these. Mark 12:30
I am an occupational therapist by trade. As a practitioner in this often misunderstood profession (no, I’m not going to help you get a job) I recognize that each individual is more than just a body, or a mind, or a soul, but an integration of all three components. It is a holistic discipline in which an occupational therapist develops a plan of care while taking into consideration the complete person (body, mind, and soul,) in order to promote engagement in necessary or valued daily activities. Apologetics is a branch of theology that uses reasoned arguments to address doubt and remove barriers to unbelief. Many people view this discipline as having a singular focus on the mind; however, I have experienced a more holistic impact on my own spiritual journey. Perhaps I am drawn to apologetics because I recognize that it is a discipline like occupational therapy that integrates the heart, soul, mind, and body for one ultimate purpose…glorifying God.
I began studying apologetics about two and a half years ago after I attended a breakout session led by Mary Jo Sharp at the annual Lifeway Women’s Leadership Forum. When I returned home, I became burdened for the students I saw leaving the church in droves after graduation. Researchers in what is called the “youth exodus” report that up to seventy percent of students raised in the church leave their faith behind when they leave home. Among the reasons given are that they had doubts about their faith and did not feel that their questions were welcomed or adequately addressed. So I laid some groundwork in apologetics by reading works by well known apologists and theologians C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer, J.P. Moreland, William Lane Craig, and others. I facilitated a couple of home study groups for college students, but had not really started putting the ideas found within the books into practice in a personal way. I discovered there’s a profound difference between knowing something and making it very practical in your own life.
About one and a half years after I began my journey into apologetics, I entered an especially difficult season in my life. Painful personal loss and disappointing ministry crisis coincided for the perfect storm within a single twenty-four hour period. At that point, I felt as if my legs had been knocked out from under me. In hindsight, I realize that I had found too much of my identity in other people and position rather than in Jesus, so when those foundations were compromised my faith was shaken. I found myself stuck in an extremely dark place mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and God felt very distant. Apologetics and knowing why I believe what I believe became very personal for me in those moments.
During those dark days my emotions were all over the place. I was reminded of the illustration I once read in which the author described feelings as a person walking beside us clasped within the hand of our knowledge. If the grip is ever reversed and feelings holds the hand of knowledge, we find ourselves in trouble. I did find myself in trouble and had to consciously reverse that grip and engage the knowledge I had stored away regarding God’s character, and the purpose of suffering in our lives. In my insecurity, I was reminded of God’s love for me. In my uncertainty, I was reminded that nothing ever takes God by surprise. I had to trust that He had a purpose for the path I was walking.
The studying I had done in apologetics was a lifeline to me in a sea of doubts. I felt like I was drowning, but was able to keep my head above water by reminding myself of the undeniable truth of God’s Word. As I have walked through the lows of the last year, my faith has been strengthened as I have gone back time and time again to knowledge and reason to combat what I was feeling at the time. God had prepared me for my own crisis of faith even as I was preparing to equip others. I believe God used studying apologetics to open my heart to a deeper level of compassion, enrich my soul through worship, and undergird my faith through the renewal of my mind.
Apologetics deepens my compassion for others going through similar circumstances. Wrestling with questions about the purpose of pain in this life causes me to long for the hope of eternity and encourage others to do the same. Norm Geisler says in If God, Why Evil: A New Way to Think About the Question, “Simply put, that we don’t know a good purpose for some evil does not mean there is no good purpose for it. There are many things we don’t know. And there are many things we once did not know but now do know. So it should be expected that in the future we will discover good purposes for things for which we do not now know a good purpose.” Going through a crisis can cause us to question God’s goodness, but coming out on the other side reveals a new appreciation for His purpose in pain.
Apologetics enriches my worship as I study and reflect on attributes of God like His love, holiness, and mercy. A.W. Tozer says in Knowledge of the Holy, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” In other words, it takes the focus off of me and places it on Him. When I understand that behind the words of the hymns and choruses I sing there is both experiential and confirmable truth, I am able to worship with a confidence that wasn’t there before. As God shows Himself to be constantly present and verifiably true, my worship becomes more personal and vibrant.
Apologetics undergirds my faith as I discover that there is reasonable evidence for believing the truth claims of Christianity. The more I study and learn about arguments from philosophy, science, and history that all point to the veracity of the Christian worldview, the more I realize that my faith is anything but blind belief. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” I can be confident that my questions or doubts will be met with unshakable assurance from evidence provided by a God who does not fear my uncertainty.
I am thankful for the gift of apologetics that ultimately enables me to engage my heart, soul, mind, and strength in serving my Heavenly Father. It is only through loving God with every part of who we are that we can then live out the second greatest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. If we are to truly love our neighbors, we need to be prepared to gently and respectfully advocate for the Christian worldview. It provides the best answers for the biggest questions of life. If we don’t, are we truly loving our neighbors? Just as I would not as an occupational therapist neglect to address something essential to the well-being of my patient, I should not as a follower of Christ fail to engage with those around me who may have doubts or questions. Truly living the abundant Christian life is dependent upon fulfilling both of the two greatest commandments.