Laci* glared at me as he clutched the gospel tract I’d given him. “I find the concept of substitutionary atonement absolutely repugnant,” he said.
I was impressed. My tract never mentioned the term that he used. And “substitutionary atonement” is not exactly a catch-phrase that he would have heard on the streets of Budapest, which is where we stood and talked.
“You’re familiar with the concept,” I said.
“I’m familiar,” he replied, making no effort to conceal his contempt.
“From an acquaintance,” he volunteered cautiously. “Barbaric, stupid. Repugnant.”
“The acquaintance?” I asked.
“No, the concept.” Then he smiled. “The acquaintance, too. Like all you people who believe in God.”
I shrugged. “Well,” I said, “the fact that I’m barbaric, stupid and repugnant is too obvious to be disputed. Though you forgot to mention short, bald and ugly.”
“I was getting to that,” Laci said.
“But whether or not the concept of substitutionary atonement is repugnant really isn’t the issue. The issue is whether it’s true or false.”
We sparred back and forth for a while. And though we found no basis for any theological agreement, we enjoyed the friendly argument. So, we exchanged names, email addresses, and telephone numbers, and agreed to meet again for a healthy debate over a good cup of Hungarian coffee.
As Laci walked away, I found myself wondering who his “acquaintance” might be.
I found out a couple of weeks later at our next encounter. When I asked him again how he’d come across the sophisticated theological phrase, he said, “I told you. From an acquaintance. Actually, from a friend of yours, I believe.” He took a sip of coffee, then mentioned the name. “Pastor Mark Lauderdale.”*
“How do you know Mark?”
“My car broke down,” Laci said. “Mark happened to be driving by. He stopped and offered to help.”
“And how did you know that he and I are friends?”
“I don’t remember,” Laci said indifferently. “Perhaps your name came up.”
In fact, my friend Mark had told me about Laci, a Hungarian Jewish man married to an American Jewish woman named Claire.* He had asked me for some input, but didn’t offer to introduce us since he was sure Laci would not be willing to meet with me. And he probably wouldn’t have at the time. . . . Yet now, we sat in a café, sipping coffee and discussing the supposedly accidental, meaningless, random chain of events that had brought us together. Over the course of some months, we’ve continued to meet to “argue” over the gospel. Laci and Claire keep telling me of more “coincidences” in the form of people I happen to know who’ve shared the gospel with them.
I firmly believe that every evangelistic encounter I have, whether on the streets, or in someone’s home, or on a plane, or in a café—every encounter is one of the “good works which God prepared beforehand,” that I should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). As believers, we know that the events of our lives are not haphazard accidents.
Our lives are in the hands of a sovereign, merciful Lord who orders our steps, and who calls us to walk in His ways so that we may accomplish the good purposes for which He created and redeemed us.
Scripture reminds us that, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). It’s apparent to me that God is confronting Laci and Claire with the gospel. Will He save them? Right now, the outcome remains in the unrevealed will of the Lord. But the fact that He’s pursuing them is clear enough. It’s no coincidence.
Please pray that Laci and Claire will come to the understanding that all the friendships, encounters and conversations they’ve had with so many people from Chicago to Budapest are not a set of pointless coincidences. Rather, they’re God’s planned interruptions, designed to draw Claire and Laci to Himself. Pray most of all, that Laci and Claire will finally come to Him.
Avi Snyder is our European Director. Find out more about Avi
*not their real names