Dogs fascinate me with their diverse personalities and preferences. Take, for example, our brood of canines and their daily routine. Their world revolves around the basic necessities of life: food, sleep, and playtime. We have a motley crew of four, including a Standard Poodle, a Toy Poodle, a Maltese, and a Cavalier Spaniel. Since each breed of dog has its specific qualities and skill sets that were selected over generations of selective breeding to serve a particular purpose, each individual is driven by their unique mission: squirrel chaser, food connoisseur, ball chaser, or guardian of the door. Unfortunately, two of our pets require daily medication as a result of some really unfortunate diagnoses. Lily, our standard poodle, has epilepsy, and Claire, our toy poodle, has Addison’s disease. Lily started having clusters of seizures beginning at three years of age, and Claire has a deficiency of hormones that regulate her entire metabolism. As a result, we must be diligent in our monitoring and administration of their medications because failing to do so places their livelihood in jeopardy. Lily is ecstatic about taking her medicine, but Claire (the little one), well not so much. Now granted, I am a veterinarian and am skilled in the subtler arts of patient care and pill administration. However, my first attempt at giving a tablet to Claire was more like throwing it into a blender with the lid off. Compounding the medicine into a “palatable liquid” faired even worse, as she feigned collapse and remorse with drama worthy of an Oscar nomination. Finally, after exhausting the inventory of flavored treats to disguise the remedy, we found her love language in the form of peanut butter. Not just any peanut butter, but a specific pill pocket with a particular softness and texture. Really? Could it have been that simple?
In reflection, Claire’s response to our efforts to “help” her was not unlike the response many people demonstrate to me when making a case for Christianity. Like my pets, each individual has basic needs and desires. Those needs are frequently tempered by generations of family history and experience. Each person is “driven” by their perceived mission or purpose, filtered through their view of the world. Even further, some of us require daily treatment for our needs to be met or our illnesses to be abated. Truth is much like the medication my dogs require on a regular basis. Even though it is frequently not palatable, it is still the truth. I can disguise it is some way to seem more acceptable, more comfortable to swallow, or even absorbed more efficiently. But to greet reality, the truth has to be consumed on a daily basis. Just like my pets’ health, we must be diligent in our monitoring and administration of facts every day.
Here is a true story, a real-life example that I experienced in the exam room with a pet owner recently. The conversation started like this:
Client: “Hey, Doctor, Fluffy has been scratching and chewing herself to pieces, and she is not better from the last time she was here.”
Me: ” She had a really severe flea infestation and allergic reaction to the flea bites along with a secondary bacterial infection. I still see some fleas on her. Did you treat her with the flea medication, treat your house and yard, and give her the antibiotics and allergy medications?”
Client: “Well, not exactly. ”
Me: “What do you mean by ‘not exactly’ ?”
Client: “What I mean is we still have some left. We gave it to her, and she was not getting better on Monday after we saw you on Saturday.”
Me: “I understand. So what you did not do, did not work, and you are unhappy that what I prescribed for you did not provide immediate results, though it was prescribed for two weeks to accomplish what you did not do.”
Client: “Well you said it doc, not me.”
Me: “Have you ever heard of Abbott and Costello?”
Client: “No, are they doctor friends of yours?”
Me: “Excuse me, I’ll be right back.”
Needless to say, the truth will reveal itself in the strangest ways. Although my client was genuine and well-meaning, his expectations for results were immediate, and he missed the overall goal we had in mind. Sometimes in the busyness of practice life, I have to remind myself to walk the client through the process and let them see the endpoint that we mutually wish to arrive. Where I failed in this process was in “throwing the ball where my client could catch it.” Sometimes in our attempt to convey knowledge, which in essence is our understanding of multiple truths, we forget to inform others where we are traveling. In making our case for Christianity, it is crucial to convey wisdom in the context of knowledge. Of course, we must have the ultimate goal in mind of the Gospel. To get to the particulars of that conversation, the skeptical person must be given the opportunity to understand not only what we believe, but why we know it to be a valid assertion.
For my client, the presence of fleas or infection may be secondary to the simple persistence of his dog’s constant itch. Today’s culture demands immediate gratification. We microwave our meals. We use search engines to acquire information instantaneously. Facetime and texting provide real-time communication. In fact, I have experienced instances where I prescribe or recommend a product to a customer, and before I can print the prescription label, the client has already compared prices and cross-checked my recommendation on Google or Amazon. So why are we not surprised that a skeptic will want instant validation of our assertions concerning Christianity?
The primary solution to this problem is in the preservation of relationships. The old medical adage of “no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care” is just as valid for apologetics as for medicine. Genuine care and authenticity are the answer. We can disagree in principle but still maintain “humility and grace.” Clients return to my hospital because of our relationship, trust, and honesty. People with unanswered questions, especially our youth and the millennial generation, are seeking answers to the problems and the brokenness apparent around them. The relationship with skeptical people is identical in principle. Our goal is to relieve the”itch” that is making the skeptic so uncomfortable. We do not have to wrap it into something analogous to peanut butter to make it more palatable. Our relationship with them combined with honest, authentic answers to their questions will reveal the truth of Christianity as the medicine they have been seeking all along.