I was sitting in Truffle’s café on the corner of Chapel and Carlisle. My fruit toast had arrived, and I was about to enjoy my first sip of coffee when a stranger wearing a Skull & Crossbones mask sat down at the table next to me. He was in his 30’s, I reckon. We nodded to each other in the way that stranger greets a stranger. I turned my attention away from him and toward my toast.
“You’re the minster from over there aren’t you”? he said pointing to our building.
“Nice new roof. Tell me do you believe in the bible”?
The suddenness of such a question caught me by surprise.
“Well, depends on what you mean and why you’re asking”, I said, while buttering my toast, and looking forward to my first mouthful.
“Do you”? he said but not in an aggressive way. Genuinely curious I thought.
I’ll abandon speech marks for a moment and just summarise for you. (I think speech marks in a short article create a kind of clumsiness).
He clearly ‘believed in’ the bible but I told him that I didn’t believe ‘in’ the bible as such, but that for me it’s a different kind of book. A book about the beliefs that different people held over a period of about 1900 years from 1800 BCE to about 150 CE. The oldest most likely being Job and the latest most probably 2 Peter. He found that interesting. He’d always thought Genesis was written first and Revelation last. Then I went on to say that since then millions of books have been published in which people have written about what they believe about God and what faith is for them.
He thought about that for a while, which gave me a bit of time to eat my toast before it went cold and order another coffee – extra hot this time. Then he asked a very thoughtful question. “So, how do we know they were inspired by God, like the bible writers were”?
He seemed satisfied with this answer: “The spirit that inspired Job to write about his understanding of God 3900 years ago, is the same spirit that inspired ‘you’ to ask your initial question about the bible today. The spirit of curiosity.”
It seems to me that faith is always seeking deeper understanding; always posing questions rather than providing answers. We chatted for about 20 mins longer and then he left. Another strange encounter of the religious kind. When I went to pay for my coffee and toast, I discovered it had already been paid for. I have no idea who he was or where he came from, or if we will ever meet again. But I enjoyed the conversation very much.