Well, I finally had the chance to drive down I-540 and see “the billboard.” It ironically sits perched atop a billboard for the United Methodist Church and asks a seemingly simple question, “Are you good without God?” The billboard was paid for by the “Northwest Arkansas Coalition of Reason,” a group who says its mission is to “raise the awareness of secular groups in our area.” The group also purchased advertising space on local buses.
Reactions among Christians to the sign are all over the board (no pun intended). I’d divide them into 3 categories:
The “Let’s Boycott/Retaliate/Call A Immediate Napalm Strike” Category
This group of people feels an immediate sense of outrage, then searches for someone to channel that anger towards. ”Who are these ignorant people!?” ”How dare they!” “Let’s boycott the sign company!” ”I know they have the right to free speech but I say in this instance that we revoke that privilege and banish them to the jungles of South America where they can hang out with their supposed monkey ancestors!!”
The drawback: The hang-up with this is that the current score in the “How Many Christian vs Secular Billboards Are There on I-540” game is still about 1932486 to 1.
The “Oh this billboard war is ON LIKE DONKEY KONG now, baby!” Category
Building off of the previous category, this group has decided that the most effective way of response is to post their own billboard, complete with a witty quote that is supposedly from God, such as, “Have you read my #1 best seller? There will be a test!” Or maybe, “MY way IS the Highway!” They astutely recognize that adding this billboard next to the atheist one creates a perfect opportunity for people driving by to embark down this obvious logical progression: “Oh! Am I really good without God? Maybe I am! But look, that one says that even though I might be good without God, I’d be GREAT with Him! Wow!! So which one is right? THIS IS REALLY A PICKLE THAT I’M IN!!!”
The drawback: The unfortunate soul who is faced with this dilemma is also still trying to simultaneously drive, get another french-fry in their mouth, and make the kids in the back seat shut up. This is a problem, because now instead of helping people think about eternity, we’re just ushering them into it immediately.
The “It wasn’t actually real people that did this, it was SATAN!” Category
The devil must be really scared of all of the Christians in Northwest Arkansas if he is resorting to billboards to try to prove his point!! NWA is totally following God, cause that’s the only explanation for why the devil would do that! HA HAH!! IN YOUR FACE, SATAN!
The drawback: Yeah, but seriously, these are actual human beings who put the sign up. They even have a Facebook group. There’s 149 of them.
Look, I understand the reactions. More than that, I feel those same feelings. I think those categories represent emotions that all of us feel any time that something that we value (a belief, a person, or whatever else) is insulted. And that’s what this billboard does to us as Christians. It says, “I’ve heard what you have to say and I’ve seen what you’re about, and I want no part of it.” That hurts!
But let’s consider something for a moment — if that hurts us, how much more do you think our words and actions hurt the people who put this sign up? Think about why someone would post a billboard like this. It seems that they feel alone, isolated, and rejected. When our response is something akin to “You’re satanic!” or even something softer like “You’re just lost,” that only feeds those feelings.
Here’s what I believe to be the crux of the matter. Too often, we as Christians have an “us versus them” mentality. It’s “Team Christians” versus everyone else. “Do not be of this world,” we cry! We’re told over and over that “the world” is our enemy.
We forget that we’re also told, “God so loved the world.” Did you hear that? It doesn’t say that “God loves Christians,” or “God loves the church.” God loves the world, and that includes all the ‘worldly’ people. It’s not Christians versus atheists, or the church versus the world, or sacred versus secular. Our world, and all of the people in it, belong to a God that loves us.
If we’re ever going to figure out how to take God’s love to ‘the world,’ first we’re going to have to realize that we’re not cross-town rivals. We’re all on the same team here — loved unconditionally by a God who desperately wants to see us return to Him.