Two months ago on a plane to New York, I met a man named Henry. We talked pleasantries for a few minutes, but got into intense conversation rather quickly. He asked me about my research, so I showed him the pictures I had taken and described my research. It turned out that he was a scientifically-minded actor who was very impressed that I was (in his mind) actually a scientist.
God guided the conversation to spiritual things through me, and that's when things got good. I found out that he had a religious background (Episcopal), but has fallen away from the faith and had embraced atheism for the sake of reason. Most of the conversation was spent discussing his security in Atheism; I presented the rationality and defensibility of the Christian Faith.
Before parting ways, we exchanged contact information. I sent him an email when I returned, and he asked me for my mailing address. I provided this, and before I knew it, I had received a letter, handwritten and on nice stationary. He said he appreciated the conversation and it opened his eyes to the possibility of there being a God. But, in the end, he talked about how he couldn't imagine God hiding from us behind the universe.
I sent him a letter explaining that God wasn't hiding; He was everywhere. His beauty could be seen in the sunrise, the shadow of His love could be experienced in human relationships and so on. Through all this I had been praying rather hard for him, harder than I had for any other stranger I had shared my faith with.
The letter I got back blew me away. He said that he longed for my faith, that my letter was refreshing in the cynical darkness of New York. He asked honest questions about my motivation; why I did what I did in religion and life. It seemed that the Holy Spirit spoke to him in such a powerful way that he would completely change his tone. I wrote a letter back that encouraged him to stop longing for faith and just to believe.
By this time I had gotten an interview at Cornell in New York city (the medical school is in the city; the main campus is in upstate New York). I realized I would be able to see him when I went for my interview. I called him and arranged for it. I realized that with such a broken spirit, salvation was close. I prayed and even fasted for him before I left. I had all of my friends and my church praying for him.
I had arranged to meet him on Monday afternoon at 4PM. My plane got in late. His plane got in later. I had no time on Tuesday to meet because of my interview and early flight. For most of the day, I was rather upset with God for seeming to set up such a perfect opportunity to share with him and then to cancel it. I was very disgruntled as I rode the subway and then the bus to catch my flight.
Then, right before I reached the terminal, I got the burning in my belly to change my flight. I had tried to make it a later flight, but there were none on that day. I had nowhere to stay and didn't even know if he was going to be able to meet. If he was free, I didn't know where he'd be. But I did it. I changed my flight to 9AM of the following morning.
I took the bus and then the train back into the city. I decided I'd walk around Times Square until 6pm when he got off of work. With my rolling suitcase, I went through the crowded streets, in awe and disgust at the bustle and materialism of that place. I decided to stop and go to McDonalds to sit for a while. I left a message with Henry and then nursed a Mr. Pibb for half an hour. At 6:05PM, he called me. When I told him where I was, he was surprised; I just happened to be a few blocks from where he was. He walked over and met me in the McDonalds.
He recommended a diner, so we walked and talked on our way there. Upon arrival at Astro Diner, we got to the meat. Then, over the next three hours, we would discuss many things. After discussing it, he admitted that he would probably be happier as a Christian. He also said that Christianity was more rational than Atheism. Eternally, it would probably work out better for Christians than for him. He even had experienced a miracle on Good Friday when he was a believer. We discussed freewill, and he admitted that he had only the illusion of control over his life. But this was all he wanted. This was everything to him: to have the feeling that he was in control of his own life. He was willing to give up everything else for that. He compared himself to the character Cypher in "The Matrix," who knew the Matrix was a lie, but knowingly preferred the lie to the truth.
I have never had a more candid conversation with a non-believer. Never have I heard somebody who was so completely honest about their motivations and intentions. Unfortunately, his intentions were purely selfish.
We agreed to continue corresponding, and he left for home. I later made my way back to the airport and spent as much of the night as I could unconscious, hunched over a food court table.
I hope that God moves in his heart; nothing more can be done with his mind. He has no other hope for salvation.