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A friend responding to my I Was Ignorant, and You Taught Me , Monday’s “On the Square” column, said he’d had a long correspondence with a friend who kept demanding to know why the Bible didn’t say anything about life on other planets. This is important for us to know, he said, and if the Bible was truly the word of God it would say something about it.

I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a goofier question asked of the Bible or a more useless reason for rejecting it. “Because there isn’t any” would be a plausible answer, and “Because it doesn’t concern you” or “That’s not what the Bible is meant to tell you” would be others. My friend’s attempts to answer his friend’s repeated question did not succeed.

It is tricky, as I wrote, to know what people really want — even when you know them, much less when they write you out of the blue. I suspect the percentage of genuine inquirers is fairly small. But since you don’t know who is what, it’s best to assume at the beginning that everyone is a genuine inquirer, by which I mean someone who wants to think through the question and decide what to do depending on the answer they come to.

I’ve had exchanges with non-Christians who were serious, but there was usually an existential limit to their seriousness: i.e., genuine curiosity was not going to lead to decisions that would change their lives. They wanted to know more about Christianity, often with real sympathy, but they had a fixed commitment that Christianity was not true or at least not true for them. And those who were open to changing their lives were, looking back, really already Christians to some (unconscious) extent, and had made some unconscious commitment to Christ as they knew him, even if they knew him only as an openness to argument and truth.

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