A funny thing happened while recently flipping channels and tuning in to the middle of Stephen Colbert's Late Show interview with guest Bill Maher.
Noting the old adage that one should avoid discussing sex, religion or politics over dinner, Colbert asked Maher if he ever gets invited to dinner parties? His guest replied, "I wouldn't be invited to YOUR dinner party, because we are very opposite - you are married and religious."
Colbert acknowledged that, as a practicing Catholic, he "gives religion a shot," admitting, "I'm not good at it, but that doesn't mean I don't keep doing it." Then Maher, a self-defined atheist, confirmed he was also raised Catholic, and had been active during his development years.
"Come on back, Bill, the door is always open," Colbert admonished. "The 'Golden Ticket' is right before you; all you have to do is humble yourself before the presence of the Lord and admit there are things greater than you that you do not understand and salvation awaits you.
"Take Pascal's wager," the host continued in signature Colbertian form. "If you're wrong, you're an idiot. But if I'm right, you're going to hell."
For a brief moment Maher seemed speechless, but quickly recovered. He admitted there are things in the universe he doesn't understand, but said that in response he doesn't make up "silly stories." After Maher further opined his views about the folly of faith, Colbert explained how his religion gives him connectivity, as well as humility in the face of this kind of attack.
"You brought it up," Maher said defensively. "You gave me the big lecture about coming back to the Church." But Colbert clarified that he did not reprimand him on religion, but rather merely extended a open invitation.
A Tonight Show Prophecy Nearly Two Decades Ago
This conversation was reminiscent of an unlikely exchange nearly 20 years ago, which I covered in an editorial in Christianity Today, between two other guardians of the Zeitgeist on The Tonight Show, when Jay Leno interviewed radio shock jock Howard Stern in January 1996.
After claiming his new tome was "the fastest-selling book in the history of books," Stern held up a Bible and announced, "The Gideon Company is now putting my book in the place of Bibles in hotels." An incensed Leno held up the Scriptures his guest brought as a prop and replied, "Howard, something horrible is going to happen to you... This book will strike you down as you go down the road. It will go through the windshield and pierce your heart.
"I am sounding like an evangelist now, but I predict that's what will happen - suddenly, all that is in this book is making perfect sense to me," Leno concluded, still holding up the Bible.
Leno was right to prophetically infer that, like all of us, Stern will one day face God's judgment. Twenty years later, Colbert emphasized the grace and love of God, who welcomes all who would turn to Him in repentance and faith - including Bill Maher (and even Howard Stern).
Both talk show exchanges are significant and get right to the heart of the human condition, namely our rebellion and need for a Savior. Colbert's response to a snarky snub from his guest perfectly illustrates the way many individuals can't help but twist, misinterpret and be misled when it comes to the promises and invitations of God.
Like Bill Maher, in our sin and selfishness, many of us see invitations from God as intrusive. The enemy can twist these invitations to seem like "lectures," as he tempts us to take our eyes off of the marvelous offer before us, and put our eyes on ourselves. All the while he taunts us about how we don't deserve grace or how we would lose our autonomy, as "we really know the best way to order our lives." The litany goes on and on.
Because God's ways are so much higher than our ways, we constantly miss the mark in our thoughts and attitudes of Him. We think of sin as something that breaks God's rules, when it's really more like something that breaks His heart. We think of His laws as a ball and chain, when they're really more like a map and compass to tell us where we are, where we came from and how to get where we're going without getting in harm's way.
Sometimes even followers of Jesus regard the directions of the Holy Spirit as unwarranted interruptions, when they are really petitions to a more marvelous life than we could ever imagine, as we grow deeper into God's heart and move further into true freedom - from sin, death, guilt and shame.
In reality, it is Satan himself who gives us the lecture on our misgivings, and our flesh that stirs up repulsion at the thought of being with God. The Lord's impossible invitation to us, and all of mankind, is made possible only through the gift of faith through the Holy Spirit. It is strikingly simple, if not impossible to carry out on our own strength: "Come, everyone who thirsts..." (Isaiah 55:1a). "...Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you" (Zechariah 1:3).
Bill Maher is invited to Jesus' dinner party
Matthew 22:1-10 describes the Kingdom of heaven, open to all, in the well-known parable of the Wedding Feast. Bill Maher is a highly desired guest at the Kingdom banquet. However, there won't be any discussion of politics or religion, because Jesus will be exalted as the only undeniable Savior and King.
All anyone has to bring when he or she comes to Jesus is nothing, because that is all any of us have without Him. "(The Lord) is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (Peter 3:9).
As Colbert reminds us, we have to humble ourselves. "Come on back, Bill (insert your name here)...the door is always open."