Out of the world’s grasp… [this is also posted as a tab at the top of the blog]
I’m often asked, “Why were you an atheist before?”
That’s a complicated question with several intermingling answers… The first easy answer is that I was a foolish narcissist who thought that I was too smart to believe in God. I thought that anything that didn’t fit within human knowledge of science was non-sensical. I thought that anything that didn’t conform to reason was idiocy. I thought that there was no way to reconcile living a fair, intelligent, reasonable, logical lifestyle with believing in God.
I then began to surround myself with people who supported my new way of thinking. They too believed that the idea of a God was ridiculous. They said that if God exists, then so do all the Greek and Roman gods in mythology, and at the time arguments like that made sense to me. Instead of reading the Bible, I was reading Bill Maher. Instead of listening to Disciple and Owl City, I was listening to My Chemical Romance and Kanye West. By surrounding myself with things and people that weren’t conducive to Christianity and a relationship with Jesus, I removed everything I could that might put me closer to God. I removed myself so far from Him that I’d convinced that He didn’t exist because I chose not to see him.
I also continually saw Christians that did not live a Christ-like lifestyle. I didn’t just see this in individuals, but in entire institutions, such as Westboro Baptist Church and RUF. For example, at my college, there’s a chapter of the Christian-affiliated group, RUF. One night when visiting a friend at her apartment, our conversation was continually interrupted by shouting and the sound of breaking glass. I looked outside only to find a gaggle of RUFers, fresh from RUF, still wearing their RUF shirts, outside guzzling beer, shouting obscenities and breaking the beer bottles in the parking lot. Even though I wasn’t a Christian at the time, I still had a moral compass based on a mix of the Ten Commandments, the justice system, and extensive study in human rights theory. But when I saw these so-called Christians living in a way worse than my own, I would justify my atheism with their actions. I told myself that if that’s how “Christians” act, then I didn’t want to be a part of it.
I also hadn’t had the best experiences with churches… I remember in elementary school I was invited by the most popular girl in our class to go to church with her. She’d never talked to me before, but I gladly accepted because I was constantly exiled for being the brainiac. I thought that she inviting me to church with her meant that I would be a cool kid and would make more friends. At this age, I believed that God was real and wasn’t resentful toward Him. However, when I got to the church that night, they youth leader announced that the girl had won the prize for bringing the most friends to a Wednesday night class. I realized that she only invited me and the other kids she didn’t normally talk to because she wanted the prize. After that night she never spoke to me and a handful again. I began to think that God only cared about the popular kids because they had the most friends. I also didn’t enjoy some of the other times I’d been to church and the preacher shouted that we’d go to hell if we didn’t change our ways. I began to think that God only wanted to scare people into believing in Him. I remember being terrified at church services where people jumped over pews, speaking in tongues, stomping their feet, and wildly waving their hands. I found myself hiding under the pews thinking that God wanted insane, spastic followers.
There was also a string of events in my life that I couldn’t bring myself to believe that God would put a child through. Long story short, my parents divorced when I was 3 and my biological father abandoned me completely. My mom raised me as a single mother and money was tight because she spent every extra dime she had to keep me in private school, which to this day I am incredibly thankful to her for. It seemed like every time I turned around, something disappointing me… My biological father decided he wanted to see me a few years later, which he was entitled to do by the law’s decree on their divorce.
He only lied to me, ignored me, and otherwise made my life a living hell (he still tries, but isn’t having much luck now that I’m of age). Often when I’d have to visit him, he’d dump me at his parents’ house, his parents’ who didn’t speak English very well, where I was bullied by my cousins. I remember being locked in pitch black closets for hours at a time, being incessantly made fun of, excluded from games, and the like. Throughout this time, I wondered Where is God? I need Him and He’s not here… I also told myself that if my own earthly father didn’t love me or care about me, how could this supposed heavenly father? He didn’t rescue me from the closets I’d been locked in. Only hours later when an adult realized I was missing would anyone bother looking for me.
Additionally, I had no idea what true happiness and joy were. I’d convinced myself that being happy was all about meeting cute boys, going to frat parties and drinking things mixed by someone I didn’t know, supporting causes that condoned lifestyles incongruent to God’s will, loathing life in general, and bashing God for all the “flaws” that I saw in his system of Christianity…
So how did I reconcile all these doubts and eventually accept that Christ was the answer I so desperately searched for everywhere except where He was to be found? A commonality became clear between all of these instances. Each time I was looking for God in the actions of the people around me, rather than in the Bible at God’s holy word. God is not subject to human conditions; therefore He does not make the same mistakes that humans make.
In thinking that I was too smart to believe in God, I narrowed my mind to see things from a purely scientific view. This method of thinking in itself isn’t a bad thing, only when it’s applied to things that cannot fit within those confines, like God. To the person who says that God doesn’t exist because He cannot be scientifically proven, I say to consider other things that cannot be scientifically proven. For example, if I go into an art museum, and using facts alone, justify why a particular work is the best in the museum, and someone else does the same thing on a completely different work of art, who’s to say which is correct? If everything fits within the realm of science, and we use only facts to justify our cases, then shouldn’t science be able to empirically provide an answer as to which of us is correct? I’d also challenge the person to provide a scientific answer for the existence of an abstract, such as true love. Science cannot prove how humans know when they’ve met their destined mate. Each person can give reasons for why they’re in love, and consequently others can give those same reasons to justify their relationships, yet not truly be in love. Science can measure sexual responses, but those are not synonymous with true love. If you ask many long-time married couples who are in love how they knew that they were meant to be, often you will hear, I just know. I just felt it. That’s how God is, an unexplainable presence that works within you. Science is a wonderful thing, but some of the best things in life fall outside it’s realm.
To the person who says that they reject Christianity because of the wrongful actions of Christians, I ask them to consider any family they know. Every family, even the most honorable, has bad apples. There’s one person who doesn’t quite turn out right, whose actions and morals don’t agree with the rest of the family. As large as the family of Christ is, by probability along one can see how much potential there is for bad apples. But should a few bad apples spoil the bunch? Should the hard work and reputation of an entire family be spoiled because a member of that family didn’t quite turn out right? Likewise, Christianity should not be defined by the actions of a few bad Christians… And believe me, I use “few” as a relative term because I’ve met quite a LOT of Christians that were not very Christ-like at all.
To those who are reluctant to become Christians because of bad experiences they’ve had in church, I say that churches are not necessarily representative of Christ and what He wants for His people. It seems that sometimes people equate church to God, but the only perfect element out of that combo is GOD, therefore, churches, entire institutions, are subject to the same flaws that humans are. Churches are founded by imperfect humans, therefore cannot be perfect. Imperfect does not beget perfect. Churches and the people in leadership positions within them do their best to interpret God’s message to the best of their abilities and share their findings with others to bring them closer to God. Obviously some do this better than others. Churches, like individual Christians, do their best to follow Christ, but sometimes they fail. There are also over 25,000 different sects of Christianity, so over 25,000 different institutions think that they know the right way to worship and understand God. I believe that they’ve all got some things right and all got some things wrong. The key is to find a church where you can feel yourself growing spiritually. Like the same concept with the family, don’t write them all off because of a few bad ones.
To the person who says that they do not want to be a Christian because of the circumstances in life that they were given, I ask them what did they take from the experience, and were there times that you did not take an opportunity to improve the situation. I believe that learning experiences surround us, and we can take much from them if we take the chance. From my situation, I took independence and courage. I learned not to fear the dark (in both a literal and metaphorical sense) or isolation. I learned that I can hold my own in a room full of people of all ages who did their best to drag me down. I learned about the consequences of absent leaders from the family members who stood by and watched as my cousins tormented me. I learned about the parent that I vowed to never be. Yes, there were times when I could have improved my situation. Those times when I was locked in the closet, I should have been asking God to show his presence and comfort me instead of cursing him for creating the wretched beings He gave to me as cousins. I should have asked Him to fulfill the gap that my earthy father and his family left in me instead of doubting his power. I encourage you to look at your situation from a new perspective and challenge yourself with these questions. If you were to ask a devoted Christian what was the worst thing that happened in history was, he or she might answer, “The crucifixion of Christ.” Consequently, if you were to ask the same person what was the best thing that happened in history, he or she might answer, “The crucifixion of Christ.” God a horrible situation, the murder of His only son, and turned it into a beautiful event by allowing Jesus to die for our sins instead of everyone being eternally damned to hell. As an Owl City song (that I can’t recall the name of at the moment) says “When the bombs go off the sun will still be shining, so every mushroom cloud has a silver lining.” So when the bombs go off in your life, even if you temporarily can’t see God in the equation, He is still there.
To the person who says that they do not want to be a Christian because they won’t have fun anymore, I ask them to rethink their idea of happiness and joy. Happiness is fleeting. Eating chocolate cheesecake makes me happy, but when I’m finished I go back to the same metaphorical emptiness as before and begin looking for the next best thing. That’s the same principle as other things like shopping, partying, drinking, drugs, sex, etc. Just doing these things once is not enough to maintain happiness long enough to lead to joy. But when you become a Christian, God gives you joy when you follow His ways. When you’re a Christian, you don’t need fleeting forms of happiness because you’ve got an unstoppable source of joy that’s always there when you need it. That doesn’t mean that life will always be sunshine and roses; it means that you will have a constant source of support to turn to when things go wrong. Besides, if your happiness is found at the bottom of a bottle, in a one-night stand, in a line of coke, in a new pair of shoes, what are you really living for? What makes your life worthwhile? God gives us purpose and something to live for that other material things can’t provide.
The things that we surround ourselves with are what influence us. If a person eats fast food and sweets all the time, their health will suffer; but if a person eats fruits and vegetables, then their health will improve. We must be careful what we put into our minds and bodies because it will inevitably show on us. We are not immune to any influence, we just fail to notice it after awhile. If you walk into a cow pasture, your first impression is that it smells rancid and you can’t stand it. But the longer you walk around the cow pasture, the less the smell will bother you. That’s the effect that sin has on people. At first you know it’s bad, but you decide to stay in its’ presence, but after awhile you don’t mind it because you don’t notice it any longer. But just because you don’t notice it doesn’t mean that it’s good to be there.
I’m far from perfect and am no theologian by any means. I’m just doing my best to live a life that God and I can both be proud of. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I just have my opinions and understanding based on what I experience and study.
God bless, guys.