Before I received Jesus into my life, I was an atheist; and before I was an atheist, I was raised Catholic in a very traditional church where repetition seemed more sacred than relationship, and repentance more emphasized than forgiveness or community. The concept of God always seemed a one-dimensional idea that didn’t breathe, feel, or matter, and therefore it never pulled at me during those years. I didn’t pray because I didn’t have any faith in receiving an answer, and also because I didn’t believe with my heart that there was even a God listening.
PHYSICAL STRENGTH & IDENTITY
During the end of seventh grade, when I was going on 14—I began weight-lifting to get in shape for the football season the following fall. What I eventually grasped, after playing for one season and disliking it at the time—was that I only had a passion for muscle-building. I enjoyed my time in the weight room far more than my time on the field. Once I fully realized my interest for weight-lifting as a bodybuilding exercise and not as preparation for any specific sport, I began idolizing muscle-building, putting more emphasis on working out my body to receive attention from society than on challenging my mind and soul to stretch and understand the esoteric of the supernatural and the theological. If I couldn’t work out, it was a big deal because I had associated looking strong as a part of my identity; trying to act strong with my body without actually being strong of heart or pertinacious of will.
Years of this mentality drove me to take offense when anyone would label me as thin or weak, because I tried so hard to be the opposite. Truth is, I only weighed 155lbs, but my pride told me I was 200lbs of muscle. In fact, my pride convinced me that my identity had to be stronger than I really was, and it rejected the humility of accepting that I was holding myself back from my true potential. What my true potential was—or what I learned it was later on—obviously had nothing to do with my muscular physique. But I was stubbornly clinging to the artificiality of strength for power in a lifestyle void of spiritual purpose or meaning.
From where does our desire for power derive from? Everyone wants to feel powerful, but not always in the same way. Some people want power in the form of wealth, where others want power in the form of fear or intimidation. I wanted power in the form of strength, volition, and recognition/validation. And while none of these related to my true potential, they all drove me towards the desire for a purpose that made sense to a heart lacking belief in the supernatural; I didn’t believe in God, therefore power and validation were my reasons to breathe and to live for the next moment, the next hour—and even for tomorrow.
UNINSPIRED BY RELIGION
The impersonal aspects and disconnects of my childhood religion–preceding the trauma of my parents’ divorce, grandparents’ death, and being forced to cope with the repercussions of such drastic life changes–were still my reasons not to return to some one-dimensional religious system. However, looking back now, lacking faith in God changed everything for the worse.
There was a time in my life when I was only open to the topic of God if I was allowed to exit as soon as possible. I remember choosing to restrain my capacity to accept the topic of the possibility of God’s existence to enter the conversation long enough to make me think. Now, I consider myself a very deep thinker, and quite analytical, but at the time I was an atheist, I was “deep” in that I was studious about the psychology of the mind; not so much the influence and influx of spiritual matters and their pertinence to human purpose.
I obstinately rejected the consideration of a world in which supernatural forces could coincide with the existence of mankind; where the insidious actions of some God seemed to leave behind a trail of devastation, heartache, misery, and pain.
PAIN, EVIL, TRAUMA, & GOD
What I failed to understand as an atheist, and one of the ways I now relate to atheists today, or even agnostics who aren’t sure of what they believe—is that pain, suffering, heartache, and even devastation—these are all circumstances God allows so we will call out to Him for help, closure, and guidance; where His response will not be to eradicate the danger or to rescind the trauma, but to guide us through our hurt and pain.
Does this all sound too technical or cliche? To rephrase: God uses trauma to help us to draw near to Him.
Another common argument I hear brought up is that if there is a God, He is evil because He allows evil. If you are someone who believes God causes evil, however, then you have misplaced the Devil with God, confusing the two by making the mistake of allocating evil to one spiritual force, and ignoring the other. Basically, you are–whether intentionally or not—dismissing the fact that there is not one, but two separate spiritual forces at play simultaneously: God and the Devil (good and evil). Ultimately, you absolutely cannot have one without the other while on Earth. To argue that point, you would have to claim that love can exist without evil—and on the plane of Earth, free will is what convolutes the nature between choosing one over the other. This picture of free will is what creates the undeniable schism between love and hate; good and evil. Free will dictates the extraordinary dichotomy in which humans have ably produced the atrocities of generations past, as well as the blessings of goodness in human history (good samaritans, acts of selflessness without credit or reward, etc.). The choice to love can replace—or override—the choice to do evil, because in order to decide on one and not the other, one must be decided against. Primordially, choice is what gave birth to sin to begin with: Choice (pride over humility) was what transformed Lucifer into Satan.
Therefore, God and the Devil cannot both be evil, otherwise love could not exist. But since we know love does exist, both of the spiritual forces cannot be evil. One must contradict the other in order for us to raise the dichotomy of their differences in debate, transmuting the concept of morality into a reality we can see, touch, taste, and smell.
For instance, the taste of flesh is connotative of cannibalism and, depending on which culture you reference—for the majority of people, cannibalism is considered “bad.” However, does it make a difference whether or not the person being cannibalized is an adult or newborn baby? Does your conscience not speak into this discussion and call for a timeout? If that is not an explicit indicator of the existence of morality, what is?
As an atheist, none of these thoughts were even given the light of day. Not until years into discovering Christ did I even give them any consideration to make sense of them at all. What’s important to me now is that I share where I am with people who are open to receiving it, and that I try to be as gentle as possible out of respect of understanding where they are now, considering where I was, many years ago.
GRACE AND MORALITY
For those who don’t believe in the love of Jesus–extending grace may at times becomes not a gift from one person to another in the name of something bigger than themselves, but rather the scoff of resentment for having to go out of the way to do good, and to be genuine about doing it. I remember as an atheist, I cared so much about what others thought of me that a lot of times, my actions were only influenced by my intention to get a reaction from the crowd. In hindsight, this indicated a lot of my actions were influenced by my desire to be accepted by others, and not by authenticity.
I witness so many secular-minded people dismissing morality as too complex to discuss, and theology as too unbelievable to process, and yet–magic seems a feasible topic because, when transfused subtly, it doesn’t require God or Jesus to be interjected in order to be validated. What also seems confusing and distorted to others–and what was distorted for me growing up in the Catholic church–is that God requires religion to initiate contact with. That is something I strongly disagree with. In fact, I detest religion, myself, as a Christian. I consider Christianity a walk of faith, not a religion, because to me–religion signifies rules, obligations, and false pretenses (“Talk the talk but not walk the walk.” Or, as another example, those who go to church and pretend to have it all together, just to leave the same way they walked in: unchanged and not trying to improve). I was raised to believe religion was the only way to God, but I’ve learned that Jesus wants intimacy; not false pretenses. I was convinced that God was a God of rules and expectations—not to mention a God who allows trauma because He is careless; but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Now I understand religion is not the way Jesus ever taught us to follow Him—He taught us the way was through HIM; through loving God, others, and ourselves, the way He loves us.
JESUS DESIRES INTIMACY
What I love about Jesus is that He doesn’t want me to come to Him uncomfortably in some formal fashion, but rather, He wants me to come to Him to build an intimate relationship with Him as Savior of my life and best friend, recognizing and worshiping His deity while also admiring His precious sin-consuming humanity (Jesus took all of our sin upon Himself when He was crucified; therefore He consumed all of our sin and paid the price for all of us at the same time). I couldn’t love Him more for that. And, if you will accept that into your heart—that is your choice, after all—could you not love Him for that as well—for being worth deifying and also worth the admiration of a best friend? Jesus is not just some character in a book; He is as real as anyone you know. I didn’t understand this truth until I was in my mid-twenties! You may not be ready yet, but I want to encourage you to open your mind and try to seek further into this truth for yourself.
My prayer for you is that you’ll come to understand whatever area of your life this represents, and that you’ll try to seek out the Truth for yourself. Whatever that means for you, I pray you will pursue this for your own sake so that you have answers where now, you have none. May you be blessed in that search, and may you do it authentically, putting intentional effort into uncovering whatever mystery is blocking you from living into the building of your soul, and not the hopes that this world will ever get you what you want. What you want is to feel important, validated, cared for, and loved. Intimacy, right? Guess what? God planted those desires in your soul, He knows what they are and why they are there; even why they are unique to you. Why don’t you try talking to Him about that, and see how He responds? It would be a great conversation starter:
“God, I’m not even sure if you exist… but You know me better than I know myself. Please help me to see you in my life, and in my heart. Help me walk away from my distortions of you, and towards the Truth that you are my loving Father. You know what is best for me, and You want that for me. Please help me to move towards what that is in my life. I have never tried trusting you before, but I want to trust you now. I’m sorry for ignoring You and not putting more time into understanding Your intentions for me. I want to try to do that now. Please meet me where I am, and help me to feel Your presence in my life now. In Jesus name.”