As we entered 2017, I rediscovered a song by one of my favorite rock artists, Red, called “Take Me Over”, from their album Of Beauty and Rage. As I listened, I found memories flooding through me—reminders of where I’ve come in my journey as a believer in Christ, and how, at first, I didn’t take my faith very seriously. Not all that different from dipping your toes in the pool to test the temperature, and then questioning the jump. Through reminiscence, I want to share myself with you in the hopes that, through reflection and testimony, I can meet you where you are, where you may have been, or where you may want to go.
My faith, starting off about six and a half years ago, commenced with uncertainty and skepticism, dubious about what I was getting into and ascertaining the Christian faith made sense before completely committing myself to applying what faith meant: Fully embracing a relationship with Jesus as Lord. At first, honestly, I was curious but simultaneously critical. As an atheist, I was about to leave disbelief behind and accept an invitation to a world most of society lambasted as fallacious and cynical; a religion, so it seemed, that I had been raised around but had never accepted into my heart. Many people looked down on (or were puzzled by) believers for embracing Christ as Lord, openly with faith, rather than only admitting to Christ as a man. I was one of the puzzled bystanders, at one time.
On top of skepticism and doubt was my ever-reductionist perspectives of Jesus and God: He was still fairly one-dimensional to someone like me, someone who, encountering faith as an onlooker while hesitantly inching closer to hear more of the story—took some time to unveil the clandestine Jesus not accurately or effectively described in religion, but described by those walking with Him in intimate relationship; delineating Christ with substance, color, warmth, and reality—truly helping me understand Him relationally and not just knowledgeably.
According to me and my atheism, anyone who believed in a higher power was giving up their ability to live life without concerns (I now understand that belief to be morally indignant). What I would later learn through humility and consequent understanding of the person of Christ through Scripture, Christian friends, and prayer, was that my resistance to surrendering my life to live for Christ clashed with His command to love others who seem to hate us back, and the claim that He was a just, loving God at a time when everything in my life was falling apart; which obviously didn’t seem to align with that claim.
An atheist isn’t ostracized by secularized society because their thinking coincides in believing everything metaphysical or spiritual in life just happens the way it does because it does (despite their disbelief in spirituality altogether). Secularized society also relates to the atheist more than the Christ-follower in their definition of and justification for morality, explaining that they know right from wrong by “what feels right”. The fallibility of this argument, as I would come to understand during my time of learning about Christianity, is that there is no basis for such a belief; morality cannot be singularized to the individual because the individual has nothing firm on which to instill their self-defined moral compass. In other words, unbelievers claiming to feel they know what is right versus wrong categorize morality in terms of emotion (see Timothy Keller’s Reason For God). However, since morality isn’t founded on emotion, but rather on the soul, this argument falls weightless. Believers accept the Ten Commandments, as well as the complementary (and conglomerative) Golden Rule, therefore the believer’s basis of belief is planted in acknowledging God’s sovereign, divine will above their own. In this belief, morality is set above humanity; transcendent, if you will, and therefore it cannot “just be known” (innate morality) without acknowledging the source of our moral compass—God—and getting to know Him in order to understand better how the Bible calls us to live and act in a morally righteous way.
As for the secularized worldview of unbelievers not interested in explaining nor fully understanding the mysteries of spirituality in the world, and thus choosing to deny spirituality altogether—I didn’t search for an explanation for the way the world worked until after my parents divorced. For me, the world was perfect as is up until then. Their divorce turned everything upside down, including my naivety in seeing the world as some perfect place to feel safe in.
With regard to my drastic spiritual perspective shift after my parents divorce, I think an excerpt by C.S. Lewis’s from Mere Christianity says it best:
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of “just” and “unjust”? … What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fantasies… Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple.”
Like Lewis, my parents’ divorce, and every event which ensued—my only brother moving out, my mom moving out, each family member dealing with pain and suffering uniquely and differently; entering middle school from elementary school, feeling the condemnation of my family and students at school for not believing in God—seemed extremely “cruel and unjust” to a young mindset like my own. I couldn’t find the idea of God as legitimate in any of my misery. Denying God’s love and very existence was a commensurate response to a childhood not founded on faith, followed by events too threatening to a heart like mine, and at a time when nothing appeared to be pointing me towards Him, but towards the need for closure I ended up discovering through lust. I wouldn’t receive C.S. Lewis’s wisdom for myself until years later.
Right after the divorce, I felt dead inside in a way I didn’t know was even possible up to my 12th year of life. See, as a child with married parents (who appeared to be alright), I had been so filled with bliss that I was a giddy. I was the first kid running outside right after dinner finished to play ball, and I was the one excited to watch a movie with the family later on every weekend. I was hyper, cheerful, and satisfied; but naive, shielded, and not made aware of the importance of faith in Jesus. When their divorce hit, the shock imploded on me like an earthquake, minimizing my worth and my passion for life as a child. Ultimately, the stronghold of agnosticism transmuted into atheism, confiscating the home of my reason, logic, and mental health; dilapidating all the cheeriness, hyperactivity, and giddiness—which then became quiet pensiveness, darkness of thought, and eventually suicidal tendencies. During my darker years, I picked up the habit of lifting weights at school to land my rage in something tangible. I listened to Korn because I was constantly feeling hurt or angry, and I needed the validation. Those dark, raging emotions never left. Disbelief became my identity, and I didn’t try to understand the misconstrued idea of a loving God, or Jesus. They were lost characters in a book too old to worry about until I was 22.
Listening Red’s “Take Me Over” reminded me of where I come from, how at one point I begged for death and thought of nothing else but death, but now I feel inspired to remember that I’m far from where I was back then; disbelieving in God, hating myself, everything in my life and this world. The song encouraged me to continue to desire Christ because He is my Rock, my stability, my Lord, my best friend, and my God. His love endured through my most painful years and met me at college in Florida where He helped me see that my story wouldn’t end in disbelief. Through friends, church, prayer, support, and encouragement, faith became my life, and I never let go.
Faith, not religion, is my answer to pain now. I will never forget where I come from, and I think that’s healthy because my testimony is that much stronger now: I started off without Jesus, officially denied Him when my life revealed its depravity of suffering and pain… then Jesus opened my eyes to see His reality, and His reality is glorious, perfect, beautiful, and worthy of surrender and hope. My hope is in Him, because where it was—life as only “happy” when seeking relationship to ease my pain, putting pressure on girls to fill God’s role in my life—that wasn’t my purpose, and that isn’t humanity’s purpose. My old mentality and lifestyle didn’t prove to be a life at all because it didn’t offer any form of hope. No more can money buy happiness than can hedonism and narcissism feed a person the reason and passion to truly live. I learned this after years of pursuing idols (music, lust, movies, and social acceptance from people ultimately not worthy of that effort), and seeing the reality of Jesus through the actions of others; through prayers answered right in front of me, through feeling my own transformation from the inside, and amazingly—witnessing my story of conversion inspire and encourage others.
I’ve written this before, but this is why I have a blog—in hopes that maybe you’ll relate to my past, my history, maybe even just one aspect of it—or perhaps, of the traumas I’ve experienced, you have suffered one or more in your own way. I believe what matters is not what we go through, but how we respond to our circumstances. More importantly, what matters is who we believe is behind the scenes of our pain, and whether or not they have the power and the love to help us learn, heal, and grow from those experiences. The divorce nearly killed me—but it didn’t. I didn’t believe in God, but I do now, and I believe in Jesus as Lord. I would never have thought I would say that in my teens. But this is my life now, and I wouldn’t exchange it for anything.
How do you see your traumas in life? Have they become your identity, or have you been looking for something bigger than yourself or your adversities to find your identity in? Perhaps you’ve tried putting all of your hope in yourself; but you won’t last on your own. We all need something stronger than ourselves to get through the chaos of life, and numbing ourselves through stoicism isn’t strength, but muted agony. We need strength through hope and love, which derives not of ourselves, but through the eternity promised us in Christ’s resurrection.
I thought I would include some of the song’s which inspired me to start this post, maybe you’ll find something relevant in the words for you as well:
RED‘s “Take Me Over” (Album: Of Beauty and Rage)
Find my life ahead–
Oh I don’t know, I don’t know where…
But, I’m starting on my way—
Will you meet me, will you meet me there?
Echoes in the night…
Like a melody is haunting me…
But then I meet your eyes—
With the fire of a rising sun—
I am standing on the edge:
Take me over, take me over!
See how fast this life can change!
Take me further, lead me further–
Do you believe a life can change?
Take me over, Take me over!…
I heard these lyrics and they reminded me of my desires to know Jesus, and why I want that. I don’t know what His plan is, but I know I am passionate to know Him and to follow Him. When I meet Him in my heart, I am already standing on the edge of life, and my desire is for Him to take me beyond my hopes and fears and into His desires for me. My life changed because of Jesus, and now I just want Him to live through me. I want Him to take me over, encompass my mind and heart, and bless others through His works in me. I am only a vessel (2 Timothy 2:21); my life isn’t mine, my story belongs to Him.
I hope you will find encouragement and inspiration in my words; a reason to consider faith in the ambush of chaos in life. God loves you, and He will show you His love and His healing power if you will ask and have faith in what He can do. I had to put forward faith before I was really able to see the way Jesus worked in my life, but once I did, I find that my eyes cannot look away. My prayer is that you will try to put hope where you haven’t before in faith that Jesus will be there waiting to reveal Himself to a humble, curious heart. And once you see what I’ve come to see, may your eyes never depart from experiencing His grace and love opening the path before you, showing you towards the hope of Heaven.
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