All I am doing is to ask people to face the facts—to understand the questions which Christianity claims to answer. And they are very terrifying facts. I wish it was possible to say something more agreeable. But I must say what I think true.
C. S. Lewis; Mere Christianity
For some, atheism works. For me, it didn’t.
Disclaimer 1: Allow me to begin by saying those who hold to an atheistic worldview are precious in the sight of God. I have friends who are atheists. And I love them deeply. This post is in no way to be interpreted as a personal attack on, or disrespect for, those who hold to an atheistic worldview. You won’t find any snide remarks or insults in this post. It is simply my story of why atheism didn’t work for me.
Disclaimer 2: According to the testimony of scripture it is impossible for true Christians to lose what we did not earn – our salvation is through faith, alone, in Christ, alone. We did not gain salvation by human effort. We cannot lose salvation by human effort. A true believer cannot be ‘un-born again’. We can hate our parents and treat them horribly, but nothing we do can change the fact that we are their child. Such is the unconditional love and redemptive security of our salvation in Christ. The moment we place our faith in Christ our relationship with him is sealed with a lifetime-guarantee by God himself. So, why would I title this blog ‘Why Atheism Failed Me?’ Permit me to draw a parallel from the topic of depression. There is a distinct difference between clinical depression (major depressive disorder) and situational depression. While the former is a legitimate, medically documented malady often requiring medication due to a misfiring of the chemicals in the brain, the latter – which everyone on the planet experiences – is a result of a specific, temporary personal stress-related event, and is short-term. What I was experiencing here was situational atheism. Yet, make no mistake – what I felt was a loss of faith I had never before felt.
Part 1 of this blog is below. It is the shorter, more succinct response to the statement, ‘Why atheism failed me.’
Part 2, to be published very soon, provides far more detail for the reasons I submit to you in Part 1.
Part 1 of ‘Why Atheism Failed Me’
On May 13, 2013, I walked into my son’s bedroom.
My boy had hung himself.
His name is Jordan. He was 19.
***Before Christians judge me for abandoning my faith, first of all know that all of the emotion I was feeling are found in the Bible. For example, Job, the most righteous man on the planet at the time, not only demanded his day in court with God, he just wanted to die. In my case, know that finding your precious son hanging from his bedroom ceiling by a noose does something to a dad’s mind. A professional counselor told me, “What you saw re-wired your brain.” This re-wiring resulted in a psychological free-fall that resulted in me being admitted to the Psychiatric Ward at one of our local hospitals for 10 days in lock-down. I now know how an otherwise mentally healthy person can go insane. It’s a slow burn, a not-so-subtle descent into madness. The trauma associated with the suicide of a loved one (much less, a child) is so severe that Mental Health Professionals state that loved ones of a family member who took their life are six times more likely to take their own lives. I wouldn’t wish what I saw on my worst enemy.
What follows is my story of how I – and my family – survived.
What follows is my story of how atheism failed me.
The No. 1 argument for atheism is what philosophers and theologians call ‘the problem of evil’, or ‘the problem of pain’ – juxtaposing a world of pain, suffering, abuse and death against a God who is supposed to be loving and kind.
This seeming contradiction – this discordant conundrum – is nothing new. According to the Bible, it begins in Genesis 3, when Adam & Eve rebelled against God, telling him, in essence, to “Shove off, we’ve got it from here.” Philosophers have pondered this dichotomy for millennia, using it to discredit any thought in favor of the existence of a God.
The 4th century B.C. Greek philosopher, Epicurus, said:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then where does evil come from? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
More recently, atheist neuroscientist (neuroscience sometimes referred to as ‘the queen of the natural sciences’) and philosopher, Sam Harris, delineates the ancient philosophy of Epicurus:
If God exists, either He can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities, or He does not care to. God, therefore, is either impotent or evil.
Faith (trusting God exists despite the problem of evil) and reason (concluding the problem of evil eliminates any rational argument for the existence of God), at first glance, appear to be at odds with one another. But, upon closer examination, arguing for the exclusivity of each position – faith and reason – presents reason for pause. This is precisely why, while still an ardent atheist, C.S. Lewis wrote the following while being faced with logical arguments for the existence of God:
“I was at this time (facing the evidence for the existence of God) living, like so many Atheists, in a world of contradictions.”
So, even though I had placed my faith in Christ as a child, and had served Christ for well over 30 years in vocational ministry, I was now plunged heart-first into “a world of contradictions.” Nothing made sense anymore – especially God.
I screamed for hours on my knees in my driveway. I beat the concrete so hard with my fist I fractured my wrist. Even though, by this time, hundreds of people , along with police, EMT’s and other 1st Responders, were on site, I had truly lost my mind.
In the days and weeks to follow, I found myself screaming alongside Jeremiah in Lamentations 3:
He has led me into darkness, shutting out all light. He has turned his hand against me… He has besieged and surrounded me with anguish… He has buried me in a dark place, like those long dead… He shot his arrows deep into my heart.
“God! Why my baby!! Why didn’t you heal him from his debilitating depression!! You heal others! Why not him!! He loved you. He loved sharing his faith with others. From now on, you and I are enemies. I hate you.”
Both, my dad and youngest sister suffered from lifetime of addictions. And their addictions killed them both. I stood beside both their graves asking God, “Why didn’t you heal them?”
But, this was different. This was altogether different.
Jordan suffered from clinical depression, but no addiction. What’s more, at 14, he committed his life to global missions. All he wanted was a Bible, a backpack, and to be dropped off somewhere where people needed to hear about the love of Christ.
In my darkness, I set out to prove God did not – could not – possibly exist.
But atheism failed me. Here’s why:
First, it offered me no place to put my rage, my bitterness, my despair, my confusion, and my growing madness.
Second, it offered me no purpose in my pain.
Third, it offered me no hope. No hope of ever seeing my son again. My soul was hemorrhaging hopelessness.
On the contrary, the Cross offered me all of this and more – so much more.
Atheism, naturalism – all worldviews other than the biblical worldview – offered me nothing but hollow philosophies as well as weak arguments for there being no God.
The Cross, on the other hand, offered a place to ‘unload’ my rage and pain and confusion. I rediscovered a Savior – a Savior who, just like me, was “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” Jesus ‘gets it.’
The Cross offered me purpose for my pain. I have now spoken in over a dozen public schools, at regional student leadership conferences, two universities and to staff at a hospital on the topic of suicide awareness and intervention. According to reports I’ve received following these presentations, many have chosen to live as a result of my family’s story. Joseph explained to his brothers that the evil they had done to him had been repurposed by God for the saving of many lives.
The Cross offered me hope that one day I will see my son again – I will see him free of crippling depression and overflowing with joy. “We want you to know,” Paul wrote to the believers in Thessalonica, “what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.”
And that’s why atheism failed me.
***Below is a photo of the corner of Jordan’s bedroom where I found him. Of course, my heart constricts when I walk by. But, that load is less heavy – because of the Cross.
“Weeping may last for the night,” the psalmist wrote, “but joy comes in the morning.” (30:5)
Last thing, and this is important: When I found my way back to Jesus, he not once filled with me with shame or guilt, as though he was angry with me. There was no condescending glare. He never scolded me for doubting him. I fought as I hard as I could to run away, but Jesus would never let go of me. I was unable to outrun the shadow of the Cross. Unable to run where his love could not reach.
Although I’ve never heard Christ’s voice audibly, in my heart of hearts I could hear him whispering to me tenderly,
“Welcome home, my child. I understand why you left me. Why you hated me. But Nick – I never left you. I never let go of you. You cannot comprehend my love for you. It is boundless, immeasurable and unconditional. My child, I’ve got this. And, by the way, I’ve got your son. He’s more alive than he’s ever been. A reunion is coming.”
There’s an old hymn titled, ‘The Way of the Cross Leads Home.’ It did for me. It will for you, as well.
Soli Deo Gloria, Nick