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 is, in no way, a personal attack on those who hold to atheism. 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. nw
For some, atheism works. For me, it didn’t.
Believing that God exists, that He is good, and that He is trustworthy was as much an intellectual decision for me as it was a matter of faith. Faith and reason, at first glance, appear to be at odds with one another. While still an ardent atheist, C.S. Lewis wrote, “I was at this time living, like so many Atheists, in a world of contradictions.”
When, in 2013, my 19 year old son, Jordan, took his own life, my entire life became one single contradiction. As a result, with all my heart, mind & soul, I tried to resolve that contradiction with a worldview that included a world void of God. For, on the day I found my son’s body (and the days immediately following), believing in a God who would allow this tortuous nightmare made no logical sense. Discovering that God certainly did not exist would have made it far easier for me to deal with my son’s suicide.
In way of introduction, I ended up choosing not to embrace atheism after my son died. However, this was not for lack of trying. Frankly, the reason I ended up not embracing atheism was because atheism provided for me no hope, no answers to my biggest questions i.e. “Why is there something instead of nothing?”, “What is human consciousness and cognition, and where did it come from?”, etc. I found atheism had much to say about the origin of species, but little or nothing to say about the origin of life. So, although I deeply desired to be satisfied by atheistic philosophy, I was sorely disappointed. And this is what I mean by the title, “Atheism Failed Me.”
When I finally returned to the Bible, I found, for me, a “better explanation.” Alister McGrath holds a Ph.D. in Molecular Biophysics. A former atheist, he explains, “I became a Christian at the age of 18 while studying chemistry at Oxford University. My conversion related to my perception that Christianity offered a more comprehensive, coherent and compelling account of reality than the atheism I had embraced in my earlier teenage years.” Former atheist, C.S. Lewis, said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
Then there’s the resurrection of Christ. While lecturing at the University of Uruguay, former atheist, Josh McDowell, was asked by a student, “Sir, why don’t you refute Christianity?” McDowell calmly answered, “I would except for one thing: I can’t explain away the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” As one theologian once said, “Prove the resurrection was a farce and Christianity comes tumbling down like a house of cards.” But, just as I conclude the article below, “the tomb is still empty. And that changes everything.”
In early 2015, The Lubbock Metro Leader Magazine contacted me about writing an article. I submitted to them this one entitled, “Atheism Failed Me”:
I tried to disprove the existence of God, immediately after finding my 19-year-old son dead in his bedroom from suicide.
I looked at the most recent, most compelling evidence to make God sound like a ludicrous alternative. I looked at the best arguments from the best atheists, both in modern and historical times.
You must understand that I wanted desperately to know, in those first 48 hours after finding my son, that there was no God. God’s non-existence would have made more sense to me than “a loving God who would allow my son to suffer so much from clinical depression that he would take his life.”
But atheism failed me. The words of the best, most intelligent atheists rang hollow. Their rebuttals and refutations against the existence of God were, in my opinion, incomplete, short-sighted, and at times, ludicrous. While the atheists scream loudly trying to speak for their evidence, the theists, in my opinion, simply step back and allow the evidence to speak for itself. For the arguments of theists were akin to the familiar statement: “You don’t need to defend a lion; you simply open the cage and allow him to defend himself.”
In the end of my investigation for a God-less universe, I found myself like Peter in John 6. (I tend to resonate with Peter – impetuous, speaks before he thinks, reckless at times, etc., but always passionate.) By chapter 6 of John’s gospel account, Jesus has fed the thousands, healed the sick, and cast out demons. But now, he’s teaching the crowd what following him really means. The response is heartbreaking. Most of them, it turns out, had no interest in following Jesus. They wanted the sizzle, but not the substance; the blessing, but not the commitment. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, they wanted grace that was “cheap” rather than “costly.” In short, they wanted an “A” in the course without doing the homework. And, in verse 66, John records, “It was at this time many of those who followed Jesus turned away and deserted him.” Jesus then turned to the twelve and asked, “Are you going to leave me too?”
After trying as hard as I could to prove God was a fairy-tale, I found myself repeating those exact words stated by Peter, 20 centuries ago.
Peter replied, “Lord, where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Can I prove the existence of God in a laboratory? No. Frankly, I don’t want a God I can explain – the Incarnation, the Trinity, etc., are all inexplicable. A God we can explain would be … well, more like a man than God; at best, a super-hero. On the flip side, I was reminded that God can’t be disproved in a laboratory either. The metaphysical is simply beyond the grasp of scientific method.
Like so many others far more intelligent than myself, I eventually arrived at the following conclusion: The cumulative evidence (from cosmology, astronomy, biology, chemistry and the other hard sciences) for the existence of a transcendent, outside-the-laws-of-physics, “wholly other” (as Soren Kierkagaard described him) is startlingly compelling.
Add to this the evidence from history and archaeology, the historical reliability of the New Testament and the empty tomb, and the evidence is simply overwhelming.
Does faith in the God of the Bible still require faith? Of course. But so does atheism. And, frankly, I have found I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist. As Yale Law School grad and former atheist, Lee Strobel, said,
“To continue in atheism, I’d need to believe nothing produces everything; non-life produces life; randomness produces fine-tuning; chaos produces information; unconsciousness produces consciousness; and non-reason produces reason. I just didn’t have that much faith.”
I considered at length the words of British philosopher, Antony Flew, a champion of 20th century atheism: “One must go where the evidence leads.” This led Flew to belief in God. It led me back to Christ.
I cannot overstate how I felt in the moments immediately following finding my dead son: I. Hated. God. But, God – who we see in the person of Jesus Christ – held me. Even as I fought to run away, he wouldn’t let go.The same love that drove Christ to the cross drove him to love me deeply, holding me tenderly in his arms. He was patient with me, allowing me time to scream at him, accuse him, and even hate him(all of these emotions, by the way, are found in the imprecatory psalms in our Bible).
Despite the best I could hurl at God, he never left me. Ever. He nursed me back to psychological and emotional health. And, in those early hours, when I began to investigate whether I had been wrong all my life about him, He didn’t punish me – he loved me. In the darkest moment of my life, Jesus whispered to me, “I. Am. Here. I’ve got this. Trust Me.”I do, my King. Where else would I go? You have the words of eternal life.
To those of you trying to figure out life’s pain, know this: God is faithful; his Word is true. “He is close to the broken-hearted, and he saves those who are crushed in spirit” — Ps. 34:18; Jesus did exist, lived a sinless life, and died on a Roman cross. The tomb is still empty. And, that changes everything.
Soli Deo Gloria, Nick