Atheism Failed Me

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

“For Narnia….”

I wrote this the early morning of Jan. 21st….

For Narnia…

My friends, in a few hours I will begin the first of three speaking sessions on the topic of Depression.

Having been invited to speak at today’s Region 17 Summit Conference (for regional high school students), to be held at the Lubbock Civic Center. I am, quite frankly, nervous.

But,…early this morning I looked up into the cold, star-speckled sky and found myself whispering, “This is for you, Jordan.”

Now in Paradise, whole and depression-free, I know Jordan would never want any one – friend or foe – to be caught in the wake of that hideous “ship” called suicide.

So,.. today, please partner with me in praying that Christ will use me (a most fallible vessel) to get someone’s attention and, using the tragedy that visited the Watts home, perhaps prevent it from visiting someone else’s.

“For Narnia!” is a phrase from the genius of C.S. Lewis. Jordan, a huge fan of Lewis and a lover of adventure, used this phrase often to represent, “For Jesus!…for heaven!….for adventure!….for battle!, etc.” So, with this in mind, I go over my notes one last time….for Narnia!

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

What I Learned While Speaking to Students About Depression

Moments prior to my first speaking session on Wed. morning, Jan. 21st, I felt like I was going to be sick. Knowing my son died as a result of depression, the “weight” of the topic was beginning to crush me. I was having trouble breathing. But, as they say, a funny thing happened to me on my way to that first session….

(1) In my mind’s eye – as clear as could be – I could see Jesus Christ lifting the weight off of me and placing it upon Himself. He was looking right at me. It was an image I’ll never forget.

(2) For whatever reason, my son, Jordan, was always freaking out about the time “11:11”. He told us, “Almost every time i happen to look at a clock, it’s “11:11.” This actually happened numerous times when I was with him. It was pretty funny. When we bought him a MacBook Pro for Christmas I looked at the receipt. The price was $1,111.00. I gave him the receipt. :)) Well, since Jordan’s death, this “coincidence” happens a lot to me and Michelle. So, every time I happen to look at a clock and it says “11:11” I whisper, “Hi Jordan.” (I know it sounds nuts, but….it is what it is.) Anyway, during the second speaking session, wanting to make certain I would finish on time, I glanced at my phone. The time? You guessed it – “11:11”. I whispered, “Jordan, I’m here…for Narnia.”

(3) One last thing – as Michelle and i counsel so many hurting people we tell them a particular truth we’ve learned from our own grieving process: there is no way around the grief. You absolutely must go through it. (This is why Psalm 23:4 has become so dear to me: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;…”) Going through the grief (and its related fears) is a necessary part of one’s healing process. So, after finishing the first session I sensed God telling me, “Another step taken, my child.” It caught me off guard. I thought, “God, you allowed this opportunity not only to help others – but to help me, didn’t you!” Remember the image I’d seen of Christ lifting the weight from my shoulders? He was now in the image of my Shepherd, carrying me.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

“…that man who lost his son…”

Unbelievable.

I spoke three separate times on Wed., Jan. 21st, to regional high school students on the topic of clinical/chronic depression.

In each session, I made the following comment: “Having a son of my own who died as a result of clinical depression…., I must tell you, honestly, I did not want to do this. However,….if I can reach just one student early enough to prevent them from doing something tragic to themselves, thereby preventing their family from enduring what we, ourselves, have faced, I will do this a million times.”

Before I even got back to my office after the final session I received an email from a student thanking me and asking for help.

But then….the following day (Thursday) I got the following message from an area high school counselor:

“Nick, a student here, who heard you speak yesterday, came by today to tell us the following: the student shared, ‘Last night I swallowed an entire bottle of pills (to end my life.) But then i made myself throw up because ‘I couldn’t stop thinking about that man who lost his son.’ This student is now receiving help for their depression!”

When I first saw the message I couldn’t stop weeping.

The last thing the high school counselor said in their message was this: “God continues to use Jordan Blake Watts to change lives.”

For Narnia, Nick

When Jesus Rang My Doorbell

Maybe it was because of the emotion associated with seeing the movie, American Sniper. Maybe it was that our daughter, Macy, was on a school related retreat (making our home feel awfully quiet.) Or, maybe it was as simple as just missing our son. All I know is that the past weekend was hard for me and my wife, Michelle, where the loss of our son, Jordan, is concerned.

I’ve always taught, “When we hurt, God hurts.” This past Saturday night, God showed up at my front door and reminded me of just how true that statement is.

A friend had texted me Saturday evening to simply tell me he loved me. I texted back: “Your timing is impeccable. I’m walking around my living room gripping my chest and trying to catch my breath. The grief is so heavy. It’s just one of those days. Thank you so much. I feel like I just got a text from Jesus.”

Less than 10 minutes later our doorbell rang. Michelle and I looked at each other with one of those, “Who could that be??” looks. I opened the door and there stood the man who sent me the text. He said, “I’m here to hurt with you.” I just lost it. We held one another tightly and wept.

Michelle and I will never – ever – forget it.

Below is a water-color painting Jordan painted for me when he was 9 years old.  He came up to me with big crocodile tears rolling down his cheeks and said, “Dad, God told me to paint this for you.”  That’s also something I’ll never forget.  The painting is now displayed in our home.  Jordan & I titled the painting, “When we hurt, God hurts.”

This past Saturday evening, I learned this truth all over again.

Soli Deo Gloria, nw

image

Dear Jordan, Merry Christmas, My Son…

Dear Jordan,

Merry Christmas, my son.

We worshipped Jesus this morning (just like you did). Kelsie sang a mini-concert. She sang about the King you now see with your own eyes. (The photo below was taken after church this morning.)

I don’t have a lot to say. I simply wanted you to know something: we’re making it.

In fact, we’re not merely “making it”; we’re learning again, through Christ, to “live”, to “dance”, to “sing”.

Believe it or not, I’ve completed my first semester pursuant of a Masters Degree in Apologetics. It’s hard! These professors are geniuses. But, I’ve learned so much.

Remember almost two years ago when you and I went to Texas Tech and listened to Dr. Mike Licona discuss evidence for the resurrection of Jesus? (Remember, how I got a parking ticket, and you didn’t? :)) Well, Dr. Licona is one of my professors next semester.

You and I used to sit and have so many conversations about C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Middle-Earth, Narnia, etc. You loved adventure. Your small group from church met in our basement. You called our basement “the Shire.” That said, you cannot know how many times, after learning yet another timeless truth and/or principle this past semester, I’ve whispered aloud, “Oh Jordan – I would so love to know your thoughts about this…”

You would love what I’m learning. But, this I know, son: what I’m learning is mere shadow compared to the greater reality you now experience. I can only imagine kingdoms. You live in one!

By the way, in my studies I’ve “met” so many other brilliant apologists you would absolutely love, many of whom, like Lewis, are now in heaven. Wait a minute – I just thought of something – they’re with YOU! Oh, my son, I’m merely reading and studying their works – you know them! Perfectly! (Selah – wow, I’ve gotta pause and think about that for a moment.))

Our church family (Christ’s Body) has been the personification of the Good Samaritan Jesus described in the familiar parable. When they’ve seen us “beaten & bleeding on the side of the road,” they’ve not once grown weary of lifting our broken, bruised bodies, tenderly caring for our needs, holding us close, and helping us remember what is true (God’s mighty Word.)

A dear friend of ours named Joyce Rowe is one of the many who check on us all the time. Her son died too when he was young. She told us just last week that research shows that, after the first year (which is absolutely maddening), emotional breakdowns tend to become more infrequent. (This has been true in our case.) However, that same research shows that, at the 18-month mark, emotional breakdowns tend to spike for a little while. (This has also been true in our case.) The good news is that one rebounds much more quickly than they used to. Thanksgiving marked 18 months since Jesus embraced you and carried you to Paradise – as well as 18 months since I found you that day, forever changing our lives.

However,…. (and this is huge, my love…)

Jesus is blurring that image in my mind. No, let me re-word that: Jesus is redeeming that image in my mind.

Our faith in Christ is strong, my son. We are more sensitive to the pain and hurt around us locally, nationally and globally. It would be difficult to convey to you how many hurting people God has allowed us to minister to this past year.

Satan tried to steal our story. But, far from losing our faith, Christ has infused it with power. We have a story to tell. Not a story of sadness, but of Hope. And that Hope has a name: Jesus Christ; Emmanuel: God With Us.

The Lord continues to open up opportunities for me to preach and teach about this Hope. Next month, I will speak to hundreds of teenagers from high schools all over the region about depression. And your mom ministers to hurting boys & girls (and their parents) every single day as a school teacher. It’s absolutely amazing what Jesus is doing through her!

Well, I better go, my love. I just wanted you to know that the darkness that enveloped our home no longer exists. Sure, there are “moments”. However, we’ve made a choice to believe that God is not only good, but that He is trustworthyeven in the face of unspeakable suffering.

If you see Job, tell him his faith (after having lost ten children of his own) has helped me so much: “The Lord gives; and the Lord takes away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (I talked about Job at your Memorial Service :))

Paul (who you’ve possibly met) wrote: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

We profoundly believe this to be true.

The cross, and the empty tomb make it all possible.

We love you. So much.

Love, Dad (for Narnia!!) :))

watts fam - 2014