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.
***Before I share my answer to why atheism failed me, allow me to offer a few introductory comments and disclaimers.
Part 1 of my story is below. It is the shorter, more succinct response to the statement, ‘Why atheism failed me.’
Part 2 provides far more detail for the reasons I submit to you in Part 1. There is a bit of “cross pollination” in Parts 1 & 2. But, as I stated, you will find a great deal of elaboration and explanation not included in Part 1. You can view Part 2 here.
My blog, The Deconstruction of the Christian Faith, serves as a Part 3, of sorts. In that blog, I include how God used science and philosophy to get my attention and “lead me back home.” I cite brilliant scientists from around the world who, after embracing atheism, came to faith in Christ not in spite of science, but because of it. In fact, God’s first proverbial “tap on my shoulder” was related to a simple observation I made related to our solar system. You can read the blog here.
But first, two disclaimers.
- 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, as well as completely respect their right to hold to their worldview. **Disagreement does not mean hate.**
- 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.
- According to the testimony of scripture it is impossible for true Christians to lose what we did not earn – our salvation is by grace alone, 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’. For instance, we can hate our parents and treat them horribly, but nothing we do can change the fact that we are their child i.e. we can’t be un-born based on our behavior. 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. I hated God, and proceeded to do all I could to prove he didn’t exist.
‘Why Atheism Failed Me’ – Part 1
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 emotions I was feeling are found in the Bible.
For example, meet Job (rhymes with robe). There was no one on the planet more devoted to God. After losing ten children, Job rightfully – angrily – not only demanded his day in court with God, he just wanted to die.
In his book, A Grief Observed, written after the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis rails,
“Go to [God] when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”
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 eventually led to a 10-day stay in lock-down in a Psychiatric Ward. 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 why atheism failed me.
The No. 1 Argument for Atheism
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.” God, in essence, granted their request. And, as a result of mankind telling God, “We know better than you,” everything from greed to murder, from child abuse to war, was introduced into the world.
People have pondered this philosophical and theological 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 vs. reason – presents logical consideration 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 head-first into “a world of contradictions.”
Nothing made sense anymore – especially God.
Parenthetically, as I carefully investigated atheism I quickly noted two significant facts:
- Every worldview has its “problem of pain.” Regardless of what you do, or don’t, believe, injustice and hate will be a part of your world. But, unlike, other worldviews, the biblical worldview alone, both, made best sense of reality and offered meaning and hope.
- Those who oppose the biblical worldview failed to ever defend their own worldview’s “problem of pain.” Godless, atheistic regimes, such as Stalin’s Great Purge, Pol Pot’s Killing Fields, Hitler’s Holocaust, and Mao Zedong’s Great Lead Forward, are conveniently, not to mention hypocritically, ignored while they focus their attacks solely on injustice related to religious injustice such as demonstrated in The Crusades or Radical Islam.
I screamed for hours on my knees in my driveway on that afternoon in May, 2013. I had hit 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 wailing alongside the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, in Lamentations 3:
[God] 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.
Both, my dad and youngest sister suffered from lifetimes of addiction. And both of them died prematurely from complications related to their addictions. I stood beside both their graves asking God, “Why didn’t you heal them?”
But, this was different. This was altogether different. This was my child.
No parent should have to bury their child.
Clinical depression has ravaged my family. I have suffered from it for decades. And so did Jordan. But, despite that disability, at 14, he committed his life to global missions. All he wanted was a Bible, a backpack, and to be dropped off somewhere on planet earth where he could tell people about the love of Christ.
I could not wrap my mind around why God would take son. In my darkness, I set out to prove God did not – could not – possibly exist.
But atheism failed me.
- First, it offered me no place to put my rage, my bitterness, my despair, my confusion, my loneliness, 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. No hope of truly living life again. Everything was different. My soul was hemorrhaging hopelessness.
But, the Cross offered me all of this and more – much more.
Atheism, agnosticism, 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 me 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.” I learned all over again that 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, on two university campuses, 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. The Old Testament book of Genesis records the story of how a man named 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. Seeking to fill the hearts of the Thessalonian believers with hope, Paul wrote,
“We want you to know 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.
No place to put my pain. No purpose in my pain. No hope for my pain.
The Cross, on the other hand, was sufficient. Jesus is enough. In Christ, I found comfort, purpose, and hope.
A hurting David wrote,
“Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (30:5)
A loving and compassionate Savior…
When I found my way back to Jesus, he not once filled me with shame or guilt, as though he was angry with me. There was no condescending glare. He never scolded me for doubting him.
Like the love-sick father who represents Jesus in Luke 15, he ran to me, threw his arms around me, and held me. I heard him whisper, “I love you. I’ve got this.”
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. I couldn’t “out-hate” his love for me. I was unable to outrun his outstretched arms.
In the end, although I’ve never heard Christ’s voice audibly, in my heart 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.”
Oh, the relentless, boundless love of Jesus.
It’s no wonder Paul prayed that we would “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”
In his book, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, author/pastor, Dane Ortlund, offers the following encouragement:
[Jesus] doesn’t simply meet us at our place of [suffering]; he lives in our place of [suffering]. (emphasis mine)
Translation: there’s no pain deep enough, no nightmare dark enough, no storm strong enough, that Jesus isn’t with us, holding us.
During one of my counseling sessions, my counselor, to help me focus on what is true, recommended, “Consider putting a Cross where you found Jordan.”
Below is a photo of the corner of Jordan’s bedroom where I found him. The Crosses remind my family of Christ’s power over death. And that Jordan is now more alive than he’s ever been.
The 20th century poet, T.S. Eliot, once wrote,
There’s an old hymn titled, ‘The Way of the Cross Leads Home.’
The Cross led me back home. Are you in pain? The Cross will lead you home, as well.
For Narnia, nw