“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.”
C.S. Lewis; from an essay written for the Oxford Socratic Club
On May 13, 2013, my son, Jordan, took his own life. He was 19. In the days that followed, I set my course to prove God did not exist. I failed.
I hold to a biblical worldview because of faith – but it’s not blind faith.
My faith is based on evidence that is not merely compelling, but overwhelming.
Astronomy, cosmology, biology, philosophy, archaeology, the historical reliability of the New Testament, and the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ all provide cumulative evidence for the existence of God that behooves even the most hostile skeptic’s honest investigation.
This is Part 2 of a 2-part series I’ve titled “Why Atheism Failed Me.”
Here, I share in more detail than included in Part 1 the three specific reasons atheism failed me in light of my son’s suicide.
From Pt 1: Atheism failed me because:
- It gave me no place to put my rage, pain and confusion.
- It gave me no purpose for my pain.
- It gave me no hope.
But, the Cross gave me all of this and more – much more.
Make no mistake: my decision to disprove the existence of God was no flippant, half-hearted effort.
As I began my journey, I was sorely disappointed to find very little critical thinking or following arguments for opinions to their logical end. I was unimpressed with ‘internet atheists’ who, hiding behind a keyboard, spit out soundbites, puerile insults, and embarrassingly unintelligent rhetoric.
Especially in our age of digital information, you don’t have to look far for half-baked opinions and lazy scholarship.
C.S. Lewis asserted in his Mere Christianity,
There has been no lack of good advice for the last four thousand years. A bit more makes no difference.
Regarding Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’, atheist, Michael Ruse, said,
“The God Delusion makes me ashamed to be an atheist… Proudly, [Dawkins] criticizes that of which he knows nothing.”
I couldn’t agree more with Ruse.
That said, I set my mission to read respected atheists of ancient history such as Epicurus, and from more recent historical figures such as David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell, and finally, contemporary atheists such as Sam Harris, Raymond Tallis, David Berlinski and Thomas Nagel. Every one of these men, as well as others I read, despite their inability to convince me to accept their worldview, are nonetheless brilliant scholars in their respective fields.
I had the pleasure of watching debates between a host of intelligent, scholarly Christian apologists with popular atheists such as the late Christopher Hitchens and Cal-Tech physicist, Sean Carroll.
But, atheism failed me.
1. Atheism gave me no place to put my rage, pain and confusion.
- G.K. Chesterton once quipped,
“The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank.”
- In other words, when an atheist is thankful, for instance, for a beautiful sunset or a rainbow, to whom or what are they thankful? It’s a fair question.
- The opposite is equally true. When an atheist is crippled with pain, rage and confusion, in whom, or what, do they find peace and consolation? This is also a fair question. Orthodox atheism offers nothing to lean into beyond the proverbial “a shoulder to cry on.”
- I needed more than someone’s shoulder to cry on. Desperately more.
- I needed more than banal knowledge from academia. I had lost my faith in God. But, I needed something to believe in again. I didn’t need a hug and loving, fortune-cookie-level consolation.
- Philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, a Christian, teaches philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He wrote,
Faith is not to be contrasted with knowledge: faith…[is] knowledge of a certain special kind. (emphasis mine)
- Sure, I could verbally vomit onto a loved one or friend, but I needed someone – something – much larger to offer me knowledge and comfort ‘of a certain special kind.’
- Former atheist, Holly Ordway, possesses a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. She is brilliant (I know this first-hand because she was one of my professors in grad school.) Ordway was not a mere casual atheist. Rather, she was hostile toward anything to do with Christianity, describing anyone holding to a biblical worldview as “poor, deluded Christians.” In her book about her coming to faith in Christ, Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms, she reinforces exactly how I was feeling, what I was searching for:
I had built myself a fortress of atheism, secure against any attack by irrational faith. And I lived in it, alone… I began to mock Christians and belittle their faith, their intelligence, their character… I wanted the real thing: real adventure, real meaning, real belonging. I didn’t know where to find it—or if it even existed. (emphasis mine)
- Rebecca McLaughlin holds a Ph.D. from Cambridge. In her book, Confronting Christianity, she writes,
“Atheist social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, summarizes our basic psychological needs like this: “Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger.” (emphasis mine)
- What I needed and wanted was not a shoulder to cry on. What I needed and wanted was someone to scream at. Someone to blame. Someone to fight. Someone to hate. I needed something/someone ‘of a certain special kind.’
Where was I to find this comfort “of a certain kind”?
The Cross offered me a place to put my rage, pain and confusion.
- As I re-read the four biographies of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) in the New Testament, I saw again the hatred, disgust, and mockery the people hurled at Jesus.
- I saw with fresh eyes how their vitriol and verbal venom didn’t stop when Jesus was sentenced to death. It escalated. The gospel writers give us a picture into the wickedness and utter depravity of the human condition.
- The Bible says Jesus was tortured to the point that he was unrecognizable. The prophet, Isaiah, prophesying 700 years before the crucifixion of Jesus, put it this way:
But many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man.
- But this wasn’t enough for the crowd. Like sharks smelling blood in the water, the people spewed acrimonious verbal assaults until Jesus’ dying breath. Even as Jesus was hanging on the Cross unrecognizable from the flogging and beating by the Roman soldiers, the criminals being executed on either side of him mocked and insulted him.
- What did Jesus do when he was hit hard with unspeakable torture? Isaiah describes in detail the response Jesus would give to those who tortured him:
I offered my back to those who beat me and offered my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard. I did not hide my face from mockery and spitting.
- As I read these passages from Isaiah, I am reading about me. I held nothing back from God. My rage exploded like a once dormant volcano. And, just as he did in Jerusalem 20 centuries ago, Jesus offered his back to me as I beat him over and over again with my pain, rage and confusion.
- But then something happened I wasn’t anticipating.
- He didn’t hit back. He, in essence, said, “Nick, hate me. Loathe me. Torture me. Call me every profane name you can think of.”
- It was as though Jesus was saying gently to me, “Nick, your hatred for me can never affect my love for you.”
- This was it! I had found my Someone ‘of a certain special kind.’ I found it not in mankind, but in the man on the Cross!
- Lewis, again from his Mere Christianity, wrote,
‘Look to yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look to Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
Thank God for the Cross.
2. Atheism gave me no purpose for my pain.
- Even the nihilist, Friedrich Neitzsche said,
He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.
- And the Russian author, Fyodor Dostoevsky, in his classic, The Brothers Karamazov, wrote,
- There are numerous “isms” associated with atheism i.e. materialism, naturalism, humanism, Darwinianism, solipsism, scientism and others. (Feel free to Google these philosophies to gain an understanding.) These are all philosophical schools of thought arguing for very similar, but somewhat differently nuanced, ideas of – and for – human existence.
- These worldviews left me intellectually and emotionally bankrupt.
- Basically, they all attempt to place human existence somewhere between particle-physics – humans amounting to nothing more than a mere collection of atoms – and what atheist physicist, Sean Carroll, calls Poetic Naturalism.
- It became increasingly clear that worldviews outside the biblical worldview reach for ontological and epistemological explanations for meaning and hope that never materializes.
- Further, other worldviews seemed to furiously attempt to prevent arguments for God’s existence from ever ‘having a seat at their philosophical table.’
- It was geneticist and evolutionary biologist, Richard Lewontin, when talking about this very subject, who aptly described the thought process of atheists. He said,
“We cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”
- In other words, “Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we will create any philosophical argument we can possibly create just so we can convince ourselves– and anyone else who will listen – there is no such thing as the God of the Bible.”
- Particle physicist, Michael Strauss, cites the following example of this desperate effort to keep God ‘outside’ in his book, The Creator Revealed: A Physicist Examines the Big Bang and the Bible. Quoting, British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington, Strauss writes,
Philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of Nature is repugnant. … I should like to find a genuine loophole.” Strauss explains the obvious: “Eddington uses the word repugnant to refer to the beginning of the universe because if the universe had a beginning, then it may have had someone who began it, and it is the idea of a creator that is repugnant to some scientists.
- Raymond Tallis is one of my favorite atheists due to his refusal to self-righteously and angrily attack opposing worldviews, being open to the Socratic principle of ‘following the evidence wherever it may lead us.’ (This Socratic principle, recorded in Plato’s Republic, is precisely what led to atheism’s champion, Antony Flew, to change his mind and become a theist.) Tallis was elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences for his research in clinical neuroscience. In his book, Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis, and the Misrepresentation of Humanity, he mocks the Darwinian naturalistic worldview by writing,
As for science, has it not shown us, courtesy of Darwin, that we are animals and our nature has been fashioned in the bloodbath that is the natural world.
- Until 2008, atheist, John Gray, was the Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics. In his dismal and dispiriting book, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, he writes,
The idea of humanity taking charge of its destiny makes sense only if we ascribe consciousness and purpose to the (human) species; but Darwin’s discovery was that species (of any type) are only currents in the drift of genes.
- Again, Richard Dawkins:
The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is…no purpose…nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.
- In his book, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?, Oxford scientist, John Lennox, a Christian, quotes Oxford chemistry professor, Peter Atkins:
Humanity should accept that science has eliminated the justification for believing in cosmic purpose, and that any survival of purpose is inspired only by sentiment.
- Lennox also quotes biologist, George Gaylord Simpson:
[We are] the product of a mindless and purposeless natural process which did not have us in mind.
- So, according to an atheistic and/or purely naturalistic worldview, we are:
- “fashioned in the bloodbath that is the natural world.”
- “only currents in the drift of genes.”
- “…blind, pitiless indifference.”
- “…any survival of purpose is inspired only by sentiment.”
- Depressed yet?
Where was I to find meaning and purpose in my pain?
The Cross gave me purpose for my pain.
- Philosophically, C.S. Lewis deconstructs the empty, morose opinions for the impossibility of life having any purpose:
If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning, just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark.
- Theologically, Paul starts out his second letter to the believers at Corinth with this:
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
- A couple of years after Jordan took his life, public schools began contacting me to come speak to their students on the topic of suicide. I had never once “marketed myself” by creating a web site, fliers, etc. I certainly had no desire to relive my son’s suicide. That said, it never occurred to me that God could – or would want to – use my family’s pain to help others with their pain.
- It was a “ministry we never asked for, nor wanted.”
- According to scripture, God commonly uses the broken, the bruised, the crushed, and the weak to accomplish his purposes. Paul, writer of a third of the New Testament, pleaded with God to remove his ‘thorn in the flesh.’ (No one knows what this was. But, Paul suffered enough from it to beg God three times to remove it.) But God didn’t remove it. Instead, God used Paul’s weakness to demonstrate his might, power, and love. Paul records it this way:
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
- In my weakness, I’ve now spoken in over a dozen public schools, to medical personnel at a hospital, in two universities, regional high school leadership conferences, and numerous churches.
- I frequently receive emails, texts and notes from school administrative staff after I speak in assemblies. Almost always I am told a particular student who was planning on taking their life has chosen to live after listening to what I had to say.
- The very first note I received (in 2015) was from a high school school counselor. I had spoken the previous day at the Lubbock Civic Center. It was my first time to ever speak of my son’s story in front of an audience. I was fairly terrified, as well as an emotional mess. But, it appears God enjoys using ‘messes.’ The counselor told me of a student who came to her office to explain that he had attempted to take his life the night before by swallowing an entire bottle of pills. (Unbeknownst to them, or me, he had attended my talk the day before.) Then he told the counselor, “But I made myself throw up the pills.” When asked why, he said, “Because of that man who lost his son.”
- At the encouragement of a friend, I began blogging as a form a therapy. After the 2016 Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, debuted, I wrote a blog titled, Why 13 Reasons Why is Both Dark and Dangerous. It’s been viewed over 250,000 times in over 150 countries.
- My blog, Suicide & the Bible, has been viewed over 55,000 times.
- As one mental health professional told me, “God is able to repurpose your pain – if you will let him.”
After “finding my way back home,” I was reminded that, in the hands of Jesus, pain is re-purposed and transformed into power, rage is transformed into passion, and despair is transformed into hope.
And that brings me to my third and final reason for why atheism failed me.
3. Atheism gave me no hope.
- The Epicurean worldview is delineated as follows: We’re born. We live. We die. “Dust to dust.”
- But this philosophy is older than Epicurus. Warning ancient Israel of God’s impending judgment, the prophet, Isaiah, confronted the recalcitrant people for allowing themselves to devolve into this same philosophy:
Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!
- As I read Nietzsche’s Twilight of Idols and the Anti-Christ, my heart hurt for him. Nietzsche was clearly a tormented man desperately searching for meaning and hope. In Anti-Christ, he wrote:
At this point I will not suppress a sigh. There are days when I am haunted by a feeling blacker than the blackest melancholy – contempt of man. And so as to leave no doubt as to what I despise, whom I despise: it is the man of today, the man with whom I am fatefully contemporary.
- Second only to the Bible, John Bunyan’s, Pilgrim’s Progress, is the best-selling religious book of all time. Writing from prison in the 17th century, Bunyan tells the gospel story using allegory. The protagonist, Christian, is being led through a series of dangerous cliffs, foreboding castles, terrifying giants, and the like, en route to the Celestial City. At one point, he sees a man in a cage. Christian, curious as to why this man was in bondage, quickly grew inquisitive, prompting him to ask the man what had happened. The man in the cage answered:
I am now a man of despair and am held captive by it, just as this iron cage portrays. I cannot get out! Oh, how depressed I am now, because I cannot get out!
That is precisely what atheism offered me. Bondage.
Where was I to find hope?
The Cross gave me hope.
- Hope changes everything.
- Hope is real only when it is founded on something (or Someone) solid, and trustworthy. The old hymn says, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” Jesus, our Rock of Ages, made certain his listeners knew this axiom.
- In his book, Melissa (the story of his daughter’s suicide), Frank Page writes,
The grief following suicide is so raw and real, primal and human, even people of faith must often battle just to ride it out, to render it livable….How one grieves depends on what one believes….The counsel of Scripture secures us with a stabilizing beam of truth – beginning with a single word: hope….Your pain cannot dig anywhere this Word cannot go. (emphasis mine)
- The Christians in ancient Rome knew that at any moment they may be killed in the arena for the sole purpose of being a Christian. This is why Paul wrote,
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
- After Jeremiah unloaded on God, he finally collapsed onto the only thing he knew to be true – despite his present circumstances. He wrote,
[Despite my misery], this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
- Philosopher, Paul Gould, rightly said,
What we must do, however, is point others to Jesus—man’s highest good and only hope in death and life.
- Former atheist, Josh McDowell, a brilliant scholar, was lecturing at the University of Uruguay. A student asked him, “Mr. McDowell, why don’t you recant your faith?” McDowell respectfully replied,
I would except for one thing – I can’t explain away the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- And, Jesus, himself, told a grieving Martha who’d just watched her brother die:
I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.
This is the Cross. This is hope. This is Jesus Christ.
In the Cross, I was given a place to put my rage; I found meaning in my pain; and I was given hope of seeing Jordan again.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Below is the music video, Every Praise, by Hezekiah Walker. A picture says a thousand words. The joy of the people singing is palpable, and paints an accurate picture of the hope Jesus has restored to my soul and life. There’s a reason that, as of this posting, it’s been viewed 106 million times.
In his book, Miracles, C.S. Lewis reminds us,
[Christ] has met, fought, and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because He has done so.
Because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb.
For Narnia, Nick