Thursday, October 24, 2013

Listening to a Christian Turned to Atheist, My Thoughts

The creek behind the property I farm. Looking east.
I was doing some research when I came across a video of an atheist who used to be an evangelical preacher, a traveling evangelist in fundamentalist circles. He was telling his personal story of losing faith and how it happened to a group of skeptics in the city where I live. He spoke by formal invitation from this atheistic assembly. So they appreciated his comments. It was like a reverse of someone coming to faith. I listened intently thinking it would be good for me to learn why and how he had come to leave his former beliefs to his current position of non-belief in God, and also, his reason for becoming an active voice to the opposite, a person on a mission to inform and expose the inconsistencies of formal and private religion. He has become a professional debater at university forums, going toe-to-toe with learned Christian scholars, pitting his atheistic conclusions against formal religionists' beliefs.

 His talk was a testimonial, his story, very personal and kind in tone, not angry and defensive. His arguments against belief in God were the usual ones. What about "evil" and "suffering"? His faith in non-faith was well reasoned. I watched him and found myself fascinated in a sad sort of way. Some things he said were absolutely true of Christendom, the ugly stuff, and I had to agree with some of his rationale. In fact, as he talked it became evident that he totally understood Christianity and had experienced much gifting during his years of ministry in the Church. His walk with God had been vital. He had been used to bring people to faith. His written music in Christian venues is still paying him royalties. Irony at its worst. Through a series of small moments that became one huge doubt in the accuracy of the truths in scripture and the viability of God as a real persona, this preacher man realized that he no longer believed in the truth of that in which he preached. He was totally turned off by the right-wrong (black/white) viewpoint. I found him decent. Interesting. Calm. Passionate. Quietly sarcastic--in a smooth delivery. I looked at his eyes. Were they empty? I thought, yes. Intelligent? yes. Convincing? yes, if one is undecided or wavering in their faith. I wondered if some day he would return to faith, if God has not given up on him.
It comes down to two things. Repeatedly. It's about faith/belief, and it's also about the whole idea of God. And, I think it is the idea of God's goodness. Is God really good? The problem of sin. How can we be damned because of one man? How fair is that? A set-up by a God we're supposed to love and is supposed to love us? That's the argument against God, asking the thought, would a good God do that to the people he made and loves? Those were some of his objections which started with a seed of doubt that grew until it bloomed into a choice to not believe. His leaving the faith was a deeply personal decision, not from external forces, and, apparently, not from a desire to live differently. It caused his marriage to break up, four children involved. Many of his family, including his parents and two children, are now atheists, leaving Christianity behind. As I listened to him, I kept thinking about the dynamic of belief. My pastor contends that salvation is more to do with belief than anything else, believing what Christ has completed on the cross. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. I am coming to the point of agreeing with him. It's not just about sin and salvation from our sins, it's much more than an escape, much, much more.

In a strange way, little parts of this man's story I can identify with in my own life, although in a much opposite way. When I left the formal way I had been taught, to live the way I now understand Christ lived in His ministry, it was to leave my system of religious security. I became different than I had been taught. I began to think for myself. I remember when I came to the place of choosing how I believed about God. I left a more rigid narrow belief system to follow the way I believe Christ lived out his life. My focus changed. I held to the same tenants of the faith but the outworking was in a new way. I embraced the Christ of the cross instead of the Christ of the religion. I believe one must know why you believe what you believe, the theology and doctrines of the faith, but, being right theologically is not what matters most to me. In fact, I read Christian writers who come from a different viewpoint, position, and I learn from them. They have something to say because Christ is real to them. I don't have to agree with everything they believe. It takes an openness within me to do this. Living Christ-centered is my focus. Because of my adherence to Christ-following, there has been a separation, an isolation, though. I do feel alone at times.  Leaving the negativity and unbending spiritual-superiority complex, a rampant infection in Christian circles, was a choice I had to make.  I keep out of the angry talk, politically as well. There is no room for that in being broken bread and poured out wine.  I believe it is offensive and is not in the spirit of Christ. I choose to follow the way God teaches me through His word and through Christ's example, and the spirit of God who lives within me. I also have decided to no longer look for who is "in the faith" and who "is out" or who is following exactly the way I believe. Instead, I ask myself, do they know my Jesus? And, if they don't, how can I be of help to them and love them like he did? Many people, both of faith and not of faith, rarely look at the big picture. I've thought about it all day. God is so real to me. I can't look at something beautiful without thinking of the God who made it. I believe He is as real as real can be. I don't doubt His existence nor His interest in me and in others. But, I do understand why some stumble in this regard. At some point, the arguments must be silenced. You either believe or you don't. That simple. That hard. 
Just a side note, I believe that God is not silent. If you seek for Him, and ask Him to reveal His presence to you, I believe He will do this. He wants to be known and to be loved. He wants to love. I believe this with my whole heart.

To turn away from a belief in God may feel like you are now free from constraints. This happens when you don't really agree with it any longer. But, I contend, it would also feel like a huge gargantuan loss. The stars would lose their brightness, the reason for living with its form of right and wrong---fair treatment of others, would be gone, and, the sense of being close to God as His beloved child, would be nonexistent. This man spoke of looking out at the night sky, that the realization dawned on him, now it was just him and the stars---and no God. He said it was a bitter-sweet realization. I can imagine that moment. He must have been feeling loss and also a sense of being freed. Is it freedom? When I look out at the night sky, I am ablaze with a heart of light, a sense awe at the magnificence of the heavenlies which display my God's design and order. God means too much and has been too real for me to consider my belief in Him as a misconception or an untruth, something pretend. To not have faith in God any longer, for me, would be like to stop breathing. It would be death in my spirit.
Over the years I have known many who have come to faith and I've known a few who have left the faith. People gain and lose faith for an a sundry of reasons. I could tell you their stories. Yet, this blog is long enough already.  I do know that belief cannot be a form of worship. It must be personal---in the heart, mind and soul---for it to be genuine faith. True belief with its faith component, is, in a sense, like a spiritual transfusion. A new life from God flowing in our veins. I would wish this for everyone. I want to say to the atheist, you missed it, brother. Somehow you missed the most beautiful thing that life has to offer. I know he wouldn't believe me, though. But, he just might see it in me, the inner energy and external glow that comes from a love-relation and belief in the Real.
Blessings to you, Norma

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