And Then It Was Gone

In January of 1989 I gave my mind, heart, and soul to the Lord Jesus Christ.

I was 16 and deeply aware of the sin in my life and had no idea how to deal with it.  A close friend invited me to his youth group and the youth pastor preached a heartfelt sermon on mankind’s sinfulness.  Jesus was the only one who could remove sin’s stain and restore our relationship with God.  Jesus saves!  Moved to tears, I knelt that night and asked Jesus to come into my life and cleanse me from sin and make me whole.

Even now at 41, I remember that night vividly.  The look of the chairs in that tiny church in Winton, the color of the carpet, the walls.  That night set my life on a different path.

My entire self identity was based on my relationship with Jesus. My Christianity permeated everything I was involved with.  I wore my hair long and loved heavy metal but listened only to Christian rock.  All my fiction books were Christian, all the radio stations Christian, and of course all my study and apologetic books were Christian.

I made it through two years of junior college and even helped start a local chapter of Campus Crusade for Christ.  I took my Bible studying very seriously and challenged my philosophy teachers to see the truth of Christ and become Christians.  I studied apologetics at length.  I tackled the aberrant theology of cults like the Mormon Church and The Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I learned how to debate atheists and prove that God existed.  My Christianity was my life and saturated everything in it.

I felt I was called to the ministry although I never made it to Bible college.  I married my high school sweetheart in 1993 and we started our family very early.  Needing to support our young children, I had to find a job that paid!  Soon life consisted of work and family and kids and church and everything fell into place like a well oiled machine.

When the kids were young we taught Sunday School and as they grew older, I served in our church in any way I could.  Cindy and I led a small group for married couples for many years.  There are many stories to share, but in the interest of brevity, I will not tell them here.

As the years progressed, very little changed in my Christian beliefs.   Sure, I was a preterist when most other people believed in a 7 year tribulation and that believers could be raptured to heaven at any moment.  Sure, I was an old earth creationist when most everyone else I knew believed the earth was only 6000 years old and was created in  seven literal days.  Sure, I thought tithing was an Old Testament tax that did not belong in the New Testament Church when most everyone else thought you’d be cursed if you did not bring the tithe into the storehouse. I also rejected conscience  eternal torment in hell and instead believed in annihilationism.

But in the core Christian truths, I was orthodox through and through.

With my entire being I believed The Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in God,the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;

from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,the forgiveness of sins,the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.

Amen

I agreed with John Wesley who said “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Maybe it was my natural curiosity and love of science and history and philosophy that started my journey towards agnosticism and atheism.

I distinctly remember the first time I asked myself the question: “What if the snake in the Garden of Eden wasn’t a literal snake?  Maybe the story is partly allegory?”  I quickly ducked my head, waiting for lighting to strike me for my heresy.  Nothing happened.

Very soon the questions started piling up.  It was like pulling a loose thread that never stops until the garment is completely gone.

What if Adam and Eve weren’t literal people? How could they be if the Earth was 14 billion years old?  How did my old earth creationism mesh with evolution?  If evolution were true, how could there be original sin?  If no original sin, why would Jesus need to die for my sin?  If Jesus didn’t need to die for my sin then why did the Father have to punish the Son in my place?  Did the cross matter at all?

If evolution were true, then how could the Bible be true, much less the inerrant inspired Word of God?  As you can see, my Christian garment was unravelling quickly.  As it seemed that evolution was a game changer for me, I decided to research the topic in greater depth.

Instead of reading what Christians had to say about evolution (as I normally did), I read books and listened to hours of podcasts about what actual scientists said about evolution.  As it turns out, evolution wasn’t really a theory anymore, but solidly built evidential fact of science.  The only naysayers were fundamentalist Christians and some Muslims.

With truth of evolution weighing heavily on my shoulders, I could feel my faith sinking and sinking.  When I looked into the other major philosophical challenges of theism, my faith shrank to very nearly nothing.

The Problem of Evil seemed insurmountable.

  1. God exists.
  2. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.
  3. An omnibenevolent being would want to prevent all evils.
  4. An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence.
  5. An omnipotent being has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.
  6. A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.
  7. If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God, then no evil exists.
  8. Evil exists (logical contradiction).

I found this logic inescapable and incontrovertible.  Every Christian response seemed shallow and weak.

The Euthyphro Dilemma was very challenging as well.  Is something good because God wills it, or does God will it because that thing is good already?

After reading Bart Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted: Revealing The Hidden Contradictions In The Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them) shook my faith in the New Testament’s inerrant, infallible historicity.  I could look in black and white and see the changes of the story, from Mark the earliest Gospel to John, the latest Gospel.

Absolute morality morphed into universal morality.  Most cultures of the world held to the same basic tenets of morality, and those could be traced back to evolutionary patterns to help the species propagate.

All of these new challenges didn’t render God dead to me, but they did present God as unnecessary.

Stephen Roberts said “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one less god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

I wanted to know Truth and follow Truth wherever it led.  After months and months and months of the most intense soul searching I’ve ever gone through, I concluded that the Truth said there was no god.

After 25 years of loving Jesus and living my life for him, I had become an unwilling atheist.  My faith was gone.