Belief, Apostasy, and Faith – My Witness to the Power of Christ

Belief, Apostasy, and Faith – My Witness to the Power of Christ

BeAttitude recently published an article entitled “Why I recently walked away from Christianity.” My own path is not dissimilar to BeAttitude’s in many ways, only that I am further down that path, excited to see someone else traveling it. When I left home and joined the Air Force back in 2000, I left my faith behind as well. I wanted to explore, I wanted to see what else was out there. I should mention here that I grew up in church, very literally. We were there just about every time the doors were open when I was a kid, all of my friends were Christian, their families were Christian, my whole social life was built from the church. I found that nothing in the Christianity I had been taught all my life really resonated with me anymore. It was hollow, superficial. Sure there was emotional blubbery occasionally, and stories that pulled at the heartstrings, but that fades faster than it takes to get out to the parking lot and crank up the car to go home on Sunday after service. Was it any wonder, I thought, that Christians behaved one way at church and then completely differently at work or school or at home?

The more I read, God seemed to me to be a vicious, destructive force in humanity and human history, not this happy-go-lucky unicorns-and-butterflies “Love” or the force for success and prosperity that seems so popular to preach. As BeAttitude puts it, “God is wrathful, jealous, hateful, and kills nations of people like it is a bodily function. He is certainly not just or “holy” in nature.” This was very much the same conclusion that I came to, though not nearly so eloquently. I simply felt there was no room for me in God’s world, and so I chose to disbelieve. Why not, I figured, there’s just as good a chance that God is a creation of mankind, so my disbelief may help kill Him.

I decided I didn’t need God in my life. I was perfectly sufficient to the task of being a good man without Him, and would live my life for my own edification and simply “do no harm.” I had never felt fulfilled by Christ, the filling of the gaping hole in my soul, my very person, that others talked about. So, I turned my back on the very idea of Faith and proceeded to attack those who were faithful, leading not a few away from the cross entirely, something I am sure I will pay dearly for when I stand before my Father. I despised Christians, seeing them as little other than lemmings, spoon-fed their weekly dose of “grace” or “prosperity through Christ” then sent off into the world to do whatever it was they wanted to do in the first place. My revulsion for Christians was nothing less than complete. I couldn’t stand to be near them.

So when I say I understand BeAttitude’s position, you need to know how I mean that. I’ve been in exactly the place he’s standing, apostating from the faith and walking out into the wilderness of the world. And here’s a shocker for you: I don’t think he’s made the wrong decision. To stay and bury the doubts deep inside, never to let them be heard, is a great disservice both to the doubter and those who would hear him, because it is only by challenging your faith that you grow strong in it. Stagnant “belief” mired in decades of enforced church attendance and shallow-at-best bible studies is not Faith. Faith is a choice made to surrender, to submit to the will of God, to be reborn and transformed as a new creature, one whose only life exists in Christ. This choice can’t be made without understanding what’s at stake, the eternal consequences. True understanding of these consequences is hard to find in the feely-good world of modern Christianity. We don’t like talking about the sinful nature of man and the dire, desperate need for grace. We don’t like stepping outside our beliefs and examining them from the foundation up. A sort of lazy sickness has infected the Christian community when it comes to self-examination and repenting, and it is this sickness that drives thinkers, those that would challenge their faith and the faith of those around them, away to wander the wilderness of the lack of God’s presence. BeAttitude’s journey may well be for the best for both him and those who will encounter him in the future.

His points are no different from my own when I apostated, and yet, as you can tell from the “bent” of my rhetoric, I am most certainly back on my knees at the cross. So what happened? What caused my re-conversion? What did I find, out there among the faithless, that pointed right back at Christ and the sacrifice at the cross?

Well, first and foremost, BeAttitude is going to quickly find that morality is quite flexible absent some sort of objective standard. I found myself able to rationalize nearly any behavior, from sexual promiscuity to advocating murder (the so-called “right to choose”) and euthanasia of the infirm. My relationships then became subject to much “interpretation” and I alienated many if not all of my friends from that era as a result. At one point the very concept of truth had become malleable in my mind to the point that I believed there was no objective reality, just our individual concepts thereof. At that point things really broke down. I drifted for about a year after that point, not really taking much notice of the passage of time (I still can’t remember clearly several of those years).

After a point, I realized that I needed some sort of anchor in my life, something I could point to and say, “Yes, that’s true!” I was loathe to return to Christianity due to lingering distaste for the culture thereof, so I searched. I was involved in martial arts at the time, so eastern philosophy appealed to me. I looked into Buddhism, but the aestheticist eschewing of worldly pleasures never did jive with me. It’s always seemed to me that those who have much are always flailing about insisting that the source of their unhappiness is their worldly possession, but those without possession are wholly unhappy as well. I was poor as dirt (very junior enlistedman) and clung tightly to what little pleasure I could wring from life. I also examined Shintoism, but the wild mysticism seemed to me even more unbelievable than what I called Christian “mythology.”

One day I was sitting in the religion & philosophy section of the Barnes & Noble in Montgomery, AL, in my brown military-issue tee shirt and torn jeans, and picked up an unassuming little book called the “Tao Te Ching.” Those of you who have read this book while on a search of your own will know where this is going. Instantly upon reading the first chapter of that book, I was hooked. I sat and read all 81 chapters of verse in one sitting and had to be herded out of the store that night after closing. Finally, something that spoke to me! There was eternal truth here! Now, Taoism is not a system of “faith” per se, as much as it is a system of philosophy, a prescription for an approach to life that really, really made sense to me, and to this day informs much of my attitude about the world. I began to try to live my life according to the principles espoused in that little book, such as “not-knowing,” pacifism, knowing and being content with one’s place in life, leading by serving, the impossibility of expressing eternal Truth eloquently, and perhaps most important the idea that possessions are neither the object of life nor the source of happiness. It taught me that happiness is fleeting, but contentment is a choice that can be made at any time.

Some readers may be thinking, “Some of those things sound like Christianity! Are you sure you didn’t project your own upbringing and prejudice on this book?” I encourage you to explore the Tao Te Ching yourself. You may be surprised.

So here I was, trying my best to live by this philosophy I believed wholeheartedly was a healthy and “good” way to live. As I went about life, I discovered myself not living up to the standards in which I professed belief. I still strayed, I was still as bad a person as I’d been before I found the Tao. No matter how much I believed, the Tao had not changed who I was. A little more than three years ago, I married my wife and we became pregnant. I think I ignored the question through the entire pregnancy, though I did everything humanly possible to support my wife throughout it. What question? Well, I’d wanted kids since I was younger, knew that I would make a great Dad one day. The question I hadn’t considered was the responsibility, the enormous and terrifying weight it placed on my shoulders as a father. Suddenly I was to be responsible for the proper raising, teaching and guidance of a new life.

It literally did happen there in the hospital. I stood there by Lily’s hospital “crib” in the nursery as they cleaned her up immediately after birth, and I don’t think a single cogent thought passed through my head between the elation and sheer panic other than, “Oh my God, what do I do now?!” Later I would reflect on this and have a series of epiphanies. The first was that I am fundamentally flawed, that no matter what I try, no matter what I have believed in my life, nothing has “fixed” me. This was a very real concern for me now, since I had to be a role model for a little girl, and little girls expect their fathers to be supermen of moral and ethical standards. (The same is true of little boys. Perhaps even more so. I know it was in my case.) So I turned to my Dad, and we started talking about it. I should mention that I had been in constant contact with Dad as I searched and throughout my years as a Taoist. We would often spend hours debating the merits of my chosen philosophy during car rides or over the phone. Dad is, I have to say, responsible for planting the seed of true Faith in my life, that seemingly impossible death and rebirth.

He has also been a mirror for the Holy Spirit in my life, and as I examined his life through his stories and recountings and saw the transformation he’s undergone since I was a kid, I realized that my father had managed to change his nature! (Epiphany number two: true Faith in Christ changes people!) He would tell me stories of miscreantism and belligerence between he and his father, poor decisions in his life that had led nowhere if they led anywhere positive. I looked at who he was then and now and it’s like night and day. My father had found some way to transform himself, to get rid of the rebellious, petty side of himself and embrace something new and far more healthy. We talked about it some and I came to realize that throughout my travels, with all the learning I’d done, all the high-minded philosophy I’d picked up, I was still the awful person I’d always been, prone to moral relativism of the worst sort with the temper of an injured tiger (Epiphany number three: this transformative power does not exist elsewhere!). I still struggle with that temper, actually.

It wasn’t long after that Karri, my wife, suggested that we start going to Church if for no other reason than the fact that Lily could find some playmates there who had a better chance of being raised well, with good parents. It’s as if she’d been reading my mind, I pounced on it saying YES, of course we should. I still had a lot of anxiety about going back to Church when I’d characterized Christians as such neanderthals before. I still held a lot of those beliefs. So when we moved to Hattiesburg and started looking for a Church we had several poor starts. I was still saying we’d look for a church “family” just for the kids, since I wasn’t at all comfortable with reintegrating into a church lifestyle just yet, regardless of the way my personal beliefs were starting to fill out.

As we tried various congregations around the Hattiesburg area, we found small churches that were fervent and exhibited a lot of Love, gigantic mega-churches where worship felt more like a rock concert than anything resembling penitence, and everything in-between. We finally settled on a big, empty-feeling Church on a hill with a humble bible scholar pastor and a wacky ex-preschool teacher children’s minister. By this time my conversion was in full swing.

I kept thinking, “Ok, so Christianity seems to be the only way to cure evil… HOW? Why is this so? Also, why does it only seem to work for some and not for others?” It was this last question that finally provided the “in” for Christ in my life and drove the final nail in the coffin of my former life.

As I examined myself and my prior “belief” in Christ, I realized that while I might have believed in the superficial picture of Christ I’d been fed in Sunday school and sermons all my life, I had never truly known Christ, or had ignored it when Christ had manifested in my life in other ways, because it was too uncomfortable. As I reread the bible and walked in those familiar and yet unfamiliar places, reading finally from the perspective of a soul made ready for Christ, I discovered something I had never looked for. Not only was there a way for my sins to be washed clean, but my very sinful nature could be cured. I discovered that I need Christ. I climbed out on the limb, and in a tearful, painful series of confessions in which I revisited every sin I consistently committed and expressed my limitless sorrow, I offered my life back to Christ, to do with as He will.

Words can’t describe the feeling. “Freedom” is the best I can come up with, but it’s a pale concept next to the real thing. The fascinating thing is that it didn’t stop there. I continued to sin. Yes, I know, gasp, how could you turn around and sin after that? The truth is that our nature does not change overnight. What happened to me is that I began to feel immediate remorse. Soon that remorse would start coming before the act, and my behavior began changing. Not only that, but the way I approached life started to change. I began to live with a constant eye on my motivations and the question “why?” For instance, when I would scold my daughter for one thing or another, I began to ask myself, “Why is she behaving this way? Why am I scolding her? Is it because I’m annoyed or because I need to correct her? I should lower my voice and conceal any anger if that’s the case.” To this day I catch myself doing or thinking things for reasons other than those that are prescribed by God’s word, and I have to stop myself and rethink my entire approach to a situation. It really has had a profound affect on the way I live. Not only that, but I endeavor, and for a very great part have succeeded to this point, to live my life as though it plays out in the shadow of the cross. I am in constant prayer, if by prayer we understand it to be a meditative state of communion with God, though Christ. Confession and intercessory prayer are a moment to moment reality.

In a sense, my prior life has ended, and a new one based entirely in Christ has begun. Christ has worked, and continues to work, a transformation in my life, destroying the old and remaking me in Him. Recently I have felt and confirmed as best I can the call to His ministry. I placed my life in His hands, to do with as He will, and it seems now that I am meant to teach and write as methods of ministry. Since acknowledging this call and submitting to it, I have found my senses sharpened, intellect honed and ready to dive into and understand God’s word. I have an insatiable desire for understanding of God’s will through reading His word, and a near-uncontrollable compulsion to write about it when I do happen across something that turns on a lightbulb in my head. I’ve revisited all of the questions BeAttitude posted about and found that the crazy thing about them was that my understanding of God was so shallow at the time, I would never have understood the answer had someone shouted it to me. Several of them simply have no answer that we human beings can possibly ascertain, and several others are mere rebellious usurpation of the sovereignty of God. Some of these questions, however, are quite answerable with contextual and intellectually honest examinations of the Word.

So, BeAttitude, while you may be walking out into the wilderness of the absence of God, know that many of us have been there before. You’ll learn a lot about yourself as you attempt to walk without Him, and when it is time, the Truth will reveal itself to you. I pray God will surround you with His protection in the meantime and only place you in situations that are necessary to teach you. May your suffering heart find its way back to the peace that passes understanding, on whatever timeline makes the most sense for you and God. I will look forward to reading about where your walk has taken you.

Always In Christ,

-Evan

3 Comments

  1. “Confession and intercessory prayer are a moment to moment reality.”

    Wow…. just, wow…

    I’ve never heard it put that way before.

  2. I’m not the first to see it this way. Actually, a Catholic monk, whose name escapes me at the moment, first wrote about living “facing the cross.” I’ll try to find his book for you.

    You know, I don’t know that I can imagine living any other way now. I worship in the car by singing along with my favorite praise and worship music, I write Bible studies and other little expository works in downtime at work to post on my favorite platform, RedState.com, and that’s part of my ongoing communion with God through His word. When I get home, we’re singing veggie tales songs with the kids and reading to them about Jesus near-constantly. Lily got scared last night of monsters, and pouted at me, “But God is watching over me.”

    He’s everywhere in my life. I see His hand at work in my life so clearly, Jesus might as well be sitting here beside me (and is!).

  3. STERLING C

    GREAT TESTIMONY, GODS GRACE IS SO ABUNDANT.

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