Thursday, November 7, 2013

On Becoming Atheist

I volunteered at a youth leadership conference recently and as I wrote my reflection paper for class, I closed my eyes and allowed myself to be swept away in the memories from the day.  Because the students in attendance were in middle and high school, my first reaction was to the surprisingly obvious age difference between us.  I felt old.  Though I'm only approaching 34, being married to someone who's nearing 54 makes it easy to feel like I'm still much more of a kid most of the time, which is why I'm sometimes caught off guard by the reality checks into my actual age.  As I watched this particular young group talk, laugh, and carry on as students their age do, I smiled a reminiscent smile while my mind traveled briefly back through time. For a moment I could almost touch the girl of my yesterday as she slammed her locker door shut and ran to class at a small public high school in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas.  I watched her in my mind as she sat with friends laughing in the student center when suddenly, I was jolted back to the present by paper assessments and pens being shoved into my hand by hungry students racing to the breakfast table.  What stood out most about the day, however, was not my age or theirs, but the unexpected turn of events that led me from a role I had planned for weeks in advance to one I wouldn't have even imagined had it not been sprung on me at the last minute.  As I stood outside in the cold receiving my new instructions, I looked up, and in the corner of the building I saw a tall wooden cross that reminded me that God was with me and for me.  The change in plans was only a small part of a bigger picture to accomplish His purposes, so I was faced with the decision to either move forward and trust Him or stop right there and leave Him. 

Because I was so nervous and uncomfortable about the role I was to play at the event (anything involving public speaking, which this role did, makes me sweat), I would have been quite happy to head back to the car and forsake the remainder of the day, but Proverbs 19:21 says this: "Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails," and I've found this to be true many times over throughout my own life.  What I find interesting though is when I push my plan rather than surrender to His purpose. It never works out well for me when I do and I wonder - where does God's purpose fit in to the lives of today's apostates?  Will they ever believe again or have they permanently turned away? How does their plan fit in with God's purpose?  Ive been working on my dissertation that heuristically examines the psychological and spiritual reasons for lost or, more specifically, abandoned, faith and in researching the topic, came across a website called The Clergy Project, a virtual meeting place for clergy who either have or will leave the field.  Simply put, they've converted from Christianity to Atheism.  Having my own relationship with Jesus Christ, I struggle to see how this can be, yet at the same time I wonder in humility if it could ever happen to me.  Though I'm confident in my faith, I'm not so arrogant that I believe I somehow have something these pastors didn't.  Perhaps I do, but the truth is, I don't know what they had or have.  I only know what I have and I know I'm no more perfect than they, so the mind wonders - if they turned away, is it possible that I, too, will one day leave? It's a thought I can't fathom here and now because I love the Lord so, but didn't these former men of God once love Him too?  Maybe not...

I cried last night as I read through former clergymen testimonials and I asked God if there might be a different path He wanted me to explore for my dissertation, but His answer came this morning in Isaiah 43:1-3 that says this: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers they shall not overthrow you.  When you walk through the fire you will not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.  For I am the Lord your God."  Though I know this journey of research and discovery won't be easy and my faith will surely be tested, I'm comforted by the reminder that I am His and as verse 13 says: there is no one who can deliver me out of His hand.  In other words, I'm safe to continue on this journey of disbelief exploration - not because my faith is unshakable and immovable, though I pray it is, but because I am His and His strength and grace are sufficient for the task (2 Corinthians 12:9). I know He would never lead me down a road where He won't also provide (Isaiah 58:11), and though I may worry or doubt, He won't even waver.  The question becomes - do I trust Him enough to place myself within His hands? I do.  

How then, does a true and genuine Christian turn Atheist?  If I say I love God and then tomorrow claim that He doesn't exist, then it's impossible that I ever loved what I now believe never existed.  So could it be that the pastors and ministers who are now Atheists never truly knew God to begin with?  I don't know and to suggest that I did, no matter how vast my knowledge of the Bible, would be arrogant and presumptuous given the subjectivity of these clergymen's  experiences.  What I do know, however, is that a relationship with God is based not on our own fallible reason and intellect, but on faith, "for without faith it is impossible to please God..." (Hebrews 11:6). For now that's enough..


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If you or someone you know have turned from Christianity to Atheism and would be interested in sharing your story to be included in my dissertation, please feel free to contact me through this site. 

2 comments:

  1. We see people on the streets, distitute and wonder "Why?'" "What brought you to this place?" "Where did you come from?" "How did you get here?" "Why are you remaining in this state?" We see their condition and continue on our way. Sometimes we stop and offer a meal or some money to help them through the moment. We feel badly for their situation. We see the physical depravity. It tugs at our hearts. We want better for them and we try, as best we can, to help them through the moment. We think of them as the "lost", the unfortunate. When in effect the real lost are these who have turned away from God. My dear Heather, you have the heart for the lost. You will go after the what, where, how and whys with your spiritual eyes, ears and heart. Through your search you will gain an insight that will help the eternal lost. We can buy a meal for a hungry person and they will have momentary peace. Not many will go after the eternally starved to give them back real life. God is using you in a powerful way. Difficult, yes. You have a heart for the lord. And what breaks His breaks yours too. You will do a fabulous work for Him. Its a gift :)

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  2. I am so happy that you are doing the Lord's work and have given your life to Christ. There is no one on this planet that is more proud of you than me.
    Sincerely,
    A Very close relative in the Kansas City area:)

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