In case you’ve ever wondered what your Christian loved ones might consider a bit too far, it’s admitting that you might be an atheist. It seems as if that’s the hard-and-fast boundary for concern. It’s viewed as a cry for help, a spiritual rock-bottom, of sorts.
Two issues ago, I opened this column with that very statement. Does that mean I’ve hit spiritual rock-bottom? I’m not sure. But what I do know was that after October’s issue was published, I had multiple well-meaning friends ask me if I needed to talk, offer me advice or to just try and get into my brain and heart and see what’s going on.
I’m being cynical, but I half expected some sort of spiritual intervention.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great to feel loved and accepted and worried-about. I live a life surrounded by a community of mutual love, respect and admiration. An extended-family. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But what is it about the A-word that triggers such a response? Is it the (incredibly unfair) cultural stigma that atheists are immoral, angry, anything-goes heathens? Is it fear that I am walking a too-thin line of losing my salvation? I certainly hope not.
What kind of father dangles his child over flames of eternal punishment for having serious questions? What father withdraws his love because his child goes through a period of suffering? If I treated any of my children like that, people would consider me a monster. And based on the last 25-some-odd years of chasing after the God of the Bible, I’ve concluded for myself that He’s not that kind of monster, either.
I’m not giving up on anything. That sounds defensive, but I think it’s an important point to make, a point that I tried to make in that column two months ago. The last couple of years have been hard. New frontiers and struggles in my family — financial, relational — new adventures all around, good and bad. My work life has been more stressful than it has been in the past. I’ve explored the deepest depths of my anger, depression and doubts in my music, even having to work to maintain the time for it. Most recently, I’ve watched a close friend, who I’ve looked up to for the better part of 12 years, throw his family and friends away through infidelity — and it’s caused a lot of tension in my mind and in my marriage, as far as what being a husband, father and Christian looks like.
But I’m pressing through because there’s joy in hope (Romans 12:12), and I really believe that. I’m not ready to throw in the towel. If that means some days (sometimes more days than not) I’m an angry atheist, I’m totally alright with that. Because it’s not a sense of self-loathing, God-hating bleakness and cynicism that’s led me to this place. A lot of those feelings exist, but in actuality, it’s something like purposefully and carefully leaning over the edge of a cliff and grasping on to the branches with the deepest root, the ones that hold the most importance.
It’s exhilarating and liberating and scary as hell all at once. It’s going out on limb and removing the barriers that hold me back from experiencing more life outside of the bubble I’ve lived in for so long. In that sense, maybe it is best described as a spiritual rock bottom, like an addict who realizes their life will never change if they don’t step out on that limb. That they have no options left, no direction left to go but up.
In this same way, I’ve decided that truly leading a Christ-centered life looks kind of like that, and, in the end, if God exists, I know He’s way bigger than any question — spiritual or otherwise — I could ever ask.
And if he doesn’t, at least I spent my life chasing after love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.