Confessions of a Skeptic

This is a true story, written only to show that He is faithful to His promises. Even when we are far from Him, He still pursues us, whether or not we discern it.

Though I grew up in the so-called Bible belt (the deep south), I did not grow up in the church—shocking right? The only times I went to church growing up were for funerals or Vacation Bible School. Of course I knew about a lot of the Bible stories—we even had a set of Bible story books. To me, they were somewhere between fairy tales and simple history. I never stopped to examine the events or the implications. I was essentially a rationalist. I figured that “if” there was a heaven I was a good person—I mean, you know, no one is perfect, right?

The only problem is that by the time high school was over, I was a bitterly angry young man. I was bullied through most of my school years because of some physical conditions. For all of the talk of bullying in school these days, I know what it is like, and it’s only by God’s grace that I did not become another Luke Woodham, Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold. I turned to academics, and particularly debate. I knew I was smarter than all those folks who mistreated me. I was good at it. I could argue both sides of a case, then turn around and demolish the arguments of my opponents. By the time I graduated, I was co-captain of the debate team, had a 12-1 record my senior year, and had a album full of academic awards. God, I can assure you, was the furthest from my mind. I was going to graduate, get a degree, then go to law school.

When I got to college, I was lost. I grew up in a small town, with a graduating class of 86. Now I was at a college of 15,000 students—more than the whole population of my entire county. It took awhile to get settled, but for the first time I began making friends—I did have a couple of friend in high school, but we all separated after graduation. But I was still lost in a sea of people. Along with that I began having stress and tension headaches. They got to the point where I could barely keep my eyes open for any length of time.

Fast-forward to late October. I had been at college almost three months, when I ‘happened’ to encounter the first of several people that would impact my life greatly. I was in the computer lab at the library, trying to figure out how to do something on the computer, and this young man, Robert, helped me out. We talked for a few minutes, and he left for class. That’s it? That was it—at the time. A few weeks later I was at the bonfire prior to the homecoming football game the next day. While walking around, another young man came up to me and introduced himself to me and his friends.

Darren was his name, and they were a bunch of fun, crazy folks—who happened to be Christians. He asked if I’d like to come to the Wesley Fellowship meeting. He explained that they met, had some fun, had a Bible study, etc. “Bible.” That stopped me cold. I didn’t after all, want to get sucked into some cult, so I hedged by saying I didn’t have a way there (it was across from campus, and to me, that seemed a long way at the time). Of course Darren covered that by saying, “No problem! I can give you a ride.” So, not wanting to be rude, i accepted.

The first meeting was the following Wednesday. I kept thinking of ways to get out of it, but couldn’t really justify doing so to myself. So, I went. And lo, and behold, before we walked in the door, Robert was standing there (he wasn’t with the at the bonfire). I would learn later that both of them were praying for me independently, not knowing that they were praying for the same person. Call it coincidence if you will—but to me it will always be a divine ‘coincidence.’

I decided I liked these people, even if they were religious.  I started attending regularly. Now, while I remember the people, I could not tell you what those first meetings were about. I liberally would walk out with no clue what was talked about (no offense to Pastor Don Warren who was always an excellent communicator and a wonderful pastor). It was simply that my mind was totally closed to it. I was, after all, a man of reason. And the folks there never pushed me, never even, to my recollection, asked, “Hey do you know Jesus? Would you like to know Him?” I suspect strongly that I might have disengaged at that point. They simply loved me, and included me.

Things started changing slowly. I began picking up little bits of things. God loves you. Jesus died for you. Of course, I ‘knew’ those statements. But they were what someone recently called “Sunday School mentality.” They had no relevance to me. But they stuck. And so did a song that I had heard years before I graduated, Amy Grant’s version of El Shaddai. I had no idea what it was talking about, just that it was referring to some stuff in the Bible. But I loved the song, and I would play it over and over and even sing it in my head. It turned out to be my heart’s cry. Little by little, I was opening up. But I still had the headaches, though they were a little less frequent.

At the end of the quarter, I was really struggling in a Pre-Cal class (note to self: don’t ever take a higher-level math than you absolutely have to!) I needed to pass the final to pass the class. Me, an almost-honor student, graduating in the 15 of my class, now struggling.  I kept hearing about God and how He answered prayer. I decided to hedge my bets. “God, Darren and Robert and all of those folks say You are real. Well, God, I really need to pass this final exam. So, if You are real, I could use some help.” No bargaining. No “If you’ll do this I’ll give my life to You.” I still wasn’t about to go that far. And guess what? I passed the final—and the class. Not only did I pass the final, I got a “B” on it. “Big deal, so you studied,” you may say? The fact is, I didn’t study. In fact, I rarely studied for any of my classes. I seldom had to. Coincidence again? Perhaps, but they were piling up.

You see, there was one more, even before I got to college. My senior year of high school, we were headed to the regional debate tournament. It was a big deal. For me, it was like a football player’s last game. Two days before the tournament, I lost my voice. I mean I lost it entirely. No scratching or croaking. Just gone. What is a debater supposed to do with no voice? Try it sometime! I remembered the song, “El Shaddai.” It talked about a God who answered prayer. I prayed—one of those arrow prayers: “God, if You are real, You know how much this means to me. I need my voice back.” No bargaining. Again, just a desperate cry for help. And, yes, within a day, my voice was restored. I don’t mean on the mend. I mean totally restored. I’ve lost my voice plenty of times, but never has it been restored that quickly. I had forgotten about that prayer until that Pre-Cal final.

I went home for the Christmas break. I had a lot of time to think. I didn’t make a decision then. I was, after all, a man of reason. But it seemed to me that some serious investigating was needed. So, yes I pulled out a Bible and did some reading. I read the Gospels and Acts. If my experiences said anything to me, they said that there was more to these stories than just words on a page to be learned by a child in Sunday School.

I returned to college in January. I was invited to go to a concert in Savannah. Yes, a Christian concert. A man named Carman. It was a great concert. Great music. He talked about hell, yes, the reality of it. He talked about the pain that we all have from such a fallen world—and that’s when I paid attention. He talked about the anger that people have inside them—and I paid more attention. Then he talked about Jesus, with that great piece, “The Champion.” Jesus overcame all of that—death, pain, and hell. Not only that, but He did so for me. He rose from the dead—not only so I could go to heaven, but (more importantly to me) so that I could live without bitterness and anger, and really live. After some inner turmoil, my will finally surrendered, and received Christ as my Savior. I didn’t know what I was doing; I didn’t know what lay ahead. I only knew that the life Carman described was what I wanted.

That’s not the end of the story, though, only the beginning. The tension headaches were just gone. And they would never be back. The bitterness and anger inside me was gone. I realized that I was broken—not just a sinner in danger of hell, but broken inside. And I realized that Christ had been pursuing me all along. How many ‘coincidences’ should it take? There are probably others that I have no clue about.

I immediately began to tell people about what happened. And, is the case with many new believers my exuberance overcame my sense sometimes. My parents, particularly my mother, were not pleased with my newfound enthusiasm. We had many heated discussions that, I’m sad to say, could have gone a lot better. I was challenged in those early days by an atheist, and I had no clue. The only thing I knew was what had happened to me. But, falling back onto my rational foundation, I realized that if all I had was experience, that was a shaky foundation at best. (Hey I still believed in evolution at the time, I never sought to examine the implications of my experience with Christ.)

So, being the good debater that I was, I didn’t set out to prove or disprove Christianity. I wanted objective evidence that my faith was reasonable. Now, let’s be real. Can we prove with 100% certainty to a rational mind that God exists? No. Is there more than a reasonable basis for our faith that the God of the Bible is Lord of all, that Jesus lived, died, and rose from the dead? That’s another matter entirely, and I say, “Yes.”  I didn’t just study the Christian apologetics. I wanted both sides—remember I could easily argue both sides of a case as a debater. I read stuff from the Jesus Seminar and historical criticism. I read about the Synoptic Problem and the ‘problems’ with the Pentateuch—and more. And I read books by Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel. I wanted their answers to the problems posed by critics. I was going to be a lawyer, after all, and I wanted the evidence. I finally came to these conclusions.

  • If there is a reasonable and rational basis to believe that Jesus lived and died, then one must account for the Resurrection story.
  • If the Resurrection story is true, then everything He taught about heaven, hell, and my life is true, because His Resurrection proved the truth of His claims.
  • If the Resurrection story is false, there is no reasonable basis to believe any of His claims.

In short, if the Resurrection is true, then the entire Bible can be trusted, because the entire biblical message points toward Jesus. If not, it’s all, at best, a fairy tale. That seems like a thin limb to rest the whole of your faith on—one single event. But, in reality, the Resurrection is the linchpin of faith. Without the Resurrection, there can be no faith in Christ (and yes, i mean a literal, bodily resurrection).

And to my surprise (yes, surprise), I found that there is in fact a strong historical basis for the life and death of Christ. If that is the case, then, why shouldn’t I objectively believe the people who claim to be eyewitnesses to the risen Christ? And how can one explain the fact that what Jesus said about Himself has proven true in the life of millions of people. He heals, forgives, cleanses of shame. It’s not that scholarship ‘confirmed’ my experience.  Rather, it’s that my experience confirmed what others have already known, testified to, and written about.

[For more information about the accuracy of the Bible and the life of Christ, see “Decide for Yourself: 7 Facts about the Resurrection.”]


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