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How an Atheist brought me to God

How an Atheist brought me to God

Would it surprise you to know that it took an atheist to help me encounter God?

Albert Camus was a self-described unbeliever, yet his philosophy is profoundly apocalyptic. His writing seeks to remove the veil from our sleepy, everyday lives, exposing the unspoken anxiety that lies beneath.

Camus’ philosophy centers around the idea of the absurd – the realization that, when we really get down to it, our lives make no sense. At any given moment, everything we do is on some level ridiculous and inexplicable. We become aware of the absurd when we choose to encounter life as it truly is, not merely as we wish it to be.

For most of us, this simple act of seeing is tremendously difficult. We carry so much fear inside. It’s possible to live our entire lives without ever really dropping our psychological defenses enough to examine our visceral terror of death, the possibility that this whole life is meaningless after all. To honestly reflect on life is to sit with the emptiness of it all.

This emptiness is where real growth begins. Instead of suppressing my fear of death and meaninglessness, I can welcome it as a sign of my growing desire for truth. What once passed for happiness in my life was a pale imitation of the real thing.

True joy can be found on the other side of despair. I find peace and wholeness when I embrace life’s terrifying mystery. When I am truly honest with myself, I realize I have no ability to control, explain, or predict anything. My only choice is in how I will respond to the amazing and disturbing series of events and relationships that I am immersed in every day. In the midst of confusion and pain, I can choose hope.

That’s absurd.

Then again, what could be more absurd than the fact that Camus – an avowed and committed atheist – has helped to lead me to Christ? His apocalyptic absurdity challenges me to live a life without safety blankets, to face my own death a little bit each day. As I witness the collapse of my selfish hopes and dreams, I find God.

This is a God who doesn’t offer explanations. To all my whys and wherefores, God responds with the burning bush in the desert. He speaks to me from the whirlwind: Where were you when I created the universe? He challenges me to put a leash on Leviathan, the primordial chaos-monster that I discover in the depths of my doubt. And of course, I can’t.

The God of my experience, the God I read about in the Bible, meets me in the unknowing. This wild God takes absurdity as a starting place. His interest is not in satisfying the demands of my curiosity, my need for control, or even my petty human concepts of justice. I find him alone, forsaken in a wilderness of my own broken dreams. With all my hopes and expectations deflated, there is finally space for Christ to enter in.

In a culture that so often looks to God for certainty, I find the Holy Spirit in the midst of doubt. When all the rational explanations fail to yield a source of meaning and life beyond myself, I find peace in the absurd voice of God within me saying simply, I AM!

What’s your experience? Have you found God in unexpected places? Does God give you answers? More questions? What does it mean to trust in the absurd God of the desert?

Related Posts:

I’m in Crisis. Will the Church Judge Me?

When the Atheists Are Right

  • Rene Lape

    You describe so very well the terrain of faith as I have experienced it too. My parents were both atheists – Marxists and atheists. And the writings of the Existentialists were also important to me in college. But I never was able to look out into the universe and feel that my life or any life was empty of significance. And I have always been able to see that even at the beginning of human history, whenever that was, the eyes and minds of people looked out to the stars and also felt uplifted and meaningful. I do not know how the stories of faith came to be but they have articulated a narrative that blends imagination, history, individual and communal leaps of faith that have been meaningful to me my whole life. Thank you for sharing your deep story so well.

    • Thanks, Rene! I think that many of the most convicted Christians are former atheists. We know the questions, and that they’re aren’t easy answers, because we have wrestled and continue to wrestle with them ourselves.

  • barbara.hrrsn@gmail.com

    me, I’m just helping people as way opens…

  • Lebez

    Sounds like the author was scared by Camus and needed something to make him think his life is not wasted. Pretty pathetic.

    • Hey, Lebez. I don’t think “scared” would be the word I would choose for what I experienced reading Camus. More like an awakening, and a call to go deeper. If that counts as “pahetic” in your book, I’m OK with that. Desperation is a pretty big motivator when looking for truth!

  • Ashen Jenos

    ” In a culture that so often looks to God for certainty, I find the Holy Spirit in the midst of doubt. When all the rational explanations fail to yield a source of meaning and life beyond myself, I find peace in the absurd voice of God within me saying simply, I AM! ”

    So in other words, because you cannot find meaning without god, you presuppose the idea in order to find comfort……. Appeal to emotions much?

    • Hi, Ashen. Emotions are definitely part of my experience of life, but I’m not intending to appeal primarily to emotions in this piece. In my own experience, an encounter with the indwelling presence of God is something much deeper than an emotion; it’s an encounter with a personality and power beyond myself. Emotions are involved, but my relationship with God involves my whole being, and transcends it!

  • Rob Curry

    My personal experience is not entirely different after reading existentialist authors such as Camus and (with a bit more work) Sartre. To enter into their worlds for a bit is a journey worth undertaking, though not for the timid. My own sense of meaning is secular rather than religious; moreover, to me, all the gods are indistinguishable from myth, metaphor and make believe; I find neither answers nor significant questions associated with them.

    Still, there is something to be said for the power and creativity of myths and metaphors. I enjoy them greatly, though for most of my life, I have seen them as art rather than revelation. Either way can be inspiring.

  • Rob Curry

    My personal experience is not entirely different after reading existentialist authors such as Camus and (with a bit more work) Sartre. To enter into their worlds for a bit is a journey worth undertaking, though not for the timid. My own sense of meaning is secular rather than religious. Since to me, all the gods are indistinguishable from myth, metaphor and make believe, I find neither answers nor significant questions associated with them.

    Still, there is something to be said for the power and creativity of myths and metaphors. I enjoy them greatly, though for most of my life, I have seen them as art rather than revelation. Either way can be inspiring.

    • Thanks, Rob. It’s interesting to hear about your experience of myth, and to learn about how you’re dealing with the question of meaning outside of a religious context.

      I definitely find myth powerful, and that’s something I encountered in the work of the 20th-century existentialist writers. What has been most amazing for me is to find how the power of myth can lead me to a place that is solid, where I encounter a reality that is tangible, not just words. I’m grateful for that.

      • charlesburchfield

        …made me think just now abt a line from a poem by t.s.elliot: ‘teach us to care and not to care, teach us to sit still.’