“Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.” Proverbs 18:2
“Those who know how, work for those who know why.” Chinese Proverb
I have been struggling with this endeavor for a long time now. Putting it off. Procrastinating. Whatever you want to call it. But before I spend a lot of time on this, and before you spend time reading it, we both need to understand the most important thing:
The short answer: God won’t leave me alone!
The longer answer: I want my children to come back to Jesus.
The explanation – this will take a while.
I have no memory of a time in my life when I did not know the story of The Emporer’s New Cloths, by Hans Christian Andersen. If you do not know the tale, please take a moment to follow the link and read it. The delightful story holds within it an extremely profound truth: Truth, even with one’s self, is often both extremely obvious, and extremely avoided.
I have no intention of avoiding the obvious. Some readers may think that avoiding the obvious is a prerequisite for Christianity but I am writing this because the exact opposite is true, and every bone in my body wishes it wasn’t so. How much better my life would be, if I could avoid the truth. This is the story of why I am here doing this.
I was raised a Catholic in a home that was solidly Catholic and solidly Christian. At a young age I chose Jesus, or rather he chose me. At age 12 I was given a Bible by Mom, who got it from her brother who was a priest. I started reading it, and have never stopped. I have had a life time of study, inspiration, and communion with God and other Christians.
Now that doesn’t sound like an open minded judge of the whether Christianity is a sound choice philosophically, literally, and scientifically does it? This is the rest of the story.
I have 3 fantastic children. Two older sons who were born within 6 years of my marriage to my wife, and a princess who was given to us after a 8 year “child time-out”. I made every attempt to bring my children up to be strong Christians. I read the Bible to them and discussed Jesus with them. I prayed with them, and for them. I tried to live my life as an open book sharing with them my many failings and weaknesses (and there are so many). I thought I had done a good job, when something awful happened: college.
My oldest son went off to college to study Physics. I was warned this would be a problem but I believed, and still do, that faith is a personal choice that must actually be chosen or it is not faith at all. If his relationship with Jesus could not withstand the scrutiny of education and peer pressure, there really wasn’t a relationship at all.
Sure enough, after struggling for a while, having a girlfriend who was an atheist, and reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, my son pronounced he was an atheist. At first he seemed angry with me for even raising him Christian and accused me of making that choice because it was easier. To his great credit, he quickly apologized for the abrasive turn and we have since enjoyed a wonderful relationship with the ability to have respectful discussions on this and many other subjects.
My second son then went to college. He also chose atheism. It was different for me this time because I had been down this path before. To his credit, I don’t think he was ever angry at me for my choice to be Christian though he desperately wanted me to change my mind for a while. Because he is passionate and emotional by nature, we have not yet reached the point where we can have calm and respectful conversations on the subject but that will come.
As you may expect, I was, and to some extent and in some ways still am, distraught. Contrary to what my son’s and many others may believe, I did not dig my heels in and stubbornly hold on to my Christian beliefs. My sons have both expressed that I am afraid to face the “facts” and become an atheist because the price of change in my life would be too high. Of course, I beg to differ. As is always the case, choosing to be truly and profoundly Christian came at a much higher price to me than atheism could ever extract , but in a way that my sons will likely only understand when they have children of their own. Let me explain by telling yet another story.
Re-Evaluating My World
I respect my sons’ intelligence. They don’t have the wisdom that only age can give, but they are intelligent and usually logical. So when they chose atheism I honestly started to doubt my faith and to re-evaluate why I chose Christianity. Perhaps I had missed something. Perhaps I had not kept up with scientific or archaeological discoveries. Though it appeared neither of my sons allowed respect for my intellect to give them pause, my respect for theirs triggered a full scale audit of my own decision.
But the audit soon became an obsession for an entirely different reason. You see, I have accepted certain insights and beliefs about God and the Bible that now rocked my core. The story of Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac has always been in my mind a profound prophecy of God’s sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. It has also been a great portrayal of God’s call to me personally to put God first in my life and have absolute (Abrionic?) faith in him.
Suddenly my personal choice to be a Christian would, in my mind and heart, have absolute gut-wrenching and heart-breaking ramifications. You see, if I believed in Christianity and put God at the center of my life, then what does that mean I must accept as the eternal fate of my sons, should they remain atheist through their death? The short answer is it means they would spend eternity in hell, but that is just the beginning and far to impersonal.
I was reading again the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac and suddenly was engulfed with this scene: I am in heaven with God. My sons pass away, still atheist. God tells me I can choose to bring them to heaven, or lead them to hell, the choice is mine.
The fact that this would cause me to hesitate is horrific from every point of view. You see, I think I have a very, very, very limited and vague understanding of heaven, but I completely believe that even one soul in heaven who isn’t absolutely in love with Jesus because he died for them, completely ruins the entire possibility of what I understand God’s heaven to be. Also, if I believe in God’s concept of heaven, hell is real and the worst of all possible eternal states. How could I lead anyone I love to such an eternity?
Even right now, as I write this, I am shaken and horrified. I fully believe I would die this moment if it were not for the life and the breath of God himself mercifully sustaining me.
With that scene firmly etched in my mind, I wholeheartedly confess that of all the passionate desires in my life, my desire to prove Christianity false was only surpassed by my desire to be completely honest with myself. If the Emperor was naked, I would call him naked, and either Christianity or atheism is naked.
I spent days in complete devastation. Early each morning I would rise to hours of tears, and despair and fear and paralyzation. I was horrified at the cost of Christianity. If after my re-evaluation I decided Christianity was true, how could I live with the scene of leading my sons to hell? How could God put me in such a position?
If, on the other hand Christianity failed the test I have been a fool, a fake, a fraud and a idiot and my life and my future would change dramatically. While this is huge, compared to the scene in my brain of leading my sons to Hell, it was an Hawaiian vacation. Every atom in my body groaned with the desire to prove Christianity false. I ached all over.
So for 6 months I was engrossed in my investigation. I read the God Delusion. I read many articles by Christopher Hitchens (famous atheist). I listened to multiple college campus debates by the “Four Horseman” of atheism. I reread my Bible looking again for the problems these authors claimed there were. I simply lived, breathed, ate, drank and slept this debate that was raging within me.
And finally one morning, alone in my kitchen at 4 AM, I admitted there was no other reasonable choice than Christianity.
I was engulfed in guilt. I knew I had tried to deny Jesus, who had been more than a brother to me. After what Jesus and I have been through together in life, I should have been more sure that he was alive and with me, than that I was alive. I was at that moment overwhelmed with his presence and I begged his forgiveness. Fortunately, forgiveness is what Jesus is all about.
But I also was overwhelmed with sorrow and confusion about my sons. I knew what this decision meant I must be willing to do if their relationship with Jesus did not change. How could I claim to love them? I can say I would switch places with them, but that is not possible and could not be possible. That would make heaven an impossibility. The eternity of all humanity would be ruined and I would not do that. But I do love my sons. They may not believe it as they read this, but I know I do. I’ve read stories of men who sent their sons to die in battle for causes they believed in and that is the only human reference I find any solace in.
My days are filled with this wrestling match of love and logic and joy and despair…and I now have another small insight into how God feels every day for all eternity.
So this is where I’m going to present why I concluded that, to an open minded person, who is willing to follow the truth wherever it leads, Christianity is the only possible choice. Make no mistake about it, it is also the most difficult of all choices. Atheist may say otherwise, but then why are they so afraid to say “the Emperor is naked”?