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Beyond Divine Handholding

Through God's miraculous workings the night my grandmother died and at her funeral, I had just become a Christian. The very next day was New Year's Eve 1993, and I found myself going into 1994 already falling away from my new found faith. At least it hadn't sunk in to the point that it changed my behavior.

But God would not let me slip away so easily, and had plans to ignite my faith with the "quadruple miracle" you hopefully read about in my first post. Come to think of it, even the radio sermon I had stumbled upon the night before had the fingerprints of God all over it. First off, I rarely listened to the radio in my room, and then I certainly never listened to any religious radio station. Yet there I found myself feeling prompted to turn on my radio, and it just so happened to be tuned crystal clear to that "preacher dude". The verses he preached on were the same ones that I thought to find in my Bible the next fateful day when God set my faith on fire with that undeniable divine direction. It's funny how obvious things become when you look back at them. But as I said, my whole way of thinking had only just begun to be rearranged.

When I used to share this more when I was in the midst of it all, some people would ask, “How come stuff like that never happens to me?” (After all, is it God’s usual way to reach out to mocking atheists?) I can’t answer any of this definitively, but I can tell you this: My firm belief is that God was holding my hand when I was a baby Christian, not because I was strong, but because I was weak and couldn’t hold on without it.

This divine handholding did not come without its consequences in my life. There came a time a little less than a year into my new life that I went through a difficult weaning period when the miraculous handholding almost trickled to a stop. I can say in retrospect that God was letting go of my hand and saying, “Walk by faith.” But it was quite a struggle to come down off such a spiritual high as the miracle junkie I had become. Thoughts that God had somehow abandoned me were common at that time. Not that the miracles disappeared altogether, but just that they became the exception rather than the rule.

I realize that people of other beliefs can also tell of their spiritual experiences. Spiritual experiences in and of themselves are insufficient to really “prove” anyone’s case. My own experiences, however, had led me to have a great respect for the Bible as God’s word, with all of its claims to being the only trustworthy word of God. Indeed, many of my experiences had been directly aligned to that particularly unmistakable conclusion. Some of the most profound miracles have pointed me firmly back again and again to Jesus being the only way to heaven (as he claimed to be), one most crucially at a pivotal moment when I was questioning whether Jesus is really the only way (to be shared later).

And then there is the fact that, to my alarm, I found that there is an occult practice of using various “holy books” and turning to (typically three) passages in them to seek spiritual guidance. Not exactly a description of my experiences, however, because of the unintentional nature of my experience, the initial experience in general (and not just with any “holy book” either). Yet enough to make me take pause and take care not to promote such a practice as normal, treating the Bible like some kind of horoscope. Some pastors have even called it “Bible roulette” because of its potential for bringing about misleading “guidance” that can even be disastrous.

God was indeed leading me to another kind of faith much deeper than the kind propped up by constant miracles: A faith in His Word. And by this I don’t mean a superficial and unquestioning faith. There were plenty of areas of the Bible that I had great difficulty in accepting and would often cry out to God for reasonable answers to what seemed unanswerable questions...not that I accused the Maker of outright injustice. Perhaps the miracles I had experienced had given me a deep enough trust in God’s goodness that I knew there had to be good answers, even if sometimes I couldn’t see it and actually felt the opposite. But neither did I avoid asking the hard questions. Often God would answer these over time, sometimes years later.

This deeper faith based on trusting in the accuracy of the Bible was far deeper than the kind propped up by constant miracles or haphazard Bible reading. I am not talking about blind faith, but rather a faith that I would come to see rests on the profound historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. His resurrection is the only thing that really makes sense of the history of the birth of Christianity. Some people try to tell themselves that Christianity was invented by power-hungry men intent on ruling over people. I used to think that myself. The actuality is that Jesus’ followers gained absolutely nothing, unless you want call severe persecution and horrific martyrdom gain! And all of this because they refused to stop preaching that they and many hundreds of others were eyewitnesses of the risen Christ.

It is unimaginable that a group of people would invent something that not only brought them no benefit but also led to severe persecution and incredibly brutal death sentences. Who would die for a lie? Someone would have waffled and confessed under the heat if it were a conspiracy. Or maybe they were all mistaken. How could so many eyewitnesses be wrong? Similarly, who would die a tortuous death for something if they weren’t absolutely sure about it? In fact, for three centuries, the church was built on the blood of the persecuted and the martyred in a continual line of succession from the first eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus.

All other conspiracy theories inevitably fail for the same reasons, and other alternative explanations are far more outlandish than just believing the resurrection. Other counter-arguments include that the New Testament was written too long after the actual events, that the Bible has been seriously corrupted, or that there are no contemporary historical documents outside the Bible mentioning the same events. I have seriously considered each of these and have found all to be demonstrably false. In all my years as an atheist I never would have expected that the Bible could withstand such historical scrutiny—particularly the historical evidence for that key miracle of the Bible, the resurrection of Jesus. I would never have expected that the Christian faith could prove so eminently reasonable.

I have found that most people have not seriously investigated these things for the main reason that they just don’t want to believe in the first place. They’d rather believe anything than biblical Christianity. Some avoid thinking about it all. Others make Jesus the spokesman for whatever they want to believe and ignore his actual teachings. Others mock the miraculous as I once did, hiding behind “science,” or “reason,” or “being modern.” Or they pretend they can dismiss Jesus out of hand by tying him to a political party they dislike, or by lumping him with the worst examples of “Christianity.” Or they avoid taking a stand on religious matters for fear of being insensitive, intolerant, or arrogant.

On this last point, I'd have to say that I do not prefer to exclude other religious points of view—but that is not my choice. It was Jesus himself, not me, who claimed to be the only way, and he proved it by rising from the dead three days after his death and burial, as the historical record amply attests. And it was Jesus himself who said that his resurrection would be the only sign given to everyone equally, that it alone would be enough to support anyone’s faith in him. And hopefully my story can help you in your decision as well.

Some questions still remain, but the things I am certain of far outweigh any lingering doubts. I have come to find that a large part of nurturing a deeper faith is to ask the hard questions while at the same time expecting the goodness of the God who showed so much goodness to me and to millions of others like me set free by Jesus Christ. The miracles alone were enough for me to last a lifetime. Yet I thank God that I now stand on a much stronger pillar of faith than any of the fleeting miracles I or anyone else can ever experience in this lifetime. And that is the resurrection, the central tenet of the Christian faith, without which all the other claims of the Bible are nothing. As it is written, “If Christ is not raised, then you are still in your sins.” Without the resurrection, Christ’s death could not be for anyone’s sins.

Yes, I am a Bible thumper—if by Bible thumper you mean one whose heart thumps to the beat of the very words of God. Or if you mean one who has heard the thump of the gavel declaring all people guilty of falling short of the glory of God. Or if you mean one who knows the thump of the hammer that drove the nails into the hands and feet of the Savior, or the thump of the cross upon which He was hung as it was thrust into the earth. Or if you mean the thump of the stone placed on His tomb—or rather the thump of its miraculous removal three days later. Or if you mean one whose heart thumps with the presence of the risen Savior living within it. How could it be any other way? With the Lord as my witness, I would have it no other way. And I pray you will choose the same.

I encourage everyone who reads this to contact me for further discussion if you like. For now, though, I’ll leave you to consider the impact Jesus has had on the world—greater than any other historical figure. As Dr. James Allan Francis put it, “He was born in an obscure village. He worked in a carpenter's shop until He was thirty. He then became an itinerant preacher. He never held office. He never had a family or owned a house. He didn't go to college. He had no credentials but Himself. Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today, He is the central figure of the human race. All the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that ONE SOLITARY LIFE.” I pray you will seriously investigate all of these things, and if it helps, remembering my story as you do.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION:

*Books and films by former atheist Lee Strobel
The Case for Christ (a shortened film version available on Netflix or DVD)
The Case for Faith (a shortened film version available on Netflix or DVD)
The Case for a Creator

*Books by former atheist Josh McDowell
Free resources for skeptics and others
More Than a Carpenter
Evidence that Demands a Verdict

*By former atheist C.S. Lewis
Mere Christianity
Miracles
The Problem of Pain

*If you want to receive Christ:
Steps to Peace with God

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