Former atheist Kim Endraske believed in science and her own morality instead of God, yet she lived with a constant fear of moral failure and death. After her views were challenged by an intelligent Christian, she found belief and grace in God.
- Book: God is Real: The Eyewitness Testimony of a Former Atheist www.amazon.com/dp/1975916328
- YouTube Channel: www.YouTube.com/c/FormerAtheist58
- Blog: www.TeachWhatIsGood.com
- Ministry to Families Continuing their Pregnancy to Term: www.AChildOfPromise.org
Resources recommended by Kim:
- More Than a Carpenter, Josh McDowell
- Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell
- Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis
- Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
Hello, and thanks for joining in. I’m Jana Harmon and you’re listening to Side B Stories, where we see how skeptics flip the record of their lives. Each podcast, we listen to someone who has once been an atheist or skeptic, but who became a Christian against all odds. You can hear more of these stories at our Side B Stories website, sidebstories.com. We also welcome your comments on these stories on our Side B Stories Facebook page.
It has been said that there are two things in life that we can be certain of: Death and taxes. As much as we try to avoid one or both of those things, they are inescapable. For the atheist, death is the end of our physical existence. There is no soul or spirit that exists beyond the grave, beyond death, only memories that live on in the lives of those whom they’ve left behind. If that is true, there should be nothing to fear in death, for we will all experience that. And, for many, that becomes a mandate to make the best of our time here now, to live life to its fullest, to accomplish, to eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Or perhaps we just mindlessly pursue distractions and pleasures to avoid the inevitable.
Yet for others, the fear of death can become overwhelming, even for those who don’t believe in God, immortality, and the afterlife. The fear of eternal nothingness, of blackness, can cause a fear in life of the unknown, of what will happen next, of when and whether death is coming sooner or later.
In today’s story, former atheist Kim seriously wrestled with this existential reality. Fear of death was her constant companion. But that fear wasn’t enough for her to change her mind about God just to soothe a personal discomfort. After all, atheists are the adults in the room, called to soberly and courageously live with realities such as death and dying that may be personally unsettling. They are not to succumb to the childish notions of happily ever after in the afterlife. What was it then that changed Kim’s mind about the reality of God, and through that, lose her fear of death? I hope you’ll come along to find out. Welcome to Side B Stories, Kim. It’s so great to have you with me today.
Thanks. It’s good to be here.
Wonderful! As we’re getting started, so that the listeners can know a little bit about you before we get into your story, tell me something about you, perhaps your family, where you live, what you do.
Yeah. My name is Kim Endraske. I am a home schooling mom for 21 years, but in addition to that, I have a YouTube channel at FormerAtheist58 and love to kind of share with people on my YouTube channel. I have a blog at Teach What Is Good, and I’ve always liked to write ever since I was a little girl. Actually, when I was little, I would make little newsletters and sell them to my neighbors, like a quarter apiece or something. And God has just continued that in my life, where now I’ve written several books, and I like to blog, and I’m just a teacher at heart.
That’s wonderful! The world is desperate for good teachers. And good writers for that matter. And so for all of our listeners, we’ll include all of these, her YouTube channel, her blog, and all of these connections to you. We’ll put those in the episode notes, so that they can access some of your writing as well and be taught, hopefully, in some way.
So let’s get into your story, Kim. Why don’t you talk with me about your upbringing? Tell me a little bit about how and where you were raised and whether religion was any part of your family life at all.
Yeah. So I was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa. I’m the younger of two girls. I have an older sister who is three years older than me. My dad and my grandfather are both attorneys, lawyers, and my mom was actually my dad’s legal assistant. So I grew up in a very academic home. Our dinner table conversations usually consisted of whatever case that my parents were working on. And so that was always—we just had a very academically rigorous upbringing. My parents had very high expectations for my sister and I. We were both identified talented and gifted, like, from the earliest age. My sister actually skipped a grade in kindergarten, and I skipped a grade when I was in fourth grade, actually. I took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and scored all 99s on it, and they were like, “Okay, something is going on here,” and so I was actually promoted mid-year when I was in fourth grade, from fourth to fifth.
But that’s just a little taste of the academic rigor, that there was just an expectation that I was supposed to be the best student in class. I was always reading books. I would prefer reading over playing outside or over watching TV. I’ve always just kind of been a book lover. And I think that that impacted all of my life, that I wanted to know, I wanted to learn. I wanted to be the smartest, the best, the brightest, be looked up to for my academic excellence.
So as far as where religion fits in all of that, well, I don’t remember too much when I was five, but my mom tells me that I told my grandmother when I was five that there was no God. So to me, that means that must have been in there from very early childhood, that I had made up in my own mind that God did not exist. And I don’t think my parents told me God doesn’t exist. I think it’s more just God was absent. You know, there was no faith in my home. We didn’t go to church together. We didn’t pray. We didn’t read the Bible. We didn’t follow any other religions, either. It was just we did things our own way. We made up our own rules, and I think that I liked making up rules.
Jana, I’ve always been somebody who likes making up rules. I’ve always been a rule follower, and I liked making up rules, and I liked making up rules for myself. And so I think that’s an interesting little piece of me. I think sometimes people have false conceptions about atheists, that they’re all, like, immoral, into drugs and alcohol and just off the charts. And that was not at all who I was. I was a very good, law-abiding citizen, and I was trying to be good.
There was no end goal. I didn’t believe in any kind of afterlife or any kind of spiritual anything. And so it was just about me. And so I wanted to be a good person just for me. And I wanted to help other people because it made me feel good. It made my life mean something to help other people.
Right, right, and I can imagine growing up in a home like that, where you’re probably having pretty meaningful discussions around the table. With an attorney and a paralegal as parents, you’re learning about what’s according to the law, what’s breaking the law, so I would imagine you would have this sense, real sense, of right and wrong. Like, some things are law abiding, some things are just what you do, and some things are just what you don’t do, whether God’s in the picture or not. That was probably just the flavor of your home, to grow up with a framework like that.
And I’m so glad, too, that you pointed out that there are so many misconceptions and stereotypes, whether it’s Christian or atheist, that they’re all just a certain way. And I think it’s important that you brought that up, that we don’t broad brush anyone. I think everyone is an individual, and some of the atheists who are friends of mine are some of the most moral people that I know. So it’s not that someone cannot be moral or not based upon their religion. It’s the grounding of that morality. But that’s a story for another day, perhaps.
But back to, again, who you are, growing up. So you you’re rule oriented, you’re moral. But I’m so surprised, even at age five, that you had this very stark, kind of pragmatic view that God did not exist. And of course, you were academically minded. You’re telling me that you were growing up in rigorous kind of intellectual study. I’m curious. Did you consider if God did not exist, did you take on any kind of identity? Or what that looked like if God did not exist? What that meant for you in any way?
Yes. So it’s really kind of a harder question than you might think, actually, because for me, it was just a very humanist—is that a good way to put it? It was just humanist, that my life was just centered on human wisdom, human intellect, human science. Like, I wanted to be a scientist. I was going to be a veterinarian, actually. So I was always very science oriented, into evolution. I wanted to be a veterinarian, so I was always studying animals and especially horses. I thought horses were fascinating. And so the evolutionary theory really grounded me that there was no need for God, because the world just kind of evolved. And so this is where I hooked into, “Okay, yeah, so who needs a God?”
But there were two specific things where I really thought, “Okay, I don’t know what to do with this.” I didn’t know how to mesh the beauty that I saw in creation and death. These are two things I really wrestled with as an atheist. So when I saw really beautiful, the created—and now I can say created—but the way that the world was and how beautiful it was, I thought, “Wow, how is this possible?” So I can remember two specific times, I just have this memory, and it’s like a vision burned into my mind. I was in high school. I was at a debate camp. So my sport of choice is I was a debater. So I won speech awards as a debater. I went to Harvard to compete as a debater. When I was in high school, I was a debater. Okay, team policy debate. That was my sword of choice.
So I was at debate camp in the state of Vermont, and in between these debate classes that we had, we had a little time, time off, a little break. And I was sitting out in this grassy field, and this blue sky and these trees, and I’m sitting there and I’m watching all of this, and in my head I’m like, “God, if you are real, will you please show yourself to me?” Because I just thought, “How is this possible?” But then Nothing happened. Like there wasn’t lightning or like a Bible fell on me or like somebody walked… Right? Like, no one walked up to me at that moment and said, “Jesus is God!”
And so I was like, “Okay, well, I guess God’s not real,” but I actually think that in the creation of what God had made, He was saying to me, “I am real.” He had put into my heart a desire to search for Him, even in that moment.
The other thing that I struggled with was death. So I had an ongoing, constant fear of death. I think un-normal. I have four children of my own. None of my children are living in fear of death. So like I said, I was a very moral person, and I think one big reason why I was very moral is I lived in constant fear that I would die. So I wanted to wear a seatbelt, I didn’t want to speed, I didn’t want to use drugs, I didn’t want to drink alcohol, because I lived always thinking, “Oh, I might die! I might die!” And when you died, then that was it. There was nothing after that, and so I didn’t want to die, so I didn’t want to do any of these things. And that also made me think, “Okay, is this really all that life is?” Like, “Is this really it?” Death was also a struggle for me.
Okay. Yeah. And those are very real issues of beauty and death, and of course, you as the atheist humanist have to look at life through a stark lens. Like you say, death is all there is. When you look at the diversity and beauty in the world, it really is a little bit hard to explain. I know that there are atheists who look at the cosmos and call it magical because it’s awe inspiring and it’s hard to dismiss that. But at this point you had intellectually dismissed God.
Now, you had a moment there where you were wavering, but I’m curious just…. Before we go there, what did you think of Christians or Christianity or belief in God at this point? That it was just subpar intellectually? That it’s just some wishful thinking or fairy tale? Give us what you were thinking around that time and why it wasn’t an intellectually viable option for you.
Okay, so that’s a great question, Jana. I had some Christian friends, friends that referred to themselves as Christians, in middle school, high school, college, people calling themselves Christians. I remember having friends invite me to youth group, and I said, “What is youth group?” because this is like Christian-speak. I didn’t know what youth group was. So they were like, “Oh, it’s when people from our church get together, and we talk about God and stuff.” And I was like, “Well, no, I don’t want to do that.” I wasn’t interested in that. But a lot of it was because the morality that I was keeping was actually superior to the morality that my friends were keeping, right? And so I remember having this friend who was involved with her boyfriend in an immoral way, and she was a Christian and she would say, “Well, God will forgive me,” and that was like what she would say. And I just thought, “Well, if that’s Christianity, I don’t like that.” Now, keep in mind, to me…. Okay, so one is the Christians that I knew, unfortunately, they just did not really… they were not holding to their convictions. So they would say, “I believe this,” but they weren’t really doing it.
But there was the occasional Christian that wasn’t like that and that was really appealing to me. So as an atheist, there were these couple Christians that I knew, and now looking back, I wish that I could get in touch with them again and be like, “You were a good example for me!” But people who cared about me and who wanted me to know God.
But the other piece of it was I was largely ignorant, okay? So I think sometimes Christians think that atheists know more than they do. And I understand that some atheists have really researched, and they know all about Christianity, and they’ve read the whole Bible, and they have chosen to reject the actual tenets of Christianity that they have read and studied and read the Bible, and they have chosen to reject it. But I think that a lot of atheists, including myself, were like straw man argument, okay? So we have this illusion of what Christians are, and we are rejecting that. So I was rejecting Christians, okay? I was rejecting a faith in an unknown God because I couldn’t see Him, touch Him, feel Him. But I really didn’t know Christianity as far as the gospel, and we’ll get to that in a little bit.
But the things that I knew: When I was in college, we took kind of a comparative religion class, and I thought, “Okay, I’m going to choose a religion. So Jews have the law, right? And they like….” Okay, so what I knew, what I understood was: There’s the Ten Commandments. You keep these laws and that kind of stuff. I thought, “Oh, well, that sounds kind of good. A religion where you keep laws, that sounded good to me.” Or other kinds of religions where they were very…. Rule-based faiths sounded more appealing to me than what I knew about Christianity. But, once again, a lot of it was ignorance. And if there is one thing that I really hope that some people will understand, it’s that sometimes you’re rejecting something that you have not really studied and learned about and that you really know what it is that the person actually believes. And not just, “Oh, well, I met this Muslim guy this one time, and I didn’t like him, so I don’t want to be a Muslim.” I met Christians, and I didn’t like some of them. Therefore, I didn’t want to be a Christian. And in my growing up, at that time, most of what I was exposed to would have been Christianity. I didn’t really know a lot of other tenets of faith, but that’s another little piece of my story if you want to hear about that. I don’t know.
So I skipped a grade, I shared that, I skipped a grade. I became a complete social outcast, right? Because my fourth grade friends wanted nothing to do with me, and the fifth graders wanted nothing to do with me. So I was just a complete social outcast, and so who welcomed me in but this little group of refugee immigrants from Asia. Okay? So one from Thailand, one from Vietnam, and one who was Muslim. I’m not sure where in the Middle East she was from. But those were who became my friends. But they weren’t really trying to convert me, either. They weren’t telling me about their faith, you know? So it would have been interesting if they had, if they had started telling me about their faith. I don’t know. But they really didn’t.
When I was in college, my roommate was Mormon. Once again, I liked her because she kept lots of rules, and I liked that. That was really appealing to me. But didn’t try to convert me. I think I’m kind of…. Maybe this is a stereotype of atheists. I’m kind of out there, Jana. I kind of speak my mind, and I’m kind of scary sometimes. Even with Christians, I can be kind of scary and intimidating because I know how to steer a conversation. So I would steer a conversation to where I wanted to talk about, right? So when I was in college and I would have conversations with people that were professing Christians, and
I would steer the conversation to whatever topic it was that I wanted to talk about. So, for example, maybe I wanted to talk about how ridiculous it was to believe that the Bible is God’s word, okay? And so I would just start on… it would be like a talking point, and I would just, “Well, how can you believe that the Bible is God’s word? Do you have any proof? How do you know that?” You know. And they didn’t know how to answer me, you know? Or, “What proof do you have that God created the world? What proof do you have of that? Were you there? How do you know?” right? And then they would just kind of be stumped. So, likewise, I think a lot of times people didn’t really try and share stuff with me because I wasn’t comfortable talking about that thing, and I would just steer it to talk about whatever it was I wanted to talk about, and then I would dominate the conversation. And there I was. That’s where we went.
Yeah. So it sounds like, then, you had really a picture of Christians and Christianity. Not only were they hypocritical, it was not attractive to you because they weren’t following the rules, although a few were, I guess a few were, but it was more the exception. And then they didn’t seem to be able to intellectually stand on their own two feet. It sounds like, when you were challenging them with their own worldview, they didn’t seem to be able to stand toe to toe with you or engage in a meaningfully intellectual way. So you didn’t have respect, it sounds like, morally or intellectually for the Christian, but it is interesting that you were surrounded by a lot of different people from a lot of different faiths, and really it sounds like only the Christians, at some times, engaged you in conversation, and then that was seemingly impotent.
So your view of religion at this point, it sounds like, continues to fail, or meet your expectations for failure, in a sense, as an atheist. But yet you spoke of coming upon a moment in your life where you were overwhelmed by the beauty and the grandiosity of what you were experiencing as you were looking into the world and seeing the beauty. And so much so that you actually were willing to say, “God, if you exist.…” Now, that’s a little bit stunning admission, considering you were seemingly in control of the conversation and in control of your life, but yet you had, like you said, these two vulnerabilities, kind of two-sided coin of death and beauty. But God didn’t seem to answer in the way that you wanted when you were vulnerable in that moment. And I presume that that was a very sincere request of God, right? That you were open at that moment, but He didn’t answer in the way that you had hoped. So what happened there? Did you just close the door again and move on? Or were these two things, death and beauty, just kind of underlying tensions, causing some kind of dissonance in you that wanted an answer?
Yeah. I think they were ongoing tensions for me. But as far as that moment, in Vermont on the grassy field and all of that, I do, I kind of think in that moment, it was almost like, “See, I gave you an opportunity.” You know? It was encouraging me to close the door once again on God and be like…. Because I know that at that camp there were some Christians at that camp, and probably they were trying to engage me, and I was closing them off, and I was kind of like, “Okay, God, I’ll open the door. You get two minutes right now, and You could do something,” but you know, really, my heart was hard. I wish that I could say I was as open minded. I think that I would have called myself open minded. You know, Jana? I would have said, “Oh, I’m open minded. If you can prove it to me, I will believe it,” but I really wasn’t open minded. I really had already made up my mind. I was an atheist, and I had made up my mind about that, and I had told everybody.
And I mean, it’s kind of funny, actually, after the fact, a couple of friends who have found out that I’m a Christian, they are like, “What?” They can’t believe it because I was pretty out there. I was an outspoken atheist. Now I call myself… I was an evangelical atheist. I was trying to convert people to be atheists. I wasn’t just a closet atheist. I was an outspoken atheist. And so to leave that identity is like my identity was in being me, so to be humble for that moment and be like, “Okay, God, if You’re real, show Yourself to me,” and then He doesn’t do it, then it was like, “Okay.”
I would love to share one other little piece of my story, and that is an experience that I had ongoing with C.S. Lewis. So when I was a kid, my grandparents gave me The Chronicles of Narnia series, and it was my most favorite series, and I read it over and over and over again. And when I was in high school, we had to choose our favorite author and write a paper about them. And now, I haven’t told any of you how old I am, but when I was a kid, I was younger than the Internet, so I had to research things, like in a library, right? I had to go to the library and do research. So I put it off to the weekend before this paper is due, and I go to the library to research C.S. Lewis, and I’m like, “Oh, no! This man used to be an atheist, and he converted to be a Christian. What am I going to do? And I chose him to be my favorite author. This is terrible!”
I presume in reading the Narnia series over and over, The Chronicles of Narnia, you didn’t have the sensibility of who Aslan was and the redemption story or any of that?
Right. Right. And now when I read it, I’m reading it going, “Oh, oh, it’s so beautiful! It’s such a beautiful story!” But it’s beautiful to anyone, whether you know God or you don’t know God. It’s a beautiful story of redemption. It rings in your heart. I mean, all of them, The Last Battle, Silver Chair, I mean, there’s so much beauty in all of them. Not just The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And so when I wrote this paper, I left out huge segments of his life.
I imagine so.
I was not the most honest person. With these rules that I made up, honesty was kind of honesty as far as no one was hurt and I wasn’t plagiarizing and I wasn’t lying. I was just leaving out huge portions of his life. So I would just say certain little things.
But it’s funny how now you can look back and see different ways, different little things, little seeds that were being planted in my life in different points in time, where here was a man who had been an atheist and who had converted to believe in God. And so when I became a Christian, then I have…. I mean, I’m reading Mere Christianity right now. I mean, it’s just there are so many things that C.S. Lewis has touched my life, so just a little aside for-
Yes, yes, yeah.
I don’t know. Little catalysts. Catalysts that made you think, “Okay, is God real?” This is a person that I admire, right? I liked writing. I admired him as an author, and this was a man who had converted, and he was a wise man, and he had converted. And it made me think, “Hmm. Maybe this is something I should think about.”
Right. I guess you hadn’t read book one of Mere Christianity. Since you were such a moral person, the first few pages of Mere Christianity would have really caused you a little bit of tension, I think.
Now, I did buy a copy of Screwtape Letters. Now, I was at a public library, and they were having a book sale, and I… “Oh, look! This is by C.S. Lewis!” Now, this was before I wrote the paper about him, and I didn’t know what it was about and anyway. So I picked up a copy of Screwtape Letters, but I thought, “This is really strange,” and I never read it, but now I’ve read it a couple of times, and it’s good.
That’s interesting that you picked up Screwtape Letters, but it didn’t make much sense to you. C.S. Lewis was and is just an extraordinary writer and thinker, former atheist, as you said, but it is also quite interesting that there were dots and pointers, like you say, towards the transcendent, as he would probably advocate that even his work was one of those pointers towards the transcendent.
So then pick us back up with your story. You had read…. You almost felt betrayed by the fact that you found out that C.S. Lewis was an atheist and now a Christian.
Did you ever come to a place, since you were such a moral person, that there had to be some kind of a transcendent grounding for objective morality? Or did that play at all in your line of thinking or openness towards God?
No. Honestly, I can’t say that that ever occurred to me. It seemed like a social construct. It seemed just like humanism of… we make laws, keeping in mind once again, my dad’s a lawyer, my grandfather is a lawyer. We have these laws for the social good, and I should do these good things because it’s good for society. My parents are very generous people. They want to help other people. And so I wanted to be good for myself, for my own pride, but also to help my community, to help my society, for the benefit of mankind.
Actually, one other little interesting stereotype breaker was that I was an outspoken pro-life person. I took my pro-life signs and went to the… marching at different things.
And I think that is interesting, but I was very science based, right? And I had seen pictures of a little ultrasound of a little baby, and I was like, “Well, that is a baby.” So, right and wrong, I’m going to say that you should not kill that because that is a baby. Just like I also was a vegetarian for several years, same kind of time period. I was a vegetarian for several years because I saw animals and I loved animals and I didn’t think we should eat them. And I felt that this was a consistent worldview. These things, there’s no God in this. It’s all science. It is just, “This thing is alive. This thing is alive. We don’t kill them.” So I just… Once again, in my head, now who knows, but in my head, I was making up rules for myself, and I tried to keep them, but at the same time I couldn’t keep them perfectly.
So here’s an example where we start getting a little deeper into my life. So when I was 16, I started dating a guy and fell in love with him, and he was going to be the one, right? But I’m 16, but he’s going to be the one. And so I get intimately involved with him when I’m 16. But I had made this rule for myself that I wasn’t going to be like an immoral floozy, right? So he was just going to be the one. But then, man, we broke up a couple of years later.
So then, when I’m like 18, we have a new “the one.” And so I date him all through college and get into an immoral—but in my head moral—monogamous relationship with him for three and a half years. He was going to be the one. But then…. We dated all through college, and we were about to get married. I had wedding invitations. I had my wedding dress. We were going to get married. But he was abusive to me. And, for as smart as I was and how self-confident everyone around me thinks that I am, I’m not, you know? I was that rejected kid. I was the one who really struggled to fit in in a lot of social situations and the idea of breaking up with him… I made these rules for myself, and I didn’t want to have another partner. I wanted to marry him, but I couldn’t marry him. I couldn’t. And everyone was shocked. My parents were shocked. And I broke up with him, and I moved to a new city. I moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to student teach my final quarter of college because I needed to get away from him. I didn’t feel safe breaking up with him and staying at college. So right before I moved, I broke up with him, gave him the ring back, broke off the engagement, and I moved to a new city.
And this was the rock bottom. For all these other kinds of things, I’d always had some kind of support system, but now I’m in a new city, I’m about to graduate, I don’t know where I’m going to work. My parents, at this point, are living full time in an RV. My sister is living in Colorado. I am in a city where I know no one, and I was at a very, very… the lowest point in my life. So I had been in St. Louis for about two weeks, and I get a call from a girlfriend. And I’m at a school, and I am teaching, and the person on the end of the line is this girlfriend, this Christian girlfriend who I had not wanted to maintain contact with. And she said, “Hey, Kim. I’m getting married tomorrow, and you have to come to my wedding.” And I’m like, “Really?” Once again, I lie on occasion, only just when I needed to for the other person’s best interest. I’m like, “Really? I didn’t know,” but the truth is I did know, and I didn’t want to go. I had just broken off the engagement. I did not want to go to this girl’s wedding. But here she is, she’s on the phone! What am I going to do, right? So I’m like, “Really? Tomorrow? Okay. Yeah!” And I mean I have nothing like, “What am I going to do?” So I’m like, “Okay, I’ll be there.”
So I go to the wedding. Do you know where she was getting married? In St. Louis.
What are the odds?
I’m from Iowa, okay? I was going to college in Illinois. I am in St. Louis for like twelve weeks to student teach, and she’s getting married in St. Louis. And I’m like, “Okay, well, I guess I have to go, and so I go to this wedding, and I hadn’t RSVP’ed, so I was like, “Okay, I got to go to the wedding, and I got to find somewhere to sit, and so this guy says, “Hey, you can sit at our table.” And so he then became my friend while I was in St. Louis because, like I said, I didn’t know anyone. I had no friends. I am living in a dorm with elementary…. It was a residential school where I was teaching, and so I was living in a dorm with children. And I mean, that’s not who I wanted to hang out with. So I would go spend time with this guy.
So he’s a Christian, and he starts talking to me about God, but once again, I would steer the conversation. I would steer the conversation. And so he would tell me about this thing or this thing, or I would ask him questions just to try and show him how foolish he was and Christianity is just a crutch. It’s only for foolish people. But this went on for several weeks, and he kept calling me, which is shocking. I don’t know. I think I would have been like, “Okay, I’m not interested in you anymore.” But he kept calling me, and so, at some point he said this word about, “Well, when people are saved…”
So in this moment when he says something about being saved, I’m like, “I’m sorry. What do you mean? What do you mean by saved?” And I heard the gospel. I heard what it meant to be saved.
What did he say?
So he’s like, “Oh my goodness! She just asked me what it meant to be saved!” And he’s like, “Well, so you have to admit that you’re a sinner, that you’re bad, that you’ve done bad things, that you have broken God’s commands. And that Jesus is God, and that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for all of those sins, and that, if you put your trust in Jesus, that He died for you for your sins, that Jesus pays for that.” And I’m like, “Jesus is God?” This is just to show how ignorant I was. But Jana, I didn’t know that Jesus was God. How do I not know this? I grew up in America, but I didn’t know Jesus was God and that Jesus died on the cross for me. I was like, “Okay.”
So I’m like, “Okay, God, if this is real… like, I want to believe this. I want to believe that this is real. Will you please help me? Help me to believe that this is real. I want to be saved. I want to believe in You. I want to trust You.” But it’s hard. It’s hard to go from unbelief to belief. And yet when I’m praying, I’m like, “Okay, help my unbelief.” That kind of like, “I want to believe. Help me to believe this,” and so I believe that in that moment, that was the beginning of God beginning a work in me.
So, just to be clear, again, to go from a space of adamant unbelief. You hear the gospel. You’re willing to say, “God, if you’re real,” again, one of those, except very heartfelt again. It sounds like there was something very attractive about whatever being saved was. I imagine, again, as a very moral person, you’re always trying to live up to a certain standard of performance. There’s always—inevitably, because we’re all fallen—there’s always a disappointment, always a failure, always never enough in our own sense. So there must have been something very appealing to you about this gospel message.
Yes, Jana. Because, for as much as I was making up my own rules, not rules God made, rules Kim made, I couldn’t keep my own rules. Do you hear me?
I couldn’t keep my own rules. And these were rules that I was making for myself, but I couldn’t keep them. So the idea that I was a sinner, that even in keeping my own rules, whether these were God’s rules or my rules, I recognized that I didn’t want to lie, but I did lie. Right? I wanted to only be with the one person that I married. But that didn’t work out, you know? I knew that I had done things that were wrong, by God’s standards or my own standards. I knew that I had done things that were wrong. I knew that. So then the idea that God Himself would take on human flesh and walk among men and then die for me, for the sins of the world, it was the best news I’d ever heard. I couldn’t believe that I was 21 years old and this is the first time that I’d ever heard or understood that. And it’s hard, I have to almost say heard and understood, because at some level I’m sure that, at some level, I had heard things about this. But I don’t think it was clearly and personally… I know it was never personally to me expressed, right? Maybe in a comparative religion class, maybe an Easter service while I’m doodling or sleeping on my grandma’s lap. But personally, one on one, I know that none of my friends have ever explained this basic “the gospel.” Why was I converted? I heard the gospel.
So obviously, again, it was something so appealing and so attractive. But as a thinker and intellectual, you were going, “Well, so how do I know that God exists? How do I know that Jesus is God? How do I know that this isn’t just a fairy tale story to make me feel better?” Were any of those thoughts going through your head? Or was it, “This just sounds so amazing! I really want this to be true.”
Okay, so both/and, right? So, “This is so amazing! I really want this to be true,” right? “But how can this be true? This can’t be true.” So like I said, it is a, “God, if this is real, please help me to believe that this is real.” So after this, Bill gives me a Bible, and I kind of start reading the Bible. Now, before I had a Bible in my home, and I had read some of Genesis up through about Noah where I stopped, and I thought this was just craziness, and I don’t know how anyone could believe that, and that was the end of me reading the Bible. I’d never read Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. In fact, a little piece of my ignorance is that I remember, after becoming a Christian, after praying and wanting to be born again or wanting to believe that God is real, that someone said you should read the book of John. And I was like, “Okay, well, where do I get that book?” Because I didn’t know that the book of John was actually a part of the Bible, so I really didn’t know these things.
And so I started reading, with some direction of, “Hey, read the book of John,” right? So my first step was: Maybe I should read the Bible. I know that, for some people, obviously how can you reject something that you’ve never known? But a lot of people reject things that they don’t know. I didn’t really know what I was rejecting. I was rejecting it because I was rejecting it. And so I started reading the Bible with an open mind. And as I’m reading this, now this is at some level Christian speak, okay? So I will try to say it in a way that anyone can understand. Like, before when I would read it, I didn’t have God, the Holy Spirit, living in me and giving me wisdom. And after I prayed this, I truly believe that the Holy Spirit came and changed my heart and I started reading the Bible. It was the most obvious evidence to me that something life transforming had happened in my life in that day, in April 1994. I had been changed. And I start reading the Bible, and I’m like, “This is real.” Like, “This is true.” “Oh, my goodness! This is amazing! This is so amazing!” And I’m reading the Bible, like, “This is not just a book. It’s not just a fairy tale,” like, “This is really the word of God.”
And so, at some level, it’s the good news of the gospel, and I was changed, but I also wanted answers to my questions. Like, “Okay, is my faith reasonable? Is there evidence that proves that the Bible is provable and believable and it’s not just pie in the sky faith and nothingness?”
But, in addition to all of that…. So for some people, their struggle is to believe that God is good, or their struggle is to resist sin, or their struggle is—we all have kind of different struggles as a Christian, putting your faith in something. And for me, my struggle was just to believe that God was real. I don’t know how to express this. It’s hard to express it unless you have been an atheist. Like there are still moments where it’s this struggle of like, “Okay, so is God real? Is God real, or am I just believing in a fairy tale?” And that was still a struggle.
And so after becoming a professing Christian and saying, “I believe in this,” unfortunately, life did not get easy. There have been many difficult marriage struggles. My second child passed away after finding out in utero that he had a fatal condition. We attempted in utero surgery, and he passed away. We then adopted a child. There have been terrible tragedies that have happened in my life, but in all of these little things, it is like God is real, and that helps me to believe that God is real.
Yeah. That’s quite a testimony, really. When you’re looking for someone Who is real, not just true, but a God Who is actually there, and a God Who is there for you personally. And then I imagine that, as your belief was becoming more foundational, your periods of unbelief were perhaps leaving, and your periods of belief were becoming more and more firm. I would imagine, after embracing God as real, then you can look at things like beauty and have an explanation for what it is that you see and experience in the world. But I would also imagine your question of death would be a very different issue for you now as a Christian, that fear that you once held as someone who didn’t believe in God. How do you perceive issues of death now?
Yeah. It’s funny. The song that pops into my head is, “O, death, where is your sting?” Right? So when God told Adam and Eve that they had to leave the garden and that they couldn’t eat from that tree of life anymore and that we would die, did you know that in the Christian mindset, this is actually good, because death now means being ushered into eternity in heaven with God. For the Christian, death is the end of this hard, hard life that we have lived on Earth. And it’s the beginning of, like. I will see my little baby boy again. But I’ll see Jesus Who died for me, even more than I will see my loved ones. The idea that I will see my Savior. And the idea that God does not hold against me those years of being a blasphemer and that I can be forgiven, truly forgiven, of who I was and be welcomed in with open arms to eternity. I mean, this is good news. You know?
I heard this once, and I thought it was so earth shattering, the idea that Earth is the closest to hell that I as a Christian will ever get, but Earth is the closest to God that those that don’t know Jesus, those that reject Jesus…. Earth is the closest that they will ever get to God. Because here on Earth, there is still some goodness here on Earth in a way that, eternity apart from God, there is no more of God’s goodness left once you choose to continue in your sin and to have heard clearly—any of you that are listening to this, you have heard clearly the gospel, you have, and you can make the choice to turn away from your sins and to turn to God. He offers that to you. He offers it to me freely. And I’m not the same person that I once was. I have hope. I have joy. I have peace in a way that I can now go through these trials. They are still hard. I don’t like them. But I can have joy now in Jesus, in knowing that this world isn’t all that there is.
Right. Yeah. And as you say, God is, in a sense, home, where you’re fully known and fully loved and fully accepted and fully belong, and all those reasons why we want to look even beyond death towards what’s to come.
Kim, what a beautiful story of transformation! It just strikes me as someone who was so resistant. You know, the evangelical atheist who is now the evangelical Christian! It’s so obvious to me that your heart is for others to know what you know and to experience what you experienced, because you’ve obviously found something so good and true and life giving. For those who are skeptical and who may be listening, who perhaps have that moment of open vulnerability or humility or whatever it is that might want to call out to God and say, “God, are You real?” There’s something there that they’re curious about. What would you say to the skeptic who might be curious?
Gosh, I have so much I want to say. So, one being don’t be afraid. I think, at some level, there is fear of that unknown God, right? Don’t be afraid to put your trust in something that you can’t see. It will…. Not it, God. God is good. And even the fact that you are questioning or that you’re seeking, at some level that communicates that God is real and that God is prompting you and encouraging you and drawing you. And also, I would say seek. I think sometimes we just…. We…. Me, okay? Me, atheist. Why wasn’t I seeking? I mean, this is the most important decision in your life. It’s the most important decision in your life. And not to put it off. I guess, you know, maybe at some level I was like, “Oh, I’m still young, and maybe I’ll look at that some other time,” but you’re not guaranteed tomorrow. So to really seek. I found Josh McDowell’s books really helpful. More Than a Carpenter, I think, is a fantastic book. I think Mere Christianity is a fantastic book. And at some level, just that you’re even listening to this, that’s awesome. Like, keep seeking. God wants you to know Him. God created people for good, and He wants people to know Him. So reach out to Him.
Yeah, I think that’s really great advice. It makes me think, too, of what you were saying before in your story, that you really didn’t even know what you were rejecting. You were just rejecting God and Christianity out of hand and for some reason, but not thoroughly investigated or intentionally sought out reasons, you know? They were just presumed. And I think sometimes, if you’re willing to seek, like you say, just to seek honestly, that you’ll find, probably a lot more than you thought was there.
For Christians who might be listening, and like you say, you’re an evangelical Christian now who wants others to know God. There are so many Christians who are listening, who have people in their lives, who don’t know God or are rejecting God on some level and rejecting Christ and Christianity. How would you encourage Christians to best engage, perhaps with a life that is not hypocritical or that they know why they believe, not just that they believe, so that they can give answers, unlike those who were not able to answer you when you were younger. What would you encourage the Christian to do or be or think in order to be more effective in the way that they engage others?
Okay, so there’s a couple things: One is always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is in you and do it with gentleness and respect. So be prepared that the person that you’re talking to might control the conversation, be angry, all of that, but you have to be able to continue to be gentle and respectful and avoid arrogance. Humility is so attractive, and unfortunately, I’m afraid that so many Christians, they can become prideful and arrogant in their knowing the truth, rather than being humble in knowing the truth. So encouragement to be humble. But also to always be prepared to give a reason. So to be able to share the gospel quickly, concisely. I can share the gospel in a nutshell in one to three minutes.
I can share in one minute that Jesus Christ was God’s only son, that He came to earth. He lived a perfect and sinless life. He did all kinds of miracles to prove that He really was God in the flesh. He died on the cross to pay the punishment for our sins. All of those wrong things that we have done, all of those things that we have done against God’s laws, He took those upon Himself on the cross, paying for our sins. And He rose from the dead after three days, proving again that He is God, and triumphing over sin and death. And now Jesus reigns from on high. And you can trust in God and turn away from your sin today. What is preventing you? What is stopping you? What concerns do you have in putting your trust in Jesus? And then be prepared to hear what they have to say. There might be some stumbling block that they have. Not everyone is going to be like me and be like, “That’s the best news I’ve ever heard! I want to believe!”
If they have a struggle, then go with them, like Bill, who continued to stay with me and stay with me and stay with me. Walk the journey with them. Read the Bible with them if they’re willing. Recommend some good Christian literature to them. And stay with them in whatever it is that they’re wrestling with. Yeah. So share the gospel. Be humble.
Yeah. I think what you say is really spot on, and I think that…. Gospel means “good news,” and it was good news for you because it means that you didn’t have to perform. None of us have to perform because we’re none of us good enough, right? So the idea of having grace laid upon you, that you don’t have to be good enough, that God has done that for you, that is tremendously good news, and it would be good news for anyone who wants to hear it.
So thank you. You really are the consummate teacher, I think. And it’s obvious to me that you have spent a lot of your life communicating ideas and that it’s not just from your head and the logical aspect of you, but really you have such a passion for what you believe to be true and real. And I just appreciate so much, Kim, you coming on with me today, for sharing all that you have in such a transparent and really pragmatic way, that I think that a lot of us need to hear and want to hear at some level. And I pray that really that this conversation is benefit to so many who hear. So thank you for coming on with me today.
You’re welcome. You’re welcome. I hope I can be an encouragement to Christians that don’t have a testimony like mine, that your testimony matters too. You don’t have to have a testimony like me. When Bill shared the gospel with me, his testimony doesn’t look anything like mine, but his testimony and sharing the gospel are what God used to touch me. So you don’t have to have a, “I was an atheist, and now I got saved,” to be able to share the gospel with other people and encourage them in their faith. So thanks for having me on. I really appreciate it.
Oh, you’re so welcome! Thank you again.
Thanks for tuning into Side B Stories to hear Kim’s story. You can find out more about her and her story through her book, God is Real: The Eyewitness Testimony of a Former Atheist. She also has a YouTube channel and blog, and I’ll post all of that information and links in the episode notes. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can contact me through our website. Again, that is www.sidebstories.com. If you enjoyed it, I hope you’ll follow, rate, review, and share this podcast with your friends and social network. We would really appreciate it. And again, we welcome your thoughts about this episode and our podcast on our Side B Stories Facebook page. In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to seeing you next time, where we’ll see how another skeptic flips the record of their life.