From a non-religious home, former atheist Ian Giatti thought God was a character of fiction and fantasy like Santa Claus. His mind slowly changed as he began to realize the reality and truth of Jesus.
Ian’s Website: https://iangiatti.com
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 but who became a Christian. You can see these stories and more at our Side B Stories website, www.sidebstories.com.
One of the most common objections you’ll hear for rejecting belief in God is a pervasive sense of brokenness and apparent evil in the world, that we wouldn’t see and experience so much pain around us and in our own lives if God was real. The world and our world would and should look much different. Although this objection is common, interestingly, in my research with former atheists, the problem of evil did not register as highly as I thought it would. While 26%, about a quarter, thought suffering in the lives of others was a reason to dismiss God, only 16% said that personal pain led to disbelief. However, pain, when it is felt, it is felt quite personally, and when it is present, it can play a significant role in forming perceptions and understanding of God. It can cause us to ask questions. Where is God? Why didn’t God show up? Why did God allow this to happen? Who is God? Our expectations, however shaped, crumble in disappointment, giving us no apparent option except to embrace a reality without God, or so it is thought.
It has been said that beauty and pain run on parallel tracks throughout all of our lives. This is a stark reality we must all face. The question is how we must make sense of all that we see and experience in the world and in our lives, of both brokenness and beauty.
As an atheist, Ian wrestled with these large intellectual and existential questions. I hope you’ll join me to hear him tell his journey from disbelief to belief in God and then stay to hear his advice to curious skeptics or even former Christians in rethinking their faith, as well as advice on how best to engage with who don’t believe. Welcome to Side B Stories, Ian. It’s so great to have you!
Well, Jana, thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Wonderful. As we’re getting started, so the listeners can know a little bit about who you are, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself?
Sure. My name’s Ian Giatti. I work in digital media. I have a family of about four kids. Sorry, I just lost count. Wife and four kids, including a newborn, so that makes us a little on the tired side. We’re out here living in Texas, enjoying life, and trying to just walk with the Lord every day.
Wonderful, wonderful! Four kids, including a newborn. No doubt, you’ve got a very busy household!
A very busy household. Yeah.
Yeah, yeah. I’m an empty nester, so I’m on the opposite end of that spectrum, but I do miss those days. There’s nothing better than a house full of kids to bring life to your life.
Yeah. I can just say a big thank you to my wife, because she makes it all go, so I’m grateful for her.
Wonderful. Well, you’re with us here today because you used to be an atheist, but you’re no longer. You actually are a Christian. So why don’t you start us back, so we have a better idea of how your atheism was formed. Just starting from the beginning. Tell me about the house in which you grew up. Tell me about your family. Was church a part of that picture? Was there any belief in God? What kind of heritage were you handed as a child?
Yes. I always tell people I grew up in a loving secular home. Both my parents, who did the best they could, were great parents overall. Loved me. Did everything they could to support me. I had an above-average childhood. I was in the entertainment industry as a young boy, got to go travel places and see things and do stuff, and boy, it was a blast! My upbringing was awesome. And I think that that kind of throws people off. Because most people think of atheists, former atheists, as, “Oh, well something bad must have happened to you,” or, “You must have seen the dark side of things too early,” or what have you. And that wasn’t really the issue with me. We grew up in… It was a non-religious household, but we celebrated Christians, celebrated Hanukkah. We would pray from time to time, even though I don’t think any of us, parents included… we kind of really understood all of that, right? But we just kind of figured, “Well, that’s kind of what people do.” And I remember I have photos of my childhood where I would be on my knees praying. I don’t know why I was doing those things. I didn’t go to church with any regularity, rarely at all. But again, that wasn’t because my parents were against it or anything else. We just enjoyed being a family, and that was kind of our sanctuary, really.
And I think it was… The journey through childhood. I see it in my own kids, too. You get past a certain age where you have that childlike faith or understanding or belief in what you’re told, and then you which to go, “Wait a minute. I have a question. Wait a minute, how come this?” And I think I started receiving more frequently unacceptable answers to my questions. And yeah, that was no one’s fault. It wasn’t my parents’ fault. It wasn’t teachers or people around me. For various reasons. I don’t think people were prepared to discuss theological truths with a child. Generally speaking. At least outside of the church.
Did you have any interaction with any religious people? Were they in your world at all? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, California.
So relatively safe, middle class neighborhood. Really just kind of like an average childhood. I had it pretty good, looking back.
Were there any Christians in your world at all?
You know what’s funny? In my area, there seemed to be more friends… My friends at school… It felt like there were more Jewish people than Christians who practiced, who went to church, who led overtly Christian lives. I felt like I had more Jewish friends. Yeah, we weren’t any religion at all. I went to plenty of Bar Mitzvahs, all those types of events. I was familiar with going to synagogue with friends. I rarely went to church, except for maybe Christmas, because my extended family did so.
But I’ll tell you a funny story: My real first encounter in my memory. When I was 9 years old, roughly 9, I got to take a trip with my mom out to Italy to visit my grandfather, and my grandfather had led a pretty exciting and kind of interesting life, and he was very bold, and when we got there, my mom kind of explained, “Oh, your grandfather might say some things and just ignore him.” And I remember specifically arriving in Italy. I’m like, “Oh, this is cool!” I’m still a 9-year-old kid. We get to my grandfather’s house, and I remember one of the first things he asked me is if I knew Jesus. And I’d never heard that question before. I’m like, “What do you mean?” I know about Jesus. I know who Jesus is, right? But looking back, I finally understood, especially when I got saved, I realized my grandfather was preaching at me. And he was using theological terms. He was using “born again.” He was using things I had never heard. And to be completely honest with you, it was a little bit terrifying because… and I get that now. Because you have someone who obviously found the truth, right? Met God. Had one of those God encounters, and he just wanted to share it with his grandson, and yet I’d never had that one-on-one encounter where biblical truths were being thrown at me. So that cause a lot of… as it does at many family Thanksgivings and other holidays, right? It caused a lot of consternation and disruption, and eventually we kind of smoothed it out and we went on and enjoyed our time. But I remember now specifically that being my real first childhood experience with the truth of Jesus. Not knowing Him, not believing, just hearing something biblically sound about the Person of Christ.
But it sounds like it wasn’t something that drew you in. It was actually something that pushed you away at the moment, because probably you had no paradigm for that kind of thinking or language or taking Jesus any more seriously than a baby in a manger perhaps at Christmas time.
Yeah! I didn’t have any kind of paradigm. And I’ll tell you what, this kind of actually segues into another childhood story, which is almost the flip side of that story, which is my paradigm of someone who was always watching over me, judging whether I was doing good or bad, and planning to reward or punish me on those things, my only paradigm as a child was Santa Claus.
That’s all I really knew. And I believed. I mean I was a hard and fast believer in Santa Claus for my very young childhood because I just knew it, and Christmas always had such a special place in my heart, and I just remember the joy of Christmas morning. Not just the presents. Of course every kid likes the presents, but even now, you know there’s something in the air, right? Just something changes, and people, they act differently, and family gathers, and there’s just a shift. And I remember enjoying it so much, and I believed. I believed that there was a man that broke into our houses and left gifts for 6 billion children, or 4 billion children in the world, in one single night. I believed it. Until I didn’t. And I realized, “Oh, this is false!” But it wasn’t just the realization of that. The hardest part was that I had been told a falsehood by the people I trusted the most, who again were just doing what parents do, right? Sometimes we tell our kids things that aren’t full truths, half-truths sometimes or outright lies, in order to, in our view, protect them. Or maybe to make things easier or better for them. And it’s one of those very parental things that parents sometimes do. And I understand that to an extent. I do. And I’ve forgiven them for that. I never held that against my parents, but what it also showed me is that, if this Santa Claus paradigm is totally false, then there’s no reason for me to even think that this whole religion paradigm would be true, either. Because it just seemed like a bigger version of that lie, on a grander scale, and on a scale, by the way, that coincidentally governments exploit and other people exploit to oppress people and yada, yada, yada.
And this is again… I’m probably an 11-year-old boy, maybe 12. Things started to click really quickly for me. I’m like, “Oh, wait a minute! Okay, so there isn’t any of this, and it’s just all kind of something people choose to believe in. Okay. No problem.” I wasn’t angry about it, but I also realized, “Okay, well. Let’s just start over.” So that led to a skepticism that really took root from a very young age.
So as you were deciding what you didn’t believe. You didn’t believe in Santa Claus, and you didn’t believe this wishful thinking of God that many people did, this bigger lie, did you appreciate as a middle schooler or even high schooler what you were embracing as any kind of a paradigm of belief? If it’s not religion, what is it? Is it science? Were you thinking, “I’m too smart for that.” What were you buying into in terms of a worldview for yourself? Or were you even giving it any thought?
Well, I don’t want to over play it as a 16-year-old, doing what 16-year-old boys do, which is a whole lot of dumb stuff. But the more I reflect on my time as a teenager, I think what I started learning to do is live off of my intuition, of my intuitive mechanism, and I started to trust that more. Because it seemed to be steering me, generally speaking, in the right direction, around potholes, away from dangerous things or people, right? And so I began to trust that. So that’s a form of self-trust. I’m trusting in myself. But also there’s not anything innately wrong with trusting your intuition, I think. Like our conscience, God gives us these things as part of our spirit, right? Our soul makeup. To kind of navigate, because it’s a dangerous world, you know? And so I just kind of lived by that, and like most people, as I went into my later high school years and toward college, I thought I was a pretty good person. “I don’t see what the hubbub is about about hell, guys. I know some people who are going there for sure, but definitely not me. I’m better than that. I’m far too qualified for heaven to ever think about eternal judgment.”
So those are vague kind of religious notions you’re talking about here, but you had rejected religion and the reality of God at this point. So when did you really start thinking in terms of identifying as an atheist? Was it around this time, in college, or…?
So in college, I read everything. I was a voracious reader. I loved reading even from a very early age, and in college, you’re essentially introduced to a buffet of ideologies. Sample a little bit of this, sample that. Put some on your plate. Mix it with that. Figure out what combination you like, and then enjoy, right? And that’s what I was doing. I was reading all sorts of stuff and picking and choosing what rung true to me, what had the veneer of truth, at least, and I decided, “Okay, I’m going to piece it together myself, and I’m going to create my own thing. And that’s what most people do, and that’s what has been the heart of idolatry from the very beginning. They create this own thing, and they say, “No, this is the thing that’s true, that finally sums up how I see the world, and that’s what I’m going to worship.” And that’s how I pieced it together.
And as I did that, especially venturing into more kind of intellectualized ideologies, Zen Buddhism, these kinds of things, I realized, “Okay, well you’re living in this head space of all these intellectual ideas. There’s no room, really, at that point for a God who isn’t seen. There’s no room for a theology that says, ‘Well, all these things are true, but you can’t taste, touch, smell, or see them.’” And so I became a materialist, for all intents and purposes, who said the only thing that is true is what I can encounter with my five senses, that I can verify right now. Beyond that, there is no truth. And that began to coalesce pretty quickly for me. And it colored my relationships. It colored how I approached college itself and the future, so it was pretty significant.
So yeah, absolutely, beliefs and ideas have consequences. How did it affect your life in terms of, if you are a strict materialist, then that means there are a lot of things about yourself that aren’t necessarily true that we take for granted. You talked about your intuition in terms of steering you which way is right and wrong, or that sort of thing, but you lose a lot of things about yourself when you’re a strict materialist, in terms of freedom of choice, for example, or conscience, or the sense of this immaterial me inside who’s making these choices. Did you think that deeply about it? Or did you just say, “I’m a strict empiricist. If I can’t see, feel, hear, or smell, or touch it, I can’t verify it’s true, so everything else is out the window.” I mean, did you really live with those kind of stark implications of your worldview?
I did. It wouldn’t be till years later, till after I put my faith in Christ, I began to read all these great Christian thinkers who were so articulate in bringing up what you just said articulately yourself. About the loss of so much humanity if our existence is restricted to strict materialism. Boy! It’s like having the cover of a book and the pages in it, but there’s nothing written on it! It’s the software and the hardware, and so no, I didn’t get the distinction because… Look, it’s so obvious even then, just by the fact I was thinking about these things in thoughts that are immaterial by nature, it should have occurred to me, that, “Wait a minute! Hold on! That’s not true,” but I think what happens, and we don’t get into this a lot when we get into Christian philosophical matters, is that the desires, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life had so begun to take root in me that my desires… Now, I was putting those in the driver’s seat, and really saying, “You know what? I’m going to live my life. I’m going to try to be nice to people. But at the end of the day, I want what I want,” and I think that once people understand that’s really the fruit of that kind of philosophical stance, I think there’s a lot to think about there. For sure. Yeah.
When you were living your life like that and just observing the world and learning a lot, were you making any observations about the brokenness in the world? Or things that aren’t quite as they should be. Or maybe I shouldn’t be making the choices that I’m making. Or those kinds of things? Or was everything just kind of status quo, everything great, and life is good without God. God’s irrelevant, and everything. Those intuitions that we have sometimes kind of haunt us at times if we intuit that something’s not quite the way it ought to be.
Yeah. I knew the world was broken. From a very early age.
So people telling me something, I immediately thought, “Well, I’ve been lied to by my parents. There’s no reason to believe you’re telling me the truth about anything,” so I think I felt like it went all the way down. In other words, the corruption of the world, which I later discovered to be a biblical thought, because it’s a biblical truth. The corruption of the world went all the way down, and as I grew older, and as I dove more into following politics and geopolitical affairs, I was very, very politically involved as far as the news and everything. I went into the news media later on. But I’ve always been a follower of just how the world operates, the currency of the world, right? And it was hard to get away from the idea that it wasn’t just a little bit corrupt, and it wasn’t corrupt in certain areas, but it was totally corrupt, and not just superficially but fundamentally, all the way down.
And when you acknowledge that truth, which it is a truth, it started to really shape how you engage with the world. And so, in my early twenties, which is where I believe we are in the timeline, before this significant life event, that’s really how I came at the world. You’re corrupt, everyone is corrupt, their thinking is corrupt, their behavior is corrupt, so I, too, am now free to engage in that corrupt thinking and that corrupt behavior.
Wow. That’s pretty transparent and very sobering, to really think that that’s the reality of the world. No matter what perspective you’re coming from, but it sounds like you were sober-minded enough to not only acknowledge it but actually almost go with it. To kind of indulge in that sensibility. So you’re moving along in life, and you are, I presume, still skeptical. It sounds like perhaps even a little cynical because you’re able to see, in a sense, this corruption that goes all the way down. And it doesn’t sound like you’re headed towards God at this point. What is it that makes you turn and reconsider this larger question of God?
It was a long journey. Like I had mentioned, I had grown up in the entertainment industry. I had acted as a child and kind of a preteen, stopped for my high school years, and I began again as a young adult, got into the entertainment industry again. That started picking up. Again, I was in my early twenties, and I was kind of living life and enjoying it, now as a full-fledged adult, on my own, trying to piece together a life, as everyone attempts to do when they’re that age, right? And I thought I was cruising along. I thought, “All right. I’ll get there.” And at age 24, I began experiencing these really severe headaches, crippling. The pain was unbearable. It wasn’t just something you pop a pill and you move on. They were migraines, and they were increasing in strength and frequency, and so I had to get it checked out. No doctors really had a good answer for me. I began to lose some strength in my body. At one point, one doctor diagnosed me with spinal meningitis. It was a serious thing, but no one really knew what was going on. And so finally we went to a neurologist and neurosurgeon who finally determined that I had a congenital benign cyst in my brain that had just either grown or shifted enough to where it was disrupting the flow of fluid in my skull, and it had to be removed. So that was not something most 24-year-olds are really expecting to hear when they’re just chugging along in life.
And that was a very big turning point in my life, unfortunately, and to my shame, not for the good immediately, but all the things, all the plans, all the ideas I had come up with myself in the previous 24 years were basically brought to a halt, and I had to sit there and undergo brain surgery and have my head shaved and have a row of metallic staples there and look like a monster for several months of my life and be taken care of by my immediate family, who helped nurse me back to health and get me back on my feet. I was left to a pretty dark place. And I’m so thankful for it. I wouldn’t have it any other way now that I can look back. But I had to be there. Like I tell so many people, I’m Italian Argentine. I have a stubborn streak in me. And I just don’t listen. And I know the Lord had to do it this way. Because He needed my attention. He got it, again, not immediately in the way that I would like to tell you here and have a great testimony, to just end it and wrap it up. But I do remember the first moment of real faith in my adult life, and I didn’t know it then. But I remember acknowledging, as I was going into this operating room for the surgery, I had no idea if I was coming out the other end or what would come out the other end. And I remember a silent halfhearted almost but sort of a prayer, like, “Well, I guess You’re in charge.” Something to that effect. I remember it.
That is a huge kind of pivot, isn’t it? I mean, when you move from a place where you’re in charge, and then all of a sudden, you have this halfhearted prayer somehow acknowledging someone else or something else is in charge, that you were willing to lift that up to. I would say that’s a pretty big pivot, that you turned that corner. Now, of course that was in a moment. It was a very scary, frightening moment, so I don’t know. After the surgery, did you consider that at all? Or was that something that was just for the moment, and then you left it behind?
It was a messy combination, because it was a messy time in my life. But I remember, for the rest of my life, to this very day, I always think back to that time because it was such a pivotal time for me, and now having the knowledge I have, biblical knowledge, intimacy with God, understanding exactly what the truth is, now I understand that it was a start of acknowledging His existence. Now that’s not enough. That’s not enough. Lots of people believe there is a God, right? Lots of people. And that he’s all sorts of things. But to acknowledge that as a grown man, it was a start of a journey.
Unfortunately, when I woke up and I began to see the road ahead of me and how I had lost any hope of the life that I thought I was starting to move towards, I grew angry with God. And I grew angry to the extent of saying, “There’s no way you can exist because why am I in this situation? Why am I suffering? How could you possibly be real if you allow people to undergo this?” Now granted, I look back now… I can say this to you now twenty years on and say, wow. There was a lot of self-pity. There was a lot of crying in my own soup, so to speak. So many people have had it so much worse. I was relatively healthy, you know? But the selfishness of having a life planned, and then the sovereignty of God intervening and saying no. Again, that’s a theological truth, and it wasn’t something I was ready for, because I had heard about a God who’d do anything you ask. You’ve just got to ask for it. Like a genie. He’s running here and there for you, and he’s going to do this, and he’s going to do that. And the thought that God would say no so plainly, so resoundingly to me, made me angry.
Yeah. Especially as a young man in your prime. Like you say, 24? That’s when you think you have the world by its tail.
And I like to always say, though, that you can’t be angry at someone who you don’t believe exists. So something had happened in me where I knew it. I knew He was real. I knew He was active. I knew He was present. I knew He was sovereign. And yet I was very, very angry with Him, that He would allow it to go this way. And that’s obviously a major turning point, because, as weird as it sounds to say it, there was faith there. And I know that now. But that period of my life following the surgery was a period where I said, “You know what? We’re all going to die anyway.” then let’s eat, drink, and be merry.” That’s what life is. Live for the flesh. Live for now. There is no tomorrow. There certainly is no eternity. No heaven, no hell. That’s how I began to live the next six or seven years after that, believe it or not. And increasingly worse, waxing worse and worse. I wish I could tell you that I came out going, “Now, I’m going to be a good moral pagan.” I was a better moral pagan on the other side of the surgery, before I ever had that, because at least I had the veneer, right? Of, “Well, I’m trying to be decent.” That was no longer there.
Okay. Yeah. So then after the surgery… It’s interesting you had this moment, this seed of faith, this tacit belief in God, and then it just went like Katy bar the door. You just let it go, and you just decided to live for yourself basically, it sounds like.
Yeah. And so I’m thankful for, my then girlfriend, now my wife, who was with me the whole time and loved on me like no human being’s ever loved on me. And we got married.
Did she have any belief in God at all? Or was she an atheist as well?
You know, she came from a more, an Orthodox background. She’s Middle Eastern, so her family grew up in the Orthodox church, so again, there’s a veneer there of religiosity, right? “Well, we believe these things are true, even if there’s no necessarily personal relationship. There’s an objective acknowledgment that we think these things are true, and etc.” But she would tell you now that she wasn’t necessarily living those truths out.
But she was good to you, it sounds like, and she was with you through all this period of time.
Yeah, she was. Before we got engaged, right around the time we got engaged, her brother, my brother-in-law, around that time became a radical born-again Christian.
Her brother, yeah. My soon-to-be brother-in-law. And he was constantly in my face, preaching the gospel, telling me verbatim, “You need to repent, or you’re going to hell,” and I’m so appreciative of that now, but at the time, boy! There wasn’t much more you could say to me that could get me riled up than preaching the gospel. And we just butted heads. And so one day… We were newlyweds. My wife and I had been married less than a year, and she’d been gone all day or a couple of days, and she came home and said, “You need to believe in Jesus, or you’re going to go to hell.” And that was the first time she ever said anything like that to me. She had a glow about her. Everything was different, and that really just terrified me. Because I’m like, “Look, I love you. I know we’ve only been married a few months, but if you want this marriage to continue, don’t bring this up again.” And that wasn’t a very comfortable situation, obviously. We weren’t sure how this was going to work out. She took a more passive approach. She still went to church and worshiped and did those things, but she didn’t bring it up to me, kind of left me out of it. And I went on my own and would be like, “Okay, so now my wife’s gone crazy, and I need to figure out how to prove to her this is all fantasy. The best way for me to do that is to, instead of parroting what other people say, is to actually read the Bible. And that way I can explain to her, ‘Well, this is why this is false,’ and, ‘This contradicts that,’” and so I began to actually read the word of God.
So what did you think of the Bible before you started reading it? And then, of course, I’d love to know what you thought when you started reading it.
Just another great religious book, like all the rest, right? There’s a lot of religious books out there. Spiritual, religious. I think, to the atheist, they’re synonyms for each other, and what I’ve always explained to atheists is that actually there’s really no spiritual truth in any of those things because there’s only one Spirit, and He wrote only one book, and when you start to frame it in that dichotomy. You can say, “Oh, well, these things have nice teachings,” and that’s fine and dandy, but at the end of the day, there’s no redemption. There’s no eternal value there. Because they’re just nice words that you can read and enjoy and put on a shelf. Whereas, the only book written by the Spirit of God, the word of God, actually tells you how you can know Him and then how you can spend eternity with Him. And it gives you instructions on how to do that. And it introduces you to the Person who can grant you that.
So that’s how I’ve always seen the distinction now. Before, it was all just big books with nice words and good teachings, and Jesus was just another guy, like Mohammad and Moses and whomever else. I had never heard that Jesus was God the Son. I had only heard Son of God. That didn’t mean anything to me. It meant a diminutive. It meant that He was here on behalf of God, but His name is Emmanuel, because He’s God with us, and I didn’t know those things. And again, I don’t blame anyone for that, but I also look around in my childhood and go, “Where were the Christians telling me that?” There were so many Christians telling me I should do this or I need to believe that, but no one was telling me that God became a man and took on the sins of the world, including mine, to accomplish what I could never accomplish, to do it on my behalf. And I never got any of that. And I think that’s where we fall short a lot, is making sure we clarify our definitions.
So language is everything, so oftentimes we as Christians, we fail to grasp that, to communicate that to atheists or agnostics or whomever it may be.
So, Ian, it sounds like that, when you started reading the Bible, for the first time really, you read it in order to disprove it, to take down your wife’s faith. So what did you find when you started reading the Bible for yourself?
Jesus. And I don’t mean to give you a pat answer. Those words… I had the version where His words are in red, and I’m telling you… I think I started in Matthew. I’m pretty sure I did. And His words were in red, and every time I went through those words that were in red. It was unlike any other experience I had had reading any other book in my entire life. It was the hearing without the verbal, oral, physical experience of hearing. It was like an awakening at the same time. It was like an alarm clock that I was reading. I don’t know. I’m trying to articulate something that really, for me, has no physical kind of boundaries in which to put it in and articulate. I just… I met Him there.
You met the Person of Jesus, not just a character or a figure in a story or on the page. It was someone who was actually real, it sounds like, that you encountered.
You know, it’s like. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this movie. It was a big movie in the 1980s called The Neverending Story, and the boy reads this book, and the book starts talking to him. And he’s like, “What?” And the Person of Jesus began speaking to me. I’m like, “Who’s this written for? This ancient book, written on another continent. How is this talking to me right now?” And that began the final… If the flight started, brain surgery is taking off, we were in our final descent here, really coming into the gospels and going, “Okay, something’s happening. Something’s happening.”
Yeah. So when your grandfather planted that seed when you were 9 years old, asking you if you knew the Person of Jesus, and then here you are in your mid twenties, I guess, mid to late twenties, and then you’re, for the first time encountering this person. It sounds like it’s something so much more real than you ever thought possible, that this person was very real and true. Now, throughout, you’ve talked a little bit about not understanding who He was prior to reading, that He was God who came as a man. You’ve also talked about the gospel, and I wonder if… Was it through reading the Bible that you understood not only Who the Person of Jesus was but also why He came?
Yeah. And that’s really kind of the crux of all this, right?
I guess the person of Jesus is Who I met reading the scriptures. That was when He became real, and that was really the first encounter of another spiritual truth, right? Which is knowing someone who is not physically present in the room. So when I read His words, I heard His voice. He talks about it in John chapter 10, right? “My sheep hear My voice.” Boy did I hear it! I heard it, and it freaked me out. Because I never expected that. I didn’t know what to expect, frankly, other than just to read it and say, “This is why it’s fake,” and then move on to the next thing. And then everything just came to a crashing halt, and I found myself wandering into Catholic churches because they were the closest and looking around and going… It was empty. Middle of the week. No one there. Saying, “I guess I’ll sit here and fold my hands and pray.” I didn’t know what I was doing. I did that randomly, not sure what I was doing there.
Were you asking your wife about any of this as you were experiencing this encounter with Christ?
No. I was hiding it from her because I didn’t want her to know. I didn’t want her to think that I was a Christian. I didn’t want her to get any crazy ideas. I just wanted to read this book and then tell her why she’s wrong and call it a day. But no. I hid it from her as best I could.
So you were reading the Bible, and you were still… It sounds like a real approach avoidance kind of thing, that you were being drawn in but yet pushing back. I imagine that you continued some kind of pursuit on your own? Walk us through the next step.
So we have that going on. We have my brother-in-law continuing to come at me. Very outspoken, bold Christian, constantly using apologetics to kind of come at my worldviews. I had all these… I thought they were lofty ideas, right? And we would get into debates about all sorts of stuff, and he started to make sense, and I was like, “That’s weird.” Because I used to think all Christians were just crazy and they had just kind of given up and decided to believe this crazy thing. And here was this guy speaking truth to me and having it resonate with me as truth, like, “Wow! That makes sense. There’s something here.” That threw me off combined with the stuff that was already going on that we spoke about. And one day, it culminated. When I was home alone and I was, again, reading the scriptures, and I was just overwhelmed, I guess, with the presence of God and I guess what I know now to be really conviction of sin. Me personally, not as a theological construct. Not as an ideological abstract. But as something that I was guilty of, that I had done against a perfect and holy God. And I got on my knees, and I’ve never done anything like this before, and I said, “I’m sorry.” I don’t think I had my eyes closed. I had my head kind of bowed a little bit. And I remember saying, “I’m sorry,” out loud, and there’s no one home. It wasn’t just spoken carelessly. It was spoken deliberately. I knew Who I was saying it to. I knew why I was saying it. And my heart flooded. My mind flooded. I was overwhelmed with all sorts of… I don’t even know what thoughts and sensations, and it felt like something really important had happened.
I did realize, looking back, that’s what Jesus talked to Nicodemus about, saying you must be born again if you want to see the kingdom of God. And I knew that’s what God did that day. That is the day that God gave me a new heart, gave me His Spirit, and started me on this new life. And I was never the same after that.
Wow. It sounds like quite a journey, Ian. There was a lot that built up to this moment of you getting down on your knees and surrendering to the person that you not only thought was real but also true, and the one who was actually there, as Schaeffer says, the God Who is there. I’m impressed, also I think that you are, as someone who is thoughtful about ideas, that you were a skeptic by nature. You’ve had this sensed personal encountering with God, but yet you had your brother-in-law challenging you intellectually with ideas from the Christian worldview that made it sound substantive and true, especially as compared to what you believed. So it’s not just an experience, is what I hear you saying, but it’s also that you can make sense of reality through the lens of the Christian worldview, that it makes sense that the Bible makes sense, that brokenness that you saw in everyone and everything that you referred to a bit ago, that that make sense through a Christian or a biblical lens, that there are things that are broken, that the world is broken and corrupt, that we ourselves are broken and corrupt, but it sounds like you found the remedy for that when you felt guilt because we are all guilty, and you came before the One who was the only One who could remedy that guilt in you and save you. It sounds like everything spiritually, experientially, intellectually, everything kind of all came together, it sounds like, to that point, and then you were transformed.
That’s a really good summary of it. I think the framework behind that is the realization that Jesus is not a theological construct, but He’s the Lord Jesus. He’s the Person of God. He is not simply an idea that you borrow from and then you mix with all this other stuff over here, but he’s someone you meet, and when you meet God, and it actually is God, the only natural response is to fall to your knees and worship.
I didn’t choose to do that. I didn’t plan on doing that. That wasn’t what I started the day thinking about doing, but however he does it in the spiritual realm, it happened, and all of a sudden, that experiential knowledge, combined with the biblical knowledge I had begun to acquire by reading His word, even a very, really just still in its early stages, right? I didn’t have a great grasp on theology or anything, but just very rudimentary understanding of who Jesus is, right? From the Bible. And everything coalesced and became one thing.
And that’s really what I feel like I would make a point of is, especially as far as atheists are concerned, is that you no longer have these realms in which you filter all your thoughts and ideas through, which is how I lived my life. I went through this political realm, through kind of this biological realm, and then it becomes one stream, and it’s not just theological, it’s also experiential, but one can’t exist apart from the other. It’s married together. And it was like, “Boom!” This great big blast went off, and the tunnel opened, and of course I didn’t see any of those things. I’m speaking strictly from an intellectual view. It all just came together, and everything finally made sense. Every question I had had as a 12-year-old boy was at least hinted at or immediately answered by understanding that Jesus is God, He is not only real but intimately involved with His creation, and that He’s stooped, humbled Himself into His creation in a way to reconcile those who rebelled against him back to himself, and to know him and to fellowship with him.
And having that all come together, all the other questions I had about, “Why this?” “Why that?” they either were answered by a biblical truth or they didn’t feel as important anymore. Because obviously, if the truth of God is kind of settled onto your life, everything else kind of gets pushed to the sidelines, right? All of a sudden, you’re going, “Oh, wow! I’ve got to navigate this now. This is now the primary focus of my attention and my heart.
Yeah, it’s a huge paradigm shift, the way that you see and experience life. What becomes important and what becomes less important. It sounds like you really did undergo just a full life transformation once you found the person of Christ, and it sounds like just surrendered to Him. It’s a beautiful story, Ian, and I am thinking about these atheists who you’ve spoken to already a little bit or even skeptics, how it’s so easy, I think to compartmentalize and try to think about, okay, making sense intellectually of this and experientially of that, but they can’t coalesce in a way that you have found, and they’re still searching to try to make sense of all of reality, perhaps. Or maybe not. Maybe they’re just perfectly fine in the way that they’re seeing and experiencing life and their own worldview. For those who are listening, those skeptics who may be listening to your story. Do you have any advice for them if they are willing to take the next step or maybe even look at the Bible or anything to find the Person of Jesus like you have? Or to test it? Or anything?
Before I knew the Lord, I would really come up with these great intellectual arguments. I’d try to be as articulate as I could about why this can’t be true, and I learned about ontological arguments, right? And the cosmological. And then I began to hear all about apologetics, and I began to have answers to all those things. But none of those things matter until you individually, A, decide you want to know what’s real. You want to know the truth. You’re willing to accept whatever it is. You’re willing to accept the truth. I was at that point before I ever was saved. I had started reading everything I could get my hands on because I was ready to… I even, and I don’t boast about this, I just simply added because I wanted to read it from an ideological standpoint, what did it say? I had a copy of The Satanic Bible in my library. Not because I was a Satanist. But I want to know what these Satanists believe. Why did they really think this was true? Crazy enough is I had gotten to a point where I was like, “You know what? If something has enough truth, I’m willing to go all the way with it and believe it. And I think some of these skeptics today, they’re hardened. They’re hardened because they see a hard world around them, a difficult life, a life that seems, in many ways, senseless, and I get that. Believe me, I get it.
And we as believers have to be ready to engage them there, right there. We have to be able to talk about the seemingly meaninglessness of it all. Because let’s be honest, even Christians experience that. … The Apostle Paul talks about the imagination, right? High and lofty things that are brought down by the truths of God. I think a lot of skeptics hold onto those, but at the end of the day, the foundation for many of them, there’s an anger and a hurt. There’s a pain there and a world that’s very painful, that’s very difficult to navigate, and we’ve got to be able, I think, as Christians to engage them on both levels. Because they know it’s true.
They know sin is real. They may not call it that. But they know the world is broken. They see it all around them in every system of life, in every facet they’ve lived, the classroom, the boardroom, the home. It’s broken. Something is terribly wrong with the human race, with humanity, and Christians have the answer. It’s the truth. We just often… I think we gloss over it instead of really engaging them right where they’re at.
Yeah, that’s a good word for both the skeptic and the Christian. Is there anything else, as we’re wrapping up here, Ian, that you want to add? Anything you think we’ve missed? I am curious, at the very end, too, to know what you’ve been involved with since you’ve been a Christian. Any kind of ministry? It sounds like you’re very passionate about making sure that people understand and know what is true and real, especially about Jesus.
After I got saved, I got plugged into a pretty good, sound, Bible-believing church. We were going there not only every Sunday but sometimes two, maybe even three times a week. I began serving, along with my wife, in children’s ministry, first as a Sunday school teacher, then kind of like a coordinator/overseer of the ministry. I began to lead Bible studies at the jails in Los Angeles County. I got to do Bible studies and worship for inmates, and that was an enormously rich and rewarding experience. I got to take part in an overseas mission trip which was, again, something that… You learn so much. I think that really—and I used to say this all the time when we’re serving. You can believe all the things you say you believe, and that’s great, and that’s fine, but it really… where the rubber meets the road is where you start to put that into practice, when you start to do it when you don’t feel like doing it, and for people who may not be the easiest people to love. That’s where the Lord gets in there, in those dirty nooks and crannies, and does some really unexpected things, and those have been the most rewarding moments. Where I used to think things were mundane, sweeping the floors or wiping down things or cleaning up after other people, picking up stuff, doing that in the Lord is a totally different thing. And again, without Him there, it would just feel like chores or errands, but when you start to put your body in the way, and say, “God, use me in ministry somehow,” He’ll honor that, for sure. So I spent the last ten years or so, a little over a decade, as my kids were born and starting to grow older doing that, and now I’m venturing into kind of a new arena, starting a new project. I started a media company. It’s a fledgling media company called Infinite Burn Media, and I’m really starting to navigate what that looks like, producing all sorts of content, video content, books, podcasting, etc., and so I’m starting that out, and I’m seeing what the Lord has for me there, but I’m excited just to speak candidly and transparently, like I am with you, about where I’ve been, who I’ve been, and Who I met, and how that changed everything.
It sounds like it has changed everything. Thank you so much, Ian, for coming on and being transparent, being forthcoming, and again, so passionate about what you believe and why you believe it, and who you believe in. Thank you so much for coming onto this podcast with me today.
Thank you so much, Jana. I really appreciate it.
You’re so welcome.