Running from God – Ted Cabal’s story

Mar 5, 2021

Side B Stories
Side B Stories
Running from God - Ted Cabal's story
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We’re all searching for something to satisfy us and sometimes that’s hard to find. In today’s episode, Dr. Ted Cabal‘s wandering journey led him the long way home to a Person who had been waiting for him all along.
You can follow Ted on Twitter: @CabalTed
Recommended resources from this podcast include:
  • St. Augustine: The Confessions of Saint Augustine
  • Ted Cabal, general editor:  The Apologetics Study Bible: Understand Why You Believe (2007)
  • Ted Cabal:  Controversy of the Ages: Why Christians Should Not Divide Over the Age of the Earth (2018)

Episode Transcript

Hello, and thanks for joining in. I’m Jana Harmon, and you’re listening to the Side B Podcast, where we listen to the other side. This is a podcast where we listen to the stories of former atheists who are now Christians, so that we can listen to really both sides of their story. I hope you’ll come along today as we listen to a very interesting one. There’s something inside all of us that longs for freedom, to find our own way, to create our own destiny. Along with that, there’s also something in us that doesn’t like to be told what to do, how to live, where to go, what to think. We want to decide for ourselves, create ourselves, live in our own way, unfettered, without judgment except for our own. There’s a certain freedom in that, in losing authorities in our lives, especially those who dictate some form of morality. There’s something very appealing in casting off institutional or traditional authorities, especially of the cosmic sort. We can find what we’re looking for without God. God is simply an interference to our lives. We would rather pursue life on our own terms, for our own pleasures. After all, we’re rational and intelligent, able to make our own wise choices. But what happens when we take God off the table? A lot of things go with it, including our grounds for human dignity, value, meaning, and purpose. We create sand castles with our lives, only to have the tide wash them away. Nothing lasts. We become like Plato’s Greek hero, Sisyphus, who was condemned to push a boulder up a mountain every day, only to watch it roll back down each night. What happens when our choices don’t lead to the satisfaction we thought we would get? When we find ourselves more alone and lost than ever? The nagging futility and emptiness without God reminds us that perhaps we were made for something more, for someone more than ourselves. That’s Ted’s story, our podcast guest today. And I’m excited to hear him tell it. Ted Cabal is a former atheist, now university professor of philosophy and a strong advocate of the Christian worldview. Welcome to The Side B Podcast, Ted. It’s so great to have you.

Thank you so much for having me, Jana.

As we’re getting started, Ted, why don’t you tell me a bit about who you are, your life now, where you live, a little bit about your academic work, and your books?

Well, thank you again for having me. I pronounce my name Cabal, so I go by Ted Cabal, and I’m married to Cheri, 43 years now. It is truly one of the things that I’ve said through the years, in debates with atheist philosophy professor friends and others that, when I look her in the eyes, she is my greatest evidence that God exists. The kind of incredible person she is and that she would love me the way she has all these years, I just cannot believe there’s this cosmic accident that brought us together, so she, I wish, could be part of this story, but we’ll move on from there. So we have three wonderful sons, adult sons, and eight grandchildren, and truly I never believed that I would live to be 67 and to see my grandchildren. I was diagnosed with a terminal cancer when I was 48 called multiple myeloma, and I’d always been very healthy, and I was given three years to live. It’s like lymphoma or leukemia, in that it’s part of the blood, bone marrow, lymph system lifecycle, and it’s considered incurable. I was told, “Three years, you’re gone,” and after about ten years of really hard core treatments, the disease just kind of went to sleep, and so about 12 years since I’ve had any treatment, and my specialists really don’t think that I need to worry that it’s gonna come back. It’s really remarkable. So I’ve seen a kind of dark night of the soul, and I’ve seen good things, and I don’t feel sorry for myself, but I do believe in the incredible mercy of God, that I’ve lived a life that has seen a lot for just a Texas kid that wanted to be a hippie rock and roll guitar player and ended up teaching philosophy of religion in a Christian seminary. So yeah, here I am at 67. Just moved back to the great state of Texas. I’m teaching apologetics, Christian apologetics, and philosophy of religion at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. I have a real interest in all things related to worldviews and those types of things you’re interested in, Jana, that cause people to believe the way they do. Obviously, my discipline is very much interested in the side of things like science and philosophy and the sorts of things that we think of regarding defenses of Christian faith and interaction with others, but there’s more to being a human being than just our minds, and so I have a keen interest in what I might call the psychology of belief and unbelief as well, because I’ve been on both sides of it, so I’m amazingly healthy in the grace of God at the moment and loving life. My hobbies are all kinds of things, like reading and I like to golf and I like still to play guitar, but nothing beats being with my family, and especially grandkids are an obsession, so yeah. I’m living the dream, and it’s so fun to have, in God’s kindness to me, get to meet people like you, Jana, and to have followed the things that you’ve done over the last few years has been amazing, so to me, this opportunity to just hang out with you and chat like this, I’m just pumped about it, so thank you so much for inviting me.

Wow. Wow, that was fantastic! Thank you so much, Ted. That’s unexpected, but I appreciate it. It sounds like you’ve lived a life—you’ve seen a lot, you’re living the dream, but I must pause and give you applause for the incredible tribute you just paid your wife. That’s quite impressive.

By the way, Jana, get this: I copied Bill Craig early in my debate thing. Before I got cancer, I was sort of like, “Well, you’ve got to learn how to debate atheist philosophy professors and aspire to be William Lane Craig,” and it’s pretty funny. I joke about it with my students and stuff now. So I was doing a lot of that, and there are very few Bill Craigs in the world. Maybe just one, right? And so I was happy with the results in some ways, but it’s amazing when, on kind of almost a moment’s notice one night, I decided I was just going to add in that sort of more touchy feely side of things at the very end, and it’s amazing. All the times I did that, all the people that had been kind of mad at me would applaud, and at least for a moment, be on my side. There’s something about the affective side of human beings and the way we believe and come to want to believe or not to believe that is touched by the way God makes us relational and stuff. So yeah, that’s where that comes from.

Ted, I appreciate your saying that because, in this culture today, a graciousness towards each other is lacking. That’s why I love this podcast, because I really want for people to understand each other by listening, by being gracious, by sitting back and giving someone a chance to speak and to listen to them, so thank you for that. You’ve obviously had a tremendous shift in your life from atheism to Professor of Christianity, Philosophy, and Apologetics, so in order to understand what happened and what shaped your atheistic worldview, take me back to your childhood and tell me about where you lived, the culture around you, your family and your friends. Did they have any religious beliefs? Was there any thought about God in your world as a child?

My parents loved me, and I’m so grateful for me. I didn’t appreciate what a gift it is to come from a home where your parents love you and treat you well. But—and I don’t hold this against them—they grew up, especially my father, in a home where there was abuse, and he himself never really saw anything of Christianity or God or belief that made any sense to him, so he did his best in the way that he raised me and my brother, and my mother had rebelled a little bit against a church background, but she never shared any of that with me or my brother growing up, and so frankly what little we went to church was in a church—and this is fair to say, because it’s the word they would use—theologically, they were liberal. That term in theology doesn’t mean the same, of course, as in political circles. What it refers to is the idea that any aspect of Christianity that could still be helpful today is not necessarily those things that traditionally Christians would consider the core of Christianity. And without getting into a side subject here, for me—and I probably would have felt the same, even if I’d have gone to a more traditionally doctrinal church—it just all seemed irrelevant to me. And I’m sure it was partially because it didn’t seem relevant to my parents. And I’ll tell you a little story that’s interesting: I’ve long been fascinated with the way God works with people through their life, even during their times of unbelief, and of course, the most famous conversion outside of the Bible is Augustine’s, and his telling of his conversion in the Confessions is so amazing because he describes his memory now on the other side of his conversion. In coming to know God personally, he looks back, and in the first person, talks to God about times when he didn’t see that God was still loving him and reaching out to him, and it’s truly a genuine classic I think any person should read, no matter whether they’re interested in Christianity or not. So I look back in much the same way now, Jana. I can see where God was being kind to me in my childhood. I developed interests in sports and in music. I enjoyed family. I had friends who were kind and good. I even remember, one night, having a dream—and this is a little strange and I don’t normally tell this story, but I had gotten so disinterested in church, even in elementary school, that I would sneak out of church and take my younger brother with me across the street to the drugstore. In those days, you’d go in and you’d sit down at a little counter in Arlington, Texas, and order your soda. That’s what they would call it. And I remember one night I had a dream during this period, and I woke up, and I don’t know if it’s God talking to me. I don’t know if I was having a dream. You know, you can describe it and think of it any way you like, but I felt that I was staring at a light shining on the wall in my bed, and I knew immediately God was talking to me, and He just said something to the effect of, “Teddy,” which is what I went by as a kid, spoke to me in a way I perfectly understood, and He just said, “You have quit showing any interest in church, haven’t you?” And I understood that to mean, in my incredibly limited understanding of God, that I had lost any kind of interest in asking questions about God or having my heart open, even at that young age. I had asked my mother, about that time, “Mom, what should we think about the universe? And where does it end? And how old is it? And is there a God?” And it was interesting. Her attitude was, “You know, I don’t know,” and she went on about her housework like it didn’t matter. And so I kind of fell asleep, Jana, spiritually for—I don’t know—a dozen or more years. I was spiritually dead and asleep.

So, even as a child, when you were letting God go, because God didn’t seem to have any relevance to your life, when you were taking on this atheistic identity, did you understand what you were embracing as you were rejecting God and Christianity at that time?

At that very young age, I think I was like most people, and I was following the culture around me. Through my conversations and friendships with a number of atheists through the years, their stories haven’t been that different than mine, and it’s not that different with many other religions and worldviews. So often we simply sort of adapt to what’s around us at our earliest ages and only later do we—in some cases, maybe not most—some cases step back and say, “Is there a good reason for me to continue to believe what I inherited?” So I don’t think I was thinking, “I’m walking away from God.” I don’t think that I suddenly was mad at God. I think I maybe had a little bit of an awareness of some problems in this church we were attending. I think I’d heard stories that the pastor had run off from his wife with a church secretary or something, but largely I think the main sort of focus I had was suddenly me. Just what did I want to do, rather than, “Is there a purpose for my life that I need to seek?” or anything more noble than that. It was really about—the good things in my life became, in effect, my new God, and that, for a long time, was sports and music. And that’s where I found my identity and meaning.

It sounds like you had a full life without God. You had your sports. You had your music. You were going to high school, just making your own way, so I presume you just had no real felt need for God at that time.

Yep. That’s very true. I don’t remember, until high school, so I would say I went from probably fourth or fifth grade until tenth grade or eleventh grade. I don’t remember giving one thought to, “Is there a God?” “What happens when you die?” “Is there a purpose for my life?” “Is there a certain way you should live?” I basically feel like, in retrospect, the main thing I can remember, and when I look at pictures of my life during those years and so on, I was generally happy, especially the further back you go. Yeah, I was happy, and God was good to me. He didn’t punish me because I walked away from Him. He let me continue to enjoy so many things. And it really was like a long deep sleep in which I was dreaming. I was in an unreal world in which the universe orbited around me. And it would only be in high school. By then, I was into the drug culture and the sixties, late sixties hippie scene and this sort of stuff, and a whole lot of the music at the time was antiestablishment, and the ideas coming out were exciting and revolutionary, and some of them were religious. Some of them were Eastern religions. Some of them were anti-religion. Most of them were anti-establishment. And so those ideas were sort of mine, and I remember, in about the tenth, eleventh grade, I did, for reasons that were not well thought out, and I’m not pretending I was an intellectual. I do think my experience wasn’t that unusual from the folks that I talked to. But I definitely became a believer in atheism. I had a religious fervor about it. I essentially would’ve grounded it—if somebody had asked me—that my atheism was grounded in what I understood to be true from science, evolutionary naturalism. I think I understood, whether I’d actually been taught this or not, that the universe was purposeless, that it could be fully explained on the basis of some kind of scientific law. I essentially was what I might call a naive atheist. I mean that as no insult to an atheist. I mean it in that I wasn’t any more reflective about my atheism than I had been about my views of God or anything else prior. And so, just like I think my earlier days and the way I lived had been largely shaped by those forces around me that were available as I aged into my teen years, I think it was peer groups and the ideas of the bigger sort of young person scene that I admired and music and the like, that shaped my worldview during those years. And I frankly made life pretty miserable for at least some of my Christian friends, and Jana, if I could say this: Maybe this is of interest and maybe not, but I have some regrets, thinking back to that period, because I think maybe my biggest… I have a number of regrets actually, but one of my biggest is the fact that my younger brother, who admired me so much. In many ways, I kind of evangelized him toward atheism and toward my lifestyle, and he would go on also to be a professional musician, like I was, but went way further. He became a country/western lead guitarist for George Strait and actually started the band when George first was in college, and they recorded together, and my brother’s life had a number of difficult turns, and he ended up dying in a very unfortunate way in his 40s. So I think about those kinds of things, and I have to tell you, my teen years were really quite unlovely, as the further I went along in them, I hurt people, for which my heart still grieves over. I went to Holland to just simply live as wild a life as I could. I dreamt of being a big name rock guitar player and would jam in nightclubs with some famous people in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and dream that I could be like them and this and that, and the more I had the universe orbiting me, the more dissatisfying I found that life. I literally lived out every kind of pleasure that I could think of that had attracted me while I was in Europe, and I came back just really, really empty. And I’ll just pause here, but I came back from there as a 19-year-old kid. My dad had disowned me, and I’d aged pretty heavily by then. But I really had plumbed the depths of at least the experience of just having nothing but yourself as the center of your world, and so I at least knew by then that wasn’t really going to satisfy me, even if I had no interest in God.

It sounds like you did go on quite a journey. Within that atheistic mindset, I know you said you weren’t particularly thoughtful about the implications or the outworking of your atheism, but you did kind of experience the pursuit of “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” because this life is all there is. But you said you became empty and that you were existentially dissatisfied. Did you connect that sense of dissatisfaction with your atheistic beliefs?

It’s interesting. I wasn’t reflective enough. That’s a very thoughtful question, Jana, because I look back now and I realize that, if you would’ve asked me at the time, I wouldn’t have connected it necessarily to any kind of religion or irreligion or atheism, but what’s interesting is I remember, in Holland, in a little apartment that I rented. It was really just a simple room in an apartment of some other folks. And smoking hashish one day. It was so powerful and opiated that I couldn’t even do anything but lie on the bed all day and watching the sun go by, and I realized, “I’ll die over here, and nobody will know. My Mom loves me, and she’s all the way back in Texas, and nobody will care, and if this is all there is to life, this is pretty bleak,” and it made me want to reform myself, and so I realized that I needed to do better, and so I kind of tried to pull myself up by my own bootstraps. I sort of limited myself to how much drugs and drinking, and I tried to start writing music and sort of better myself. So I came home from there… Even though I had hit bottom, I came home with sort of a renewed hope that I could find a way to make the universe circulate around me in a better way and got in a new band and went to Colorado, and that was really where things turned around for me. This experience there. Here’s a Texas guy where stuff there was amazingly different. It was wonderful. The little story I’m about to tell you, as I look back now, is a big turning point. Maybe some of your listeners will find it pretty humorous, but it was not as uncommon as it might sound back then. As a bunch of young hippie musicians, there was a period where, just for fun, we went—we had this old 1949 school bus that we were living out of, and we had a generator and all this stuff. And in those days, you could go up into the mountains, and these national forest roads were not blocked off as much as they are today, and we drove up into the mountains and parked out there and would practice our music and play frisbee when the snow would melt off, and I mean, it was amazing, and I look back on it, and it was such a happy time, because I was just in a kind of fairybook tale existence just for the short time, but what began to happen was I remember standing outside on one of these mountaintops, looking up, and the starry heavens frightened me. And I wouldn’t have told anybody I believe in God, and I wasn’t even consciously aware that I believed in God. All I knew was that it frightened me because I was intuiting that the order and power and even apparent wisdom, it seeemed to me, of the heavens, it spoke of something or someone I didn’t know. The only way I can put it is it frightened me. And another thing was occurring at that time, is I began to have this very strong awareness of deep moral failure on my part, and if you’d have asked me, I would’ve said I don’t believe in that kind of thing. I don’t believe there are actual and right and wrong ways of doing things. And yet I found myself terribly unhappy and even ashamed of specifically the way I had treated a number of people. Some things which were just heartbreaking to me to reflect upon, and so I began to look into Eastern religions. They were not theistic. They were pantheistic or maybe, in some cases, not even clear enough to know what they were, but they were spiritual, I guess we could say. So it was part of this reforming myself. I became a vegetarian, and I was really trying to be a good person. And I’ll pause with this little note, which sort of shows the lack of consistency in my life at the time. I was so interested in studying these religions that I checked out books from the public library that I had no intention of returning to find out how to be a better person. And only after my conversion did I remember it and make sure I sent them back.

Your morality only went so far during that time.

I guess so. It was still all about me.

Yes. Okay. You were finding this extraordinary beauty and vastness of the heavens, and you considered that there was something more than yourself, but that was a bit scary, so you became attracted to a more pantheistic form of spirituality, where there’s not a personal god but rather this more nebulous, impersonal god that was less frightening.

That’s exactly right. It was less threatening because it was still what I did. It was about me improving myself and that, if I just did the right things, it would lead to better things for me. It was akin to lifting weights or eating right or whatever, getting an education. It was just one more step or stage in self improvement. And of course there’s nothing wrong with self improvement or caring for oneself, and that was just exactly the way I viewed it. It’s just that it really was not satisfying me any more because, in the end, I was longing for something that I was not finding. I was not asking even the right questions. And so that led us—and here’s where the story gets pretty funny, as well as interesting. To me, it was kind of heading toward God’s kindness in pulling me to himself. Our band, in those days, if you wanted marijuana, you didn’t stay in Colorado, you went back to Texas, which, of course, is the opposite it might seem today. And so we were driving back, and our old school bus broke down in Texas, and we were stuck, and I was stuck with a couple of pounds of marijuana in my parents’ house. I was 20 years old by then. They didn’t know I had it there, of course, but waiting to buy music equipment and more marijuana and then our bus would be fixed, and we’d head back to Colorado. And while I was just basically passing the time, I talked to people who had been old friends in the music scene who had become believers in Christ, which—I just was horrified. I made fun of my brother in those days for reading his Bible, even though he didn’t apparently know much what to do with it. These friends who had become believers in Christ, I gave them the most miserable time, and I just told them how stupid they were for believing in the God of the Bible. I didn’t know much about this God, but I knew it was stupid and that they were stupid, and it’s interesting, in that at some point during that time—well, it was certainly out of spite—I decided I was going to read about Jesus Christ, so I could have at least some kind of an informed opinion when I told people they were stupid for believing in Him. I really literally did not know where to read about Him. This is long before there’s any internet or anything, so I asked a Buddhist friend—another musician had become a practicing Buddhist, “How do I read about Jesus?” He knew more than I did. He said, “You have to read a New Testament,” so I asked my mother. “Mom, do you have a New Testament, and she gave me one,” and so I started reading the New Testament to make fun of Jesus. And that’s where the most amazing thing happened, because, being quite a rather unclever 20-year-old—I’m not pretending in the least there was anything intellectually respectable about what I was doing. I was not deeply thinking anything. But God in His great mercy utilized the reading about Jesus Christ to completely awaken me. I had no idea what was happening to me. I did not understand it. I would put it this way, Jana: Many different Christian thinkers through the centuries describe it and analyze it differently, but one thing seems to remain, even for people who are not particularly introspective or intellectually analyzing their faith, and that is that they feel that they come to know God personally, or that the universe, to put it differently, has this incredibly personal dimension which comes alive, this religious experience, and for some people, it transcends a… maybe we could say body of propositional knowledge or something like that, and I experienced that without having a clue. In fact, I had to call people who were Christians and say, “I’m interested in Jesus from reading the Bible. He seems real to me,” and they didn’t know what to do with me because they knew I’d been antagonistic, and the people that knew me who weren’t Christians thought that something bad had happened to me. My Dad, who had disowned me, actually had a conversation, and he said, “Son, a little religion’s good for you. Don’t let it ruin your life, though.” He had finally reconciled himself to the fact that I was going to be this musician, hippie, whatever, and I said, “Dad, I can only tell you that I feel like it’s the first time I’ve ever been alive.” I didn’t know what it was that was happening to me, and it would be years later, of really taking seriously the idea that it isn’t enough just to have an experience in Christ, and if it’s not true, we can be misled, and they may not be veridical experiences, we would say in philosophy, and so I—it would be years later that I would actually do the intellectual side of things and take a look at, “Have I been tricked or deceived?” or whatever. But it was really a remarkable kind of thing that happened, where I literally didn’t understand it, and I did things that some would think are funny or tragic, depending on your viewpoint now, but I just instantly didn’t care about, say, for instance, all that marijuana, which had been one of my favorite things. And I would call friends up and say, “Hey, look. Come on over. I’ll give you this,” so I could tell them, “Hey, I’ve been reading the New Testament and about Jesus,” so you can understand, Jana, that I literally was this big enigma to just everybody around me, including myself. And I’d never been happier. For the first time in my life, I had this incredible awareness that it didn’t matter what I was doing or what I accomplished. I didn’t need to be a musician or have people think highly of me, that I found my deepest fulfillment and contentment in knowing that God loved me and had forgiven me for these really horrible ways that I had treated other people, and that I was, for lack of a better word, I was just right with the universe. And I’m not ashamed to say it at all. To me, it is, in fact, one of the great treasures of the Christian faith that a person need not be an intellectual, and God will stoop to make Himself known to them.

What you just described is so powerful. It sounds so simple in a way. What you found in the Bible was just surprising. The words on the page weren’t just something to disprove or dismiss. Rather, you actually found the person of Jesus. What an amazing thing to consider! The same person you found in the pages of scripture was the same person who had created the beauty of the stars and the heavens you saw in the Colorado Mountains, but more than that, you realized He loved you and forgave you. It’s so beautiful and yet so simple. You found the one who had been looking for you. I’m sure everyone around you was shocked just as much as you were.

Indeed. I had friends who had admired me because I had been around and looked like I was on the upswing in the music world, and I’d had all the fun that they’d never had, who brought me books, trying to explain to me why what had happened to me was some sort of mental breakdown or it could be explained as just a psychological aberration. And I knew that it wasn’t enough just to have this experience. It is enough for many people. And I understand that. Because I experienced God’s love made so real to me, as you described it. That is the way it felt to me, like I said to my dad. But I remember that first week I also prayed a little strange prayer. Some people are made differently. I know you’re this way and many people are, and I think it’s a good thing, whatever our religious or lack thereof views are, that we want truth. And I remember I prayed this strange prayer where I said, “God, you seem more real to me than my next breath, but if I ever find out that You’re not real, I’m not going to continue to pretend like I’m a Christian. Amen.” Or something akin to that. It was a very powerful moment, because I know after I told some other Christians that I had prayed that way, they were horrified because they felt it was a lack of faith or that there was something deficient that this would lead me astray. And I think it was actually the right idea. Even though my friends felt it was a lack of faith on my part, I believed, and still do, that the reality of the Christian faith is that it is indeed true, truth being a description of the state of affairs lining up with correct belief. If I believe that Jesus is real, then I need not pretend that he’s real. I may not know, as many Christians don’t know, how they could validate this powerful experience, and it’s easy to say, “Well, lots of people have religious experiences without them being anywhere compatible with a Christian one,” but in my case, that was important. And I know that’s been this way for you and other Christians who have been called to think about the intellectual side of their faith, so I’m very grateful that, in my experience, that came first. Because I do understand both the psychology of unbelief, at least from my own vantage point, and then also how so many people come to have faith in Christ, where He is so real to them that nobody needs to play the skeptic with, say, for instance, a person in the room, but in this case, as one Christian philosopher put it, if God chooses to make Himself known in a way that is analogous even to our five senses, He can do so. To put it differently, it is as if I were in a room with God, and He just made himself known to me. Not every Christian has this. I did. It was just powerful. Maybe I was that far gone. I needed something like that. But that wasn’t all that was there, and the rest of my adult life has been spent in working and thinking about why it is that I can have confidence that it’s true and those sorts of things, and so that was the beginning for me of a long journey.

I presume that, since you’re a philosopher and a promoter of the Christian worldview, you must have come to see or believe with some degree of confidence that your beliefs were indeed true in the most real and objective of senses.

Yeah. I might put it this way: Several years back, I had a friend I met through a coffee shop. A mutual friend put us together. He was a prominent atheist in Louisville, Kentucky, kind of a local figure that people knew, and was a wonderful man, very kind, good-hearted man. We became friends, and we met once a week for about a year and a half over coffee and would have just as honest a conversation as we knew how about how different our views of reality were. And one of the questions he asked me one day—I don’t know if he thought it might be a gotcha moment or whatever, but he said to me, “If I could demonstrate to you that your belief is false, would you walk away from Christianity?” And I said, “Well, look, please hear what I’m about to say carefully. Many Christians could not say what I’m about to say because they would not understand the meaning of what I’m saying. That is to say they would be confused by your question. It would be akin to what we say in informal fallacies. It’s a complex question. It’s like asking, ‘When did you stop stealing?’ or, ‘When did you quit beating your wife?’ or something. You don’t know how to answer it without feeling incriminated.” But I said, “I would walk away if I were really convinced that it’s false that there is a God or that Christ is who He says He is, et cetera. I wouldn’t pretend.” And then I said, “But you have to understand that I can’t even imagine, after the amazing privilege I’ve had over these decades of studying and looking at all of the options in worldviews and religions. I don’t mean that I’m super smart. I don’t mean that that I’m omniscient. I don’t mean any of the above. I do mean that I’ve done my best to be intellectually honest, and in fact, I think, my friend, you have a far bigger problem than I do. Even though there are certain things I’ve admitted to you in our chats that I don’t have as good an answer for as I would like, I am fully convinced that your answers, they’re so much more empty in comparison to the rich intellectual tradition and evidence and reasons for believing in Christ.” So that’s where I am, Jana. That hasn’t changed, and it’s not changed through the existential, to use that word again, experience of knowing I was going to die at what seemed a pretty young age to me at the time. And facing eternity, and you ask yourself, “Do you really believe that you know God?” or, “Is this it?” and all kinds of questions. I found, in the dark night of my soul, this incredibly amazing sense of God’s kindness to me when I felt horrible, could feel genuinely depressed emotionally. There was something real that transcended all of that. So the Christian believes in a reality that’s multifaceted. It goes beyond just the intellectual or just the emotional, and so on, and what an amazing thing it is, and my, how I just wish so many friends who don’t know that reality could.

Obviously, it’s been a life of blessing and fullness for you in every way. Ted, if there are any curious skeptics who are listening or someone who is seeking or even willing to consider in an open way the Christian worldview or Christianity or this person, Jesus, what would you say to them, if you had a moment to talk with them?

Yeah. I think what I would say is, if you can actually consider the option of investigating with an open mind, not just the intellectual side of things. I’m fully on board with that. I love doing that. That’s been what I’ve been all about, and indeed, I would cherish the opportunity to spend having those kinds of conversations with someone in that position, but I to think there’s a side to this that’s often overlooked, and that is that God loves people more than they give Him credit for, and yes, you can use the problem of evil or your own personal experiences. I get it. I’ve been through some of the personal experiences, where things were black as truly black, but God is the one who is seeking and loves people, and I think I would just suggest that, aside from the intellectual search. Not to put it away, but in addition to, maybe we should say. I would suggest taking a look around and see, “Are there any of these telltale signs that maybe you’re being pursued, that it’s not just you pursuing and looking for God, but has He been looking for you, and maybe you haven’t been letting Him show up in the way – you had a certain way He had to show up.” God might just not do things the way we would expect or want, and I had an atheist I was debating once in a large room with hundreds of people, and one of the things that he said, and happily not all of my atheist friends would say something like this, but he said, “I’ll believe if, right now, God’ll turn this pencil in my hand and turn it into air, and it’ll just disappear.” And I think this misses the point. It’s sort of like Tony Flew, the famous atheist philosopher, said at one point in his life that, even if he saw a marble statue wave at him, he wouldn’t believe it was a miracle. He would prefer to believe that it was simply some sort of quantum mechanic aberration or something. I think that, in fact, this is more honest with our hearts is the way Flew answered it. I think, if an atheist or any kind of person, wherever they are, will actually pause and not make God have to do it their way, but sort of take a look and see what might be all around them and kind of start listening, they might actually find that God has been reaching out to them in ways they would’ve never imagined. And so that would be my prayer. I think you feel the same way, Jana. We’ve come to know the reality of the love of God in Jesus Christ. What an amazing gift it is to know him, and we’d do anything to be able to share that with someone else, and I still feel the same way.

You spoke quite frequently throughout your story of God’s kindness and mercy drawing you to Himself, and that’s something you believe as a reality. And I do, too. And there’s nothing like it. When you feel that the eyes of God are upon you or that the love is so pervasive yet so personal. If you were speaking to the Christian who’s listening and is curious, not only about what might inform atheism but also curious as to how to engage with those who really push back against God and Christians and Christianity, do you have any advice for them?

Yeah. For my atheist friends who might be listening in, you’ll certainly enjoy this, but I want to scold some of my Christian friends, and I’ve been there. I’ve done it, what I’m about to say, and most atheists who’ve been around Christians who want to share their faith with an unbeliever will relate to this, but the worst thing a Christian can do is to quit viewing their unbelieving friend as someone God loves and start viewing them as an object of evangelism or a target whereby you have a duty. You have to do something. It’s picked up by… People can tell if you’re just following through on some sort of obligation instead of loving them and caring about them as a real person, and when I think of another person as someone… God loves them so much than I ever could, just like He loves me more than I ever deserve, I find that helpful, and when I try to understand what they think and that I care about what they think… It’s an amazing thing. When you look in the New Testament, you actually see Jesus Himself willing to converse. He doesn’t just preach when He’s in front of large crowds and teach the crowds, He gets in personal conversations, including with, as has long been noted, people that normally Jewish men would not have had these conversations with, and these conversations are remarkable in the way that He cares about and listens to people, and Paul does the same thing, the great apostle Paul. That has informed me, and I would say to Christians, the first thing you can do is just listen to people and love them. You’re not God. You don’t have to pretend you’re God. You don’t have to say everything. You don’t have to know everything. You’re God’s ambassador. You’re God’s spokesperson. Just let God be God, and you just do what you’re supposed to do. You can’t save anybody. Christ is the one who draws people and makes Himself known to them, so you’re just faithful in trying to share His love and truth through your conversation, but just by simply relaxing and not having to know everything or do all the talking, but let your friend talk about what it is they actually think and believe, and that allows that conversation to be real and meaningful.

That’s such wisdom, Ted. I think that many people are going to connect with your story and possibly be spurred on towards further consideration of the mercy and kindness and love of God. It sounds like a very attractive life to me, one that’s also existentially and intellectually satisfying in every way. I do hope that those who are listening to Ted will give his story and give God a chance, just by being open. Like he says, it’s always good if we listen, not only to each other, but also perhaps listen to God, even be looking for God, because He’s the one who’s always looking for you. Thank you so much, Ted, for coming on and sharing your time and your story with us.

It’s been my pleasure, and indeed, Jana, I am so grateful for the way you care about this issue and you’re investing yourself in trying to reach people. I want our hearers to understand you do what you do, you’ve invested so much of your life in studying the way unbelievers feel and think, the obvious care that you have for people, including even doing these sorts of interviews, when there’s really nothing that you’re getting out of this, other than the satisfaction of knowing that you’re doing your part in showing God’s love to people. I think it’s amazing. So I’m so, so happy that you invited me to do it and really appreciate you. So keep up what you’re doing, and I’ll look forward to watching to see how your book comes out down the road. I think your book is going to be amazing.

Thank you so much, Ted, for that encouragement. I really appreciate it.

Thank you.

Thanks for tuning in to The Side B Podcast to hear Ted’s story today. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. You can find out more about Ted by visiting the episode notes and how you can follow him and also some books that he’s written. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can reach me by email at thesidebpodcast@cslewisinstitute.org. I hope you enjoyed. Subscribe and share this podcast with your friends and social network. In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to seeing you next time, where we’ll be listening to the other side.

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