Matt endured a tragic accident that pushed him away from God. In the years that followed, his natural curiosity and search for purpose led him to reconsider the God of the Bible.
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. Sometimes, people move towards God during disappointing life experiences and times of acute tragedy, but sometimes they move further away. Disappointment and tragedy only serve to fuel doubt and disbelief, giving more reason to push and press against a God who doesn’t seem to exist. Many believe the only reason people run to God is for nothing but an emotional crutch, to find a Sky Daddy who will solve all their problems and soothe all of their pain, and as thinking people, they don’t want to succumb to that kind of weakness or superstition, but this way of thinking reduces belief in God to merely its function, what God or religion can do for us, what purpose it serves in our lives.
This way of thinking also commits a genetic fallacy. While pain may lead someone to God as the door opener, so to speak, it doesn’t ask the real question of whether or not God is substantively true. That is a different question altogether.
In our story today, tragedy did not lead to belief but only further skepticism, but now the one who was a skeptic is a Christian. What was it that changed his mind? How did he move from embittered disbelief to believing not only that God is both true and real but that, as C.S. Lewis says, everything else is thrown in? That’s what we’ll find out. Matt Fincher is our guest today. A former atheist, he will tell his story of how he made his way to God.
Welcome to the Side B Podcast, Matthew. It’s great to have you!
It’s good to be here.
As we’re getting started, Matthew, why don’t you tell me a little bit about who you are, perhaps where you live or what you do?
I’m Matthew Fincher. I live in North Carolina and have so all my life except for about five months, and I work in insurance and have so for about three years.
I know that, at one point, you were an atheist, and that’s where these stories begin, but I want to understand really what shaped those views of atheism, and I know oftentimes it starts way back in your childhood in terms of where you lived and the family and culture that surrounded you. Take me back to when you were a child and talk with me a little bit about your experience of God or not, your family’s beliefs, all of those things.
Okay. I grew up in a family that went to church but I don’t believe to be Christian. We went to church every Sunday. My granddad was a solid figure in that church. He taught Sunday school, but we didn’t really go. We just went to the church service. And up until I was about 13 or so, we went to the same church. My parents got divorced around that age, too, and we went to a different church. However, at either of the ones, they were similar preachers, similar styles of service and everything. They had altar calls every week, and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do except ask for forgiveness. I knew that I was guilty. And so I would go ask for forgiveness, and sometimes it’d be very intense. I’d have a real understanding of how guilty I was and didn’t know what to do except to ask forgiveness, and I thought that as soon as I committed any kind of sin again, that if I didn’t ask for forgiveness before I died, I’d go to hell.
And so that was quite a bit of pressure, especially as you grow up in just a weird culture. I’m pretty sure I was the first generation of people to grow up with cable TV, and it wasn’t really bridled. They put a lot of stuff on there that children my age shouldn’t have seen, even from the age of six or seven or so, and there wasn’t a lot of restraint on any of the stuff culturally, whether it be video games or the movies we watched, but that was the way with me and cable television, video games, and so many things, and I was just influenced so much by the culture that, on the one hand, I knew that I was sinful, and on the other hand, I knew I wanted to get into trouble, whether that be chasing girls or… I started drinking at a very young age.
And all throughout high school, I was presented with this dichotomy. It’s like, “I want to do this, but I know this is wrong,” and when I was in the 10th grade, I met a friend who had moved down from Wisconsin, and his family was Catholic, but he had converted to atheism and was a… He supported Communism. And I listened to his arguments. He was a really bright guy, and in kind of different ways than I was. He was more artistic and linguist, and I was more the math/science type person. And it was a nice blend of skills that we could bring together. He introduced me to punk rock and other things like that that I would never hear of were it not for him.
And he began to make issue with the church, and he’d actually come with me a few times. We’d hang out over the weekends. One person would hang out at one person’s house for either the Friday or Saturday night. And he found my church different from what he’d been to, to say the least, but he started pointing out atrocities in history of the Roman Catholics. And it’s not that you couldn’t do the same thing for so-called evangelicals. It’s just that the Roman Catholics have a longer history, and in some sense, there’s more to point out about the wrongs that they’ve done. I mean we had a Reformation over that. Some of it’s quite well documented.
But when I asked my parents, or my mom at least, about what the difference was between a Roman Catholic and what… I’d tried to find out what denomination we were, and she just said Protestant. I don’t know if she knew. And I asked what the difference was, and she said, “They just have a lot more ritual,” and so I didn’t see any kind of real distinction between Roman Catholics and whatever it is that we were. We went to a Church of God at the time. It wasn’t a denomination.
So the further and further I got ingrained into culture, the more I didn’t want to deal with the sinfulness. I became more and more sinful, but I would still pray. I would still try to read the Bible. I think when I was 17 I read through the end of Deuteronomy, and I got to the part… I think it’s around chapter 28, somewhere around there, where it’s like God tells them that they’re not going to succeed at this, and He’s going to have His hand in it, and I thought, “What am I reading this for? He’s showing them that they’re going to fail.” And then I stopped. And it wasn’t long after that I went to college.
I’d like to go back for just a moment, before you go to college. This friend that you befriended in high school, it sounds like he had a lot of skepticism about the church. How did that affect your view of God and Christianity at that time? Did it cause some skepticism in you? Or doubt to arise in you? Were you able to ask and ask questions or get answers? What was your mindset around that time?
Yeah. That’s good to stop me there. At the time, it was still kind of like… Like you’ve got to be good to get to heaven was the thought, and then that was the prevailing thought going through. Just don’t sin or make sure you ask forgiveness about it. I’d even been baptized when I was around 13 or so. I didn’t even know what it meant. It was just a ritual that you did. So I understood myself to be Christian. I was in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in high school, but so much of it you could see was superficial, and the media’s quick to point out any time some Christian fails at anything, where they can make a public spectacle of it. So combined with the prevailing culture’s attitude toward Christianity and my friend’s skepticism, I couldn’t make sense of how all the things that I wanted, all the bad things I wanted to do, that I got really, really caught up in. That was the main thing I thought about was the next time we were going to go party or I was preparing for it or just… That was really my goal, was just to waste time, for the cleanest phrase I could put forth.
But it did come to mind. I didn’t think that there was any kind of personal understanding of God. I don’t mean to say understanding. Experience of God. I just thought it was the kind of thing where He’s up there and we’re down here, and there’s nothing to connect in between. And those seeds of doubt didn’t take me all the way away, but it certainly did have me something to compare to.
So, in a sense, you had talked about a dichotomy going on with you, in that you were going through the motions, if you will, of Christianity, but yet it was a superficial kind of Christianity, and you had seeds of doubt, whether or not it was even true. It didn’t seem to fit with your desires and your lifestyle, but yet you had a sense of this moral obligation, this sense of guilt when you did things wrong, so even though your Christianity was somewhat superficial or cultural, you still had these very personal feelings of wrongdoing, I guess you could say, and so that was causing some tension in you.
Right. Yeah. Let me just say this. I don’t think I felt guilt when I did the bad things. I think I felt guilt when I went to church. We had to go almost every week.
I see. It was a reminder. It was kind of in your face.
Yeah. So I’d hear the preacher preach, and I was like, “Man, that’s true. That’d be really good, and we really ought to do that,” and agree with it and understand so much of what he would be saying, but when it’d come to applying it to life, as soon as Monday came, it was right back to being the person that I was the other six days of the week.
It was something that you could easily leave behind, so when you went on to college, then, it was probably even easier to leave church behind or Christianity or that Sunday morning reminder of guilt behind.
Right. And not only that, it went from… The culture I grew up in with the people I was around was, and I’ll say Christianized with air quotes, like it was still the Christian ethic, if not even the Christian practices. But the media culture that I was in, whether it be video games, we had the internet by that time, albeit very slow, and television were not. And so that presented differences, too. But once I got to college, and this was in late 2001, the regular church service went away. I didn’t have to go. I didn’t deal with that very much. And then the people that I was around, whether it be people in the dorms or classmates or teachers or wherever else was influencing around, were nothing of the sort. It was secular at best, and so much of it was even anti Christian, although there would be campus preachers that would come because it was a public university, and they would make their plea.
And I think I listened once. This one guy, he would just come and read the Bible out loud, and he would answer questions, but he never really preached. There was one guy who preached fiercely and seemingly enjoyed the agitation that he could stir up within people, and that wasn’t very appealing, but the one guy, he would just read the Bible. Real nice guy. But I listened to him once. He was there two or three times a week, it would seem like I would pass by him, but that was as much as I had to avoid, and the rest of everything else, whether it be media or the rest of the people around were… It wasn’t promoting the faith, and so much of it was antagonistic. I then got into classes, too, that seemingly supported the kind of things that I’d want to hear to get rid of the guilt that I had.
So I didn’t have the regular reminder, and I was studying physics more. You get into science classes, and the evolutionary worldview is assumed rather than questioned. It was to the point where… The things that I did that were wrong, that I knew were wrong, that I felt like I needed to ask forgiveness for, became more prevalent, and the restraint that was pulling me back in that direction was gone, and so it was so much easier to embrace anything that was against that. It was a lot easier to try not to deal with the guilt that I had. I can’t say exactly where because it’s been some time now, but probably around 19, 20 years old or so is when I went into full-on atheism. I didn’t promote it or anything right away, but it was something I think I was coming into. And after that, it just became more easy to do all the immoral things that I wanted to do.
Right. So it gave you a moral license without guilt.
Right. Now, there were other things, too, that… Like I got into some of the culture of it, like the culture of atheism. Just finding out certain facts that made it easy to fend off anybody that might want to argue with me. I’d been good at arguing my whole life. It’s not something you want to naturally be good at, I don’t think. Or most people wouldn’t, but I was, and so I just pieced together a few facts. And some, I would just assert as if they didn’t have to be argued. Evolution was one of them. I wasn’t sure about it. They taught it to us in high school. And so I’d already embraced the evolution of the species, and then I would find out in physics about the expanding universe, and now I think more so that’s something on our side that we can use to defend, rather than something that helps the-
Yeah. The expanding universe confirms the reality of an initial big bang, as it were. A singularity at the beginning of the universe.
Right. Well God also says He stretches out the heavens, so I’d take the expanding universe. I would just presuppose evolution. I would put that the Bible had been translated so many times, so we couldn’t really know whether it was true or not. I mean I sounded like a professional. And the one that got me the best that I would save for last that I thought was my best attack on the faith was, you know, we’ve got 800,000 species of insects, and this shows that Noah put every single thing on the ark in twos, and it was like I don’t think that he really had 1.6 million different little insects there in male and female and then set them all off the ark. Now I’ve got different arguments as opposed to that now and everything, but that would really blow people’s mind when I would start defending myself. So they’d either at least have some chink of skepticism in their armor if they wouldn’t respond. Or maybe they didn’t. They just didn’t want to argue with a hothead like me. I didn’t really take that into account. Or I’d leave justified, but either way, they wouldn’t talk or they would lose the argument. So no one could respond to your intellectual arguments for atheism.
Right. And so I felt all the more rigorous and justified in my own unbelief, or my own belief in atheism. It is a kind of a faith. I didn’t always go out looking to be like that, but… Another thing I could point out too was the inconsistencies in people who named themselves Christian. I didn’t really go out starting fights, but when somebody would use that as a crutch in conversation or just even mention Christianity or Jesus or anything like that, or a belief in God, then it might… I view it now like now triggered, like I would just want to fight back about that and then start tearing down the walls of somebody’s faith. It’s just like so much of what we see now. I just wanted it removed from public discourse. Like, “You can believe this on your own, but I don’t want you talking about it around me kind of thing.”
Right. Right. It wasn’t true. Science had disproved it. It wasn’t good. You’re hypocritical. The atrocities of the church. All of these things. The corruption of the Bible. It’s just that you showed Christianity to be rather weak compared to the strength of your intellectual atheism.
Right. And my theory on the people who were Christians, apart from a within-the-church kind of view, it looked to me… Like, I just examined the ten commandments, and after you get through the first four, it just seemed like something was set up to keep the people in power in power. And some of the Communism had had leaked through made that kind of impression seemingly. “Don’t want my stuff. Don’t take my wife. Don’t steal from me.” I couldn’t make sense of all of it, but that was enough for me to think that there was some kind of motivation to keep people in line. And I didn’t look much further into that. I theorized it, and then I’d heard some other people… Maybe not directly, people in person. I read something or heard something somewhere. That made enough sense to me to keep the belief, and from the personal perspective, it just seemed like, to me, a way to not have to make explanations for things. I was just so enamored with all the wonderful things that I was learning that it seemed to me that if you didn’t want this, what I knew, that I found to be so wonderful, then you were just being lazy. And I can do this now, too, even as a Christian. You find sometimes in life things are so hard to explain that you don’t know what to say. Sometimes we’ll just… We don’t want to push people through their own difficulty. You can see something’s difficult for somebody and say, “Well, I’ll pray for you about that,” or see something so tough, but when I would hear people say, when I was younger, “The Lord works in mysterious ways,” it seemed like such a cop-out. As if… If something favorable to you happens, then, “Oh, the Lord is so good,” and then, if you couldn’t explain or something bad to you happens, it’s like, “Well, the Lord works in mysterious ways,” seemed to be the explanation for all of it. That there wasn’t anything within the bounds that could happen to you that couldn’t be explained by one pithy phrase about how God’s working in this. And that just seemed to be so intellectually lazy that I didn’t want to have that to be the explanation for what I had. Now I couldn’t offer any better explanation for why bad things happen to good people seemingly, but that was a tough one for me.
Matthew, it sounds like you had a lot of things going on. You had become a militant atheist. It seems like you had a lot of contempt for Christianity and God in your life, and I presume that this affected your lifestyle, and I just wondered how your atheism affected the way that you lived.
Right. Well, not only was there the culture in school, the absence of the church kind of being that moral balance to combat, so much of what I wanted to believe… There was an experience I had when I was 20. I had come back from an internship as an engineer and was in school over the summer, and for the Fourth of July holiday I went back to my roommate’s hometown.
I was at a point where I was very low. I didn’t know what to do. I recognized that I had a problem with alcohol and drugs and was starting to see a counselor about it, and his thoughts… And I think he kind of knew, but he just couldn’t say. Some people won’t take certain things, no matter whether they’re true or not, just because they’re so hard to believe. Or they cost too much to believe. And I think that’s what happens with people a lot of times when you try to present Christianity to them. It’s a harder truth than what he was telling me. I went because I was depressed. I just didn’t have a whole lot of hope, whole lot of joy, and this was already by the time I was 20, so this is before any kind of militant atheism. This was just kind of the seedling phase. But I went to this counselor, and he said, “Perhaps it’s that you’re depressed and that you drink and do drugs because of this. Or it could be that these are the things that are causing you to be depressed, and the way we can put a control on this is by having you stop,” so he agreed to have me stop for 45 days, and at the time, I was into alcohol and marijuana and some other drugs, too, but those were the main two. Those were the only two I had any kind of possession of. And so I’d agreed to have one more time with each, and so I finished the marijuana that I had.
And I planned to go back to my roommate’s hometown for the Fourth of July. There was this pretty girl that I had seen there before that wanted to meet me again, and I didn’t want to go back and not be cool by not drinking. And so I was saving that day to drink. But in the 30 days or so leading up to that time, I was having such a good time. I got back into being active and running. I was an athlete all through high school, too. So I think I’d even quit smoking. I still smoked cigarettes then.
So this day comes along, and I’m going back. I never did end up running into the girl, but we also started drinking around noon, and by 5:00, I’m drunk. I didn’t drink for 30 days, and I don’t know how many beers I drank, but it was a lot. More than normal, and I’d lowered my tolerance by not drinking for several days beforehand. And somewhere I began to lose memory. We went to several different places, but I woke up in the hospital, and I was on all kinds of drugs, I’m sure. I later met a doctor of pharmacology that said, “If you go into a coma, even if you would remember anything, they put you on drugs, so that you won’t remember anything.” So I didn’t remember a whole lot about what happened, but I looked down, and my left leg had been amputated. And just knowing how bad off I was, with drugs and alcohol and trying to be cool, I thought… I mean I’d been in so many car wrecks already by then that I was like, “Well, that’s the kind that can happen doing the kind of things that I did.” And didn’t really question too much the fault of the matter, what had went on. It was like, “I mean, I’m sure that something bad happened and that it was my fault. I was the one getting drunk.”
Now, I don’t doubt that something else contributed to it. There may or may not have been any kind of foul play, but from what I can gather, I got hit by a truck going about 75 miles an hour that hit me as a pedestrian. I don’t know if I was standing or lying or sitting or what. I don’t know. And I feel bad for the guy that hit me. I ended up being in the hospital for a month. I had a lot of surgeries, a lot of staples, but I was a pretty cheerful patient. I had family all around. I think so many people were just glad that I lived, and for me, the experience was I went out partying one night, knowing I shouldn’t really do it, and then I woke up in the hospital.
And I had some tough experiences there, the additional surgeries that went on, but to me, it was just like, “How am I going to get back to normal now?” That was more the focus for me. “How do I get up and get moving?” That seemed to me the harder thing than to deal with what actually happened. But, being proud as I was, it seemed like the kind of thing… I was like, “Man, I’ve been through so many wrecks and a bunch of fights and just a bunch of dumb stuff.” It didn’t seem like I could die, and that didn’t fit anywhere into an atheistic worldview. And then there’d be people that would come and visit me that I hardly knew. I mean I kind of know but… They just had been praying for me at different churches from around the community. And I’d hear about that, and I’d dismiss it, and I’d hear about it, and I’d dismiss it, and I’d hear about it, and I’d dismiss it. And it just seemed to me like I was a medical anomaly. That was the easiest way to explain it, than some kind of miracle, like people were exclaiming.
That is, for you, it wasn’t something that you all of a sudden opened up and said, after this tragedy, “Oh, I believe in God, and this was a miracle.”
No, not at all.
You were actually pushing farther away or still-
Yeah. I was like, “I just had good doctors,” is the way I thought about it. And that was so tough for so many people at the time. Not only did they see something they thought to be genuine, this is me putting my thoughts into their head. Nobody’s told me this. But at the same time, I’m like, “Oh, it’s okay,” and just discounting it. Not that I wasn’t a cheerful hospital patient or anything like that. I think so much of it was just shielding the difficulty of all that I know was to come. I mean it was a lot of pain and still is a lot of times, but-
I can’t imagine. Truly can’t imagine.
Yeah, but it’s bearable. And it’s a lot more bearable to know that I contributed to this. We have a tendency, and I say “we.” You may not be included in this “we.” You or anybody that would hear this. To want to be pitiful about a plight in our life. And God’s done good enough for me that the most difficult things that I have to deal with in my life, this being one of them, was that they’re my fault. And so I can’t go to, “Well, look at all the bad things that happened to me.” It’s like, “No, look at the bad I caused myself,” and so I kind of just get to gloss over the whole pitiful part. I can feel sad for a minute, but I’ve got to figure out a better way or just rest until we get the proper thing fixed or the proper remedy of what the situation is, or proper diagnosis.
So it sounds like you became rather convinced of and ingrained in your atheism. So what was next in your journey that perhaps caused you to either push further into atheism or turn towards God?
I’m thinking I’m about 22, 23 when it goes not just into a passive and then occasionally combative to like a militant atheism. At the breath of the opportunity, I would make a point to do it. And it didn’t matter with whom. People I would work with, family members, even my own grandmother. It was terrible. One of them, not both. But one of them, I was just like, “Look, we don’t have any explanation for this,” and she said, “I’m still believing in God. I don’t care what you say,” but that’s just the extreme example. Like why would you do that to your grandmother? I was corrupt.
Just awful. And something that I heard… I wish I could remember the scholar. I can’t remember who it was, but he ended up being converted, but he said he was the kind of atheist, he had to be so smart to be so dumb. God’s fingerprint is on so many things and everything in life, but if you’re so pleased with your own atheism, you have to stop looking at the pieces of the world that have God’s fingerprint on it until you retreat and you retreat and you retreat and the only thing you can kind of be pleased with is your own thought of atheism. And that’s just a sad world to live in. I don’t think I got all the way there, but I got very close. And it was just such a sad existence. It’s just so much complaint, anger, and I just really was not a very happy person at all.
And when you’re a militant atheist, you have nothing to live for but that, and after a while, that becomes so terrible that you try to find some other purpose in life. And I couldn’t find anything to live for. I thought about… And I’m probably not as good of a scientist as I’d like to think, but I thought, “Maybe I can just do that,” maybe I could just go do science somewhere. “Can I really live somewhere out in the woods and just conduct experiments or something, like Tesla or something.” That’s way too proud of me to think that I could do stuff like that, but it was an option I was examining. Another thing we looked at… I was trying to figure out what we could do, like, “Man, things seem so terrible. What could we live to do something worth doing?” And I thought, “Maybe we could try to make humanity more efficient.” I still kind of had the engineering mindset, and I thought that making humanity more efficient, at least… It seems like there’s so much waste, and I think that’s probably still some of the leftovers of dabbling in Communism that brought about, but I wanted to just have humanity be better. And I didn’t even have a good definition of better, but the area of history that my friend had been influenced by so much was the Roman period, and we had come to the conclusion that having one currency, one language, and one government would make things a lot more efficient and cut out a lot of waste. So adjacent to that is the whole scare of 2012, and for those who don’t know or don’t remember, it was the worry that there was going to be some kind of big asteroid to come and hit or just the end of mankind in some kind of way. So I really thought that we were coming to the end, and I wanted to try to make things better before then.
I told my brother about this. So I thought that I can check out and see if the Bible is really true about this, and so I started reading Revelation.
So, Matthew, you started to read the Bible. You started reading Revelation. What were you finding there? Were you finding the answers that you were looking for?
No, not at all. I didn’t find the answers I was looking for, but I did find some answers. It really was like something had gone on that, for some reason, when I picked up the pages of Revelation, I immediately thought, like, “Man, this is true!” I did think that the things that I saw in there seemingly corresponded to what was happening at the time. I don’t think so now so much. The world obviously did not end in 2012. But some of the stuff seemed to fit, but no matter the rest, I continued to read on and just reading that book and went from book to book to book after that of the Bible. Not necessarily in any kind of order or anything. I just… Something happened where I was like, “This is the truth.” It wasn’t any kind of reasoning involved in it, which was weird. It was just as if the internal voice you have, I don’t know. I hear there’s people that don’t have an internal voice when they think. But I do. And I think most of us do. And it was just like, “This is the truth!” And it didn’t make any sense because everything I’d kind of positioned myself in life was antagonistic to it, but I kept reading. And weird things started happening.
The moral arguing is finally what got to me. I just couldn’t grasp that there wasn’t anything that we could that was wrong. I could push out to the thoughts of some of the worst things that could happen to someone or someone else, and I was like, “That’s definitely wrong, and I don’t have any answer for why it’s-
So you started becoming skeptical about your own atheism?
Right. I kind of pushed back into agnosticism. I think I skipped over being there for a long… For probably a year or so after high school, I branched into being agnostic. It was just a cheap way of saying you’re an atheist that doesn’t want to obey anything. Now I’m sorry for any agnostics that I offended. It’s just like, “I don’t want to obey any rules, but I don’t want to say that I know anything.” Or at least that was how it was for me. But then I got pushed back. It’s like, “Maybe I really don’t know,” and then I couldn’t get over the idea of morality. I knew that some things I did were wrong, and I couldn’t explain it. I couldn’t explain having a conscience. And that was a thing I tried so hard to explain away, and I couldn’t do it.
So I started praying. I remember… It’s just so weird. God answered some prayers when I was 17, and there’s no way it couldn’t have been an answer to prayer because the exact opposite of the thing happened the day before and then the thing that I was praying for kind of just turned itself upside down the next day. And I don’t know why I could avoid that happening. Why I couldn’t keep that out of my memory, but it came back to me around this same time. It’s like, “Man, I used to pray when I was younger, and I used to get prayers answered. I should start praying again.” But I was praying to anything but the Christian God, with all His rules and all His bad history. So I started praying to just weird stuff, the sun, the moon, the stars, all manner of idolatry, but I kept praying, just kept praying for God to show itself or Himself to me and had run out of ways to try to pray to something that I could make up.
Around this time, things had just got so bad in my life. I wasn’t fully employable. And this is the end of 2008. I didn’t pick the Bible back up for some time, right after that, but I did continue on praying, and it was so weird, I’d begun again to try to stop drinking and stop doing drugs. I knew I was going to have to get some kind of different job. I was trying to move back to my hometown. And this was at the height of the previous recession, when nobody knew whether we were going to make it out of it or whether we’d be able to have jobs. I ended up moving, not in with my parents but into an apartment somehow, and… Before all this happened, I was going into my morning routine, and I’d already come to understand the Bible as true. I wasn’t reading it still, but I was still praying. I still didn’t want to believe that the God of the Bible was the one that was making the truth the truth. But the conclusion came to me… It’s like when you read about the prodigal in Luke 15. It said he came to himself. That is exactly what happened to me. I came to myself in understanding that everything I wanted was a sin. All I wanted to do was to drink and do drugs and chase skirts and just do a bunch of other bad things. And so I came to the realization, like, “Everything I want’s a sin. All I ever want to do is sin.”
And I just fell down weeping, and I said, “I’ll do whatever You want. I knew it was God there with me at that time.” It was so weird. And I started throwing out CDs that I knew I shouldn’t have and books. I had all kind of manner of terrible books. Music I shouldn’t be listening to. And within a month, I’d moved home to that apartment and started going to church. My dad would take me to church. In the same way that, when I read the Bible, I knew it to be the truth this time around, it’s as if what the preacher was telling me was the truth. It’s like, “Well, why doesn’t somebody tell people that these guys are telling the truth?” I couldn’t understand. This really was the whole change of things. It really was like being a new person.
Like you had new eyes to see or ears to hear.
And ears to hear, yeah. And I just continued on going to church ever since. It was just such a weird experience of it. I picked up and read more and more of the Bible. I was reading other materials along with it. And just really soaking up the faith. It was just such a good thing.
So how has your life changed? Obviously, again, it looked like you had a new perspective on life and living, and I presume that it really affected your life. As an atheist, you spoke of anger. You spoke of depression. And those kinds of things. How was your life affected after you became a Christian?
I had a morality to adhere to. I had some kind of purpose, what I lacked before. And life had meaning. So much, even my goals and stuff changed. Immediately, I wanted to be a part of a family and have a wife and children… Just so much of what society sits upon. I wanted to be a part of that. I became so normal.
I just enjoyed my idea of being a radical for so long, and then when I became a Christian, it was like, “Man, this is really normal.” But it was still… I think it would be boring [UNKNOWN 46:30] the thought on becoming a Christian. It just seemed like, “Man, it’s just got to be so boring! You don’t get to do any of the wild, fun stuff I like to do.” But it’s been so much more wild being a Christian. I’ve been on a lot more adventures, however small or large, since then. It seems like it happens all the time, just even everyday events can be like that.
So much of what we see now… Those who would oppose Christianity want so many of the same things that we have, just in a different way. I had a community to be a part of. It’s like a network of something that was other than just a bunch of bad people that were tripping over their own feet metaphorically in life all the time. And I had something to which to progress. Just trying to be like Christ is such a hard thing sometimes.
But it’s in a different way, I presume than the Christianity you knew as a child, where you had to be good. This is a different kind of thing, to be like Christ. You have so much good to say. I wish we had more time in the podcast to do that. So, Matthew, it sounds like your life has changed dramatically, and you were just speaking a moment ago about those who opposed Christianity, or those nonbelievers who sometimes actually are looking for similar things but in a different way or in a different direction. If you were able to speak to the skeptic or the curious nonbeliever, what would you say to them?
Oh, I’d say I’d really examine the motivations that you have for your atheism. Is it really the evidence is really that you want to produce your own ethic? That’s what I find with me and with so many of the atheists that I run into or encounter who’ve come from atheism in the same way. “If this were true, then this would cost me this,” really is the hindrance to come into the faith, rather than, “These other arguments are so convincing,” and some of them very well may be as far as the scientific arguments against the faith if you don’t have the counter to them. But what I would do is to examine your motivations for this. Are they really scientific or are they ethical?
And then to find out for yourself about this. I would recommend reading the Bible and just trying to understand more about what the gospel is. The term is used so much in Christian culture it’s almost lost any effect, but it really is the good news that we live in a fallen world, where sin has corrupted everything. Everything that was to be good is now not as good. And some of the things are not even good the all. And to remedy that, to show how loving God is, He sent His Son to die. He lived a perfect life. He rose from the dead, and it’s really just believing that that brings us into this family, to His family where we’re redeemed, where we can see that this church, this bride of His, is really the whole purpose for creation. So often it’s, “Why did God make the world? Why did God not make the world perfect?” God could have made a perfect world and did. And then it’s better for people to have the choice to live in it with freedom or not, and so He did so, and in their choice, they corrupted it. And yet, in His great love, he chose to redeem it. We could have just been like the angels and got the justice we deserved, but to show loving He is, He’s redeemed us, and one of the ways you can hear that is by hearing this gospel. This news is that you don’t have to face Him on your own account. You don’t have to deal with your own ethical problems. They can be resolved by faith in Jesus and faith that He’s come, that he’s overcome the power of death, and that it can be for you, too.
Also, if you could find a church that believes the Bible, I would participate in it. The way that people come to understand this is just by hearing the word of God, and it really is something supernatural that occurs. You want to think that it’s just a deduction and reasoning, but it really is something beyond what we would think that really happens. It really is a change of heart, a change from stone to flesh.
And then, I know there’s got to be, into the spectrum of ethics in atheism, too. Don’t be like I was. You’ll so much regret it if you really do try to unconvert people from Christianity. Whether or not you come to the faith. It’s such a hard way to live, and if you find something in this world to delight in, I’d hope it would be the Lord. If not, let it not be atheism.
That’s wonderful, Matthew. How about some advice to Christians who perhaps don’t understand those who push away from God or want to engage with atheists. What advice would you have for them?
Okay, I would pick up a book from Paul David Tripp. It’s on counseling, but I apply it directly to evangelism, too. It’s called Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. It talks about, when you’re trying to tell people difficult things, so often they’re not going to listen to you unless you get to know them. Although we encounter people here and there that we’re only going to see once, but in those instances, try to pray that the Lord would open up a door for the gospel. In a sense where it’s somebody you know, then try to get to know them and try to let them get to know that you love them, that you care about them, in whatever way that you can. It’s so much easier to hear hard truths from somebody that you know loves you than somebody that doesn’t. And then only after that do I try to help people to understand the gospel and just hope that the Lord opens up the door for it.
And then, too, I know we’re on a podcast about people being converted from atheism, but in a sense of what we do in apologetics, the stuff that I subscribe to, or at least the school of which is presuppositional, and that’s a longer word than it should be, but I really do think that presupposing that people are hostile to the truth and that really the only thing that’s going to help them out is either seeing the truth through the Bible or having their ears opened up is what’s going to happen. But at the same time too, we should have an answer for the hope that’s in us, and if it’s just telling, “This is what happened to me,” that’s perfectly fine. But just expect, at points in times, that you’re going to fail. You’re going to be too scared. You’re going to have the fear of man. But that doesn’t mean it has to be the end. We can keep going to let the world know that we really do have the truth and we really do have the message of redemption that the world needs.
That’s really good advice all the way around. Well, thank you, Matthew, for being part of the Side B Podcast. It’s an extraordinary story. It has so much in it in terms of the reasons why you pushed back against God intellectually, emotionally, morally, experientially. So many ways in your life that you were pushing back against God, but I guess He was not pushing back against you. That somehow, through God, your eyes were opened, and you found the love and care of God, the truth of God through His word, and that your life has been completely transformed. What a beautiful story, and thank you so much for coming on to share it.
It’s been a pleasure for me, too. Being asked about this, it’s like I do want to be able to do what is expected of us in Romans, to confess with our mouth, as I do believe in my heart.
Thanks for joining me today on the Side B Podcast to hear Matthew’s story. You can follow him on Instagram at @PatrickHenry007. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, subscribe and share this new 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.