I decided to share this, since I had to write this down for Bible college applications, etc. I consider this an exercise in vulnerability, because these are not things I would normally share–with anybody.
I have always known about Jesus; you could say I “grew up” with Him. Ever since I can remember, my parents would read to me and my siblings from the Bible; and every single Sunday, me and my family would attend church together. I was submerged into anything pertaining to God and the Bible.
Though my childhood surroundings were “ideal”, and I would have been considered a “good” child, my attitude toward God was hardened and prideful from a young age. And, even from the time I was old enough to process what I was being taught, I doubted whether or not it was true. I never had that youthful awe of God or the innocence that ensues child-like faith. I constantly, inwardly, questioned God’s authority and holiness. Honestly, I could have cared less about God. I was a passive rebel.
This was all the same up until I was about seven or eight. As fear always stimulates some sort of response or action, it moved me to “get right with God”. Selfishness drove me to cry out to Him. I was committed to not end up in hell, so I began to recite the “sinner’s prayer” every time I didn’t feel that I was saved, which I never really did. Each new time, I would try to make it more sincere, more legit. I even tried shedding few tears to make God think that I was “sorry” for what I had done; but that was the irony of it all: I didn’t even believe I had done anything against God—that I had done anything wrong. I didn’t believe I deserved hell, despite what I knew the Bible says about human depravity.
On top of this, I was a very “dark” thinker—very pessimistic, very fearful, and very untrusting. I entertained suicidal thoughts, and I questioned my life. Nighttime was my enemy.In those hours, it seemed as if my fears grew faces and claws; myself, hell, and death being the biggest monsters. I would have nightmares, and one particular one that reoccurred over and over again. I cannot explain it any way, but that it was as if I was eternally falling. I understood it as a nightmare of hell.
I kept this all to myself, never telling my parents or anyone else. I was too ashamed to tell them my doubts and fears because I was afraid they would judge me. I didn’t want them to see me cry about “serious stuff”. I had a reputation for being confident, tough, strong, etc., so no one really knew how sensitive I was. I locked my emotions away for nobody to see. I just pretended to be a carefree kid and let this all brood. There were many nights with a tear stained pillow as I relieved what I had held back during the day. This was all the same up until I was a young teen.
Around the time when I was sixteen, I felt that I had finally said the “sinner’s prayer” the right way, and God now had accepted me. Confident that I had figured it out, I was motivated to be baptized along with a group of young adults from our church. I thought that it was going to “seal the deal”. This desire was primarily works based, as was the entirety of my interaction with God up to this point. In reality, I was a lost sheep practicing religion. I bogged myself down with trying to be good enough in order to appease God’s anger. My skewed view of God caused me to worship a very unloving and vindictive idol of my making. But, graciously, God did not leave me believing a lie. Instead, everything I thought I knew about God was to be challenged, and the true God, Himself, was to tare down my idol and reveal who He truly is. This was done through one of the most beautiful, yet painful, times in my life. This journey began with my childhood doubts returning, yet with more severity.
It started one afternoon as I was sitting on my bed reading a devotional. The author was writing about how, through many proofs of Scripture and creation, there was concrete evidence for God’s existence. I finished the lesson and set the book aside, pausing for a brief moment of reflection. Then, suddenly, through passing thought, the question, “What if God doesn’t exists?” came to me. I tried to ignore this seed of doubt, but it would not go away. As I have already mentioned, I had always been confronted with these doubts, but this time I could not suppress them like I had previously done. I was hit with the reality of it all—that I was alive and had nothing to account for it, besides the the bible answers I had been taught growing up. Then again, did I identify with Christianity just because it was what my parents believed and taught me? Generally, people born into other religions believe what their parents believe, too. Being a realist, Christianity was either right or wrong. If Christianity was true, then I was in trouble, for I couldn’t make myself believe something fully unless I knew it—with my whole heart—to be true. I could not live a lie. On the other hand, If Christianity wasn’t true, I had no hope. I had nothing to live or die for, for I knew what atheism and the other religions offered.
Life suddenly became very dismal, and I fell into the darkest despair I had ever experienced. The abyss would be an appropriate word for it. The only way I can describe it, though not a reality in itself, is that I felt the absence of God. I felt completely and utterly alone.
I believe my agnosticism drove me into despair because it caused me to feel hopeless. It was tormenting not knowing what was actually true. I could not take the risk of going through life without knowing, so, here, I set my face to search with everything in me to find the answer. And while I was questions everything about Christianity and the existence of a god, I was, ironically, looking for proof that it was true. See, deep down inside, though I was very much agnostic, I knew there was a god. Yet, my trouble was not with believing in a god so much as it was with Christ, Himself. So, naturally, my search began with devouring testimonies from Christian converts, and missionary biographies. I wanted proof from witnesses I could relate to. Strangely enough, though, I bypassed the one book that claimed to be the very words of God. I was afraid to read it because I thought it would condemn me and “distort my logical thinking”. None the less, during this time of searching, I prayed a lot. Simple prayers, such as, “God, don’t leave me alone,” or “Don’t let me go to hell.” Prayers such as these were the only comfort I had. I thought that if the God of the Bible was real, then He would hear my cry, and maybe He would be merciful.
Still, my heart toward God did not change overnight. It took a span of about a year till I was fully reconciled. One of the turning points during this process was reading about devout Muslims who had radical encounters with Jesus. These were amazing stories about people that hated Jesus and then were completely changed by Him. These testimonies enthralled me, but I was still skeptical. Soon after, God began to bring people into my life who had similar stories. Though they did not have a clue what I was going through, they would suddenly begin openly sharing. My heart was softening. It seemed now that Jesus was starring me in the face, showing me His hands and side, saying, “Don’t disbelieve, but believe.”
Finally, one night I sat down on my bed and decide to read the Gospel of John, though I was still hesitant about reading the Bible. While I read, and for the first time, Jesus’ words and promises were alive and real. It consumed me so much that I read the entire book. By the time I had finished, I had been reduced to tears. I believe they were tears of relief. I was so mentally exhausted from trying to believe, and so spent from emotional anguish, that I was thankful to find rest at His feet. He was humble and kind (Matthew 11:28-29); so very much unlike the cruel, vindictive god I had created in my mind. I knew he was the truth; I knew He had saved me. There was no “sinner’s prayer”; only a cry for mercy, which He so graciously answered.
Not long after that, I was baptized with my church family present. Though still weak in faith, I began to see God change my heart further. I learned that I was forgiven not for what I tried my best to do, but by what Christ had done perfectly for me. I learned that Christ is my all; my everything. My righteousness, my Redeemer, my hope, my Friend. In Christ I am complete, and God sees me as such (“And in Christ you have been brought to fullness…” Colossians 2:10 ESV). I also learned to believe that God loves me, and that I didn’t have to earn His love (“But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 ESV). Through this, I was surprised that I began to have a desire for God. I found love for Him instead of prideful questioning. I wanted, now, to serve God with my life, because life finally had meaning; something worth living and dying for. This is where I am now; still with questions unanswered, but finally alive. Though alive, endlessly learning how to die, which is the hardest part and very messy.
Looking back on the treacherous waters that my Jesus took me through, I see where He has brought me from. He has taken me from the darkest depths of the ocean and carried me to Calvary’s hill. From this hill I see how His sovereign hand has been at work in my life; how He has always been there, and how He drew me to Himself in the most beautiful way. He chased me down and healed my wound, but left the scar to remain in remembrance of His great love and mercy.
It is also hard looking back, because recalling all this brings back a certain tinge of pain and shame. Honestly, I didn’t really want to write this and let people read this for that reason. But even though I feel shame in my story, I can stand before the King shameless because of the eternal hope that I have in Christ. These verses accurately describe that hope: “Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed upon Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6-11 ESV)
I have hope because of His obedience. I have hope because, on the cross, He took my due penalty; He took my shame. He took the Father’s rejection and righteous wrath that was due me. And His resurrection seals my hope, for He conquered death; made a spectacle of it. Romans 6:8-10 (ESV) expresses this beautifully: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we also live with Him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die gain; death no longer has mastery over Him. The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God.” And because of this, eternity with Him is mine. His death is my life—life eternal.
Numbers 23:19 (ESV) “God is not a man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it?” He has not lied; His promises are true. Now I can say with confidence, “Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him! How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er.