I was saved at a young age. I was somewhere between the ages of eight and ten, and I was spending the night at the home of my cousins, who were raised in a southern Baptist household. After that I went to church a few Sundays, and then I just. . . stopped. My parents weren’t horribly interested in taking me, although I really don’t think they are responsible for my lack of faith. If anything, I think that it was just a simple matter of age – I was too young for salvation to have any real impact to me. I was still effectively immortal, right? I could sort out my soul later.
When I got a little older, my excuse evolved. I became a skeptic. My step-father at the time helped me along in that. He was an intelligent (if slightly emotionally unbalanced) guy, and he thought he was doing me a favor when he used his more experienced logical mind to prove to me why faith in God (especially Jesus) made no sense. Under his tutelage, I became a fervent anti-Christian – and by the time I entered high school, I was good at it. My step-father had taught me to find the inconsistencies within peoples’ arguments and exploit them, but he’d also taught me the joy of defeating an opponent with my mind. I entered into religious debates with believers, and I had a pretty high success rate – if you can call logically wiping the floor with people who believed in Jesus Christ a success (which, at the time, I did).
You can imagine my surprise when, a couple of months ago, I found myself attending church, engaging in fellowship, and believing in the story of Christ. After all those years of being a neo-pagan, or a Buddhist, or a deist, or whatever else I called myself when I was doing my best to not be Christian, I was almost embarrassed to find myself “saved” again. (I’m still not sure how I feel about that term.)
At least I know I’m not the first in this position – after all, maybe I can I find some parallels in the story of Saul/Paul, who went from being the “Shaft” of Christian-hunting badasses to being the “Shaft” of church-making badasses.
Now, I never thought that I would be exactly like Paul. Paul was an educated Jew, the son of Pharisees, and he sited his credentials several times when making his case for Jesus. My own resume is far less impressive, but still, I figured that going from fervently anti-Christian to fervently Christian would make my message more impactful to other skeptics. I thought that I would be able to use my credentials as a logical man, the step-son of an atheist, to engage skeptics, agnostics, and atheists in terms they would understand. In a way, I saw myself as that guy from the movie Underworld, the guy who looks like Scott Stapp.
For those of you who have resisted the seductive siren’s call of Underworld, I’ll give a brief set-up. The Underworld setting focuses on vampires and werewolves, two ancient races who have been at war for at least fifteen minutes of expository scene-setting. One man, who vaguely resembles the lead singer for “Creed”, is born to be a werewolf – and when the time is right, he will turn into one. However, in the course of the movie, he is bitten and turned into a vampire. “What?” you say, “a werewolf and a vampire at the same time?” That’s basically the point of his character – by becoming a juxtaposition of two diametric opposites, he gains superpowers that aren’t exhibited by either vampires or werewolves. He becomes something new.
That’s what I thought I would be – something new, a die-hard skeptic turned into a believer. Surely, then, I had within me the secret words needed to make atheists realize the truth of a loving, personally-invested God. I figured that if I could be convinced, anyone could be convinced. So I tried. I engaged people who seemed skeptical, and I said things like, “You know, I used to be the biggest skeptic you could meet.” I tried to build in their minds an accurate picture of myself, pre-Christ, as a person who didn’t believe the sky was blue unless he could look out the window. They listened for a moment, then their eyes glazed over and they changed the subject. I tried it a few times, with the same results. And you know what I learned?
I am nothing new.
Nobody was impressed by my “used to be a non-believer” pitch because they’d heard that pitch before. Hell, I had heard it dozens of times before I really engaged God. I just assumed that the people who were telling me that were not really skeptics in the first place. At least, they weren’t good skeptics. After all, they’d been roped into the most ridiculous major religion in the world. How skeptical could they have been, am I right? Now it appears, in hindsight, that some of those people I disregarded had been die-hard skeptics before they found Jesus. Or at least, they could have been. I had no way of knowing, as I never really attempted to know those people. I didn’t ask them for examples of how atheist they were – never asked them to rate their non-belief on a scale of one to ten, with one being the most naïve child in the world and with ten being Penn Jillette.
(No offense to Penn Jillette, by the way. I love that guy.)
This realization, while humbling, is also uplifting. I don’t have any super powers when it comes to turning skeptics into believers. God, however, has all the super powers anyone could need to make others see the light. He’s like Superman, if Superman were also the creator of the entirety of time and space.
Instead of being all that much like Paul, I’m just a believer who started out as a non-believer. Perhaps, in a way, I belong in a spiritual family of converts, with Paul as our most famous progenitor. And I can look to Paul for inspiration, as I attempt to help people realize the truth about God. He faced endless persecution (was the dude ever not in jail?) and I imagine at times he felt just as powerless to tell people the truth as I feel. And yet, nobody can deny his mission was a success. Paul was a rock-star of the early church, a celebrity bad-boy who constantly offended “the Man” while turning the hearts of his jailors to God. I should be so skilled as Paul. As I try myself to tell people the good news, it’s enough to remember that while I could never fill Paul’s shoes, at least I can follow in his footsteps.