Of all the lessons that I present concerning the existence of God and of all the material that I try to make available to people to learn about God's existence, the present lesson, "Why I Left Atheism," is the lesson in the series that I frankly do not like to present. I guess none of us like to look back in our lives to a time when we made poor judgments and foolish mistakes--when we took rather really idiotic positions--and admit this, especially to people we are not well acquainted with. I present this lesson, however, because it is my fervent hope and prayer that perhaps by exposing my mistakes and by pointing out the things that were a part of my early life, some who might be following the same paths (to a greater or lesser extent) might not make those same mistakes. Someone once said that nobody is totally useless; if we cannot do anything else, we can at least serve as a bad example. That is sort of my situation. I am hoping that by presenting these materials and telling you something about my early life, some of you may be able to recognize the lack of wisdom and perhaps the poor judgment that is involved in rejecting God and living a life that demonstrates such a rejection.
Most of the time when I speak to religious groups or to people who believe in God, someone will ask me somewhat incredulously, "Well, were you really an atheist? Did you really not believe in God?" I want to start by asserting that the answer to that question is a very affirmative "Yes." At one time in my life, I was totally and firmly convicted that there was no such thing as God and that anybody who believed in God was silly, superstitious, ignorant, and had simply not looked at the evidence. I felt that believers in God were uneducated and were just following traditions, superstitions, and things that really made no sense to a person who was aware of what was going on around them. Of course, that kind of life and conviction led me to do and say things and to be something that was really very unpleasant. I lived a life that was immoral and which reflected a lack of belief in God. I lived in a way that was very self-centered and that satisfied my own pleasures and desires regardless of whether or not other people were hurt in the process of what I was doing. In the process of doing this, I did a lot of things that affected me through my whole life. It is because of this that I present these materials hoping that perhaps some of you will not make the mistakes and suffer the consequences that I have suffered. I cannot clearly remember all of the events that took place or the proper sequence of events because I was not taking notes. I never expected that I would be trying to recall these things, much less tell someone else about them. Still, I can recall in a general way much of what happened, and I am very sure of the concepts. The concepts are what will be most useful to you.
I guess the reason that I was an atheist is the same reason that many of you are believers in God if you are. That was because I had been indoctrinated in that particular persuasion. My background, the variables that were exposed to me as a child, led me very strongly in that direction. Just as many of you believe in God because your parents believe in God and because they instilled this belief in you, I also questioned, challenged, and rejected God because that was the kind of indoctrination that I received as a child. I can remember my mother saying to me as a child something like, "Do you really believe there is an old man, floating around in the sky, blasting things into existence here upon the earth? Do you really believe that crummy looking structure on the corner could be something beautiful called 'the church?' Do you really believe that there is a hole in the ground that I am going to be thrown into and burned eternally if I do not live just the way some preacher thinks I ought to?" Of course, I could not conceive of these things as a child and did not know enough to realize they are not what the Bible teaches. Consequently, I came to believe that anybody who believed in God was just silly, superstitious, ignorant, and unlearned. You may wonder how it would be possible for a person coming out of this type of background and kind of learning situation to become a strong believer in God today, devoting his life to trying to help people to understand that there is a God in heaven and that the Bible is His literal and verbally inspired Word. It is the purpose of this booklet to try and point out at least some of the things that entered into my acceptance of God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible as God's Word.
My high school career was one in which I grew quite rapidly academically. I enjoyed science and decided that I wanted to be a scientist of some kind. I entered Indiana University majoring in the field of physical science. It was actually at this point that one of the great changes that occurred in my life took place. I enrolled in a course in astronomy at the feet of one of the great astronomers of our day. In that particular course, we were studying the problem of origins--the creation of matter from nothing. As we discussed this particular subject, we went into all those theories that are in that particular material. We talked about the big-bang theory, the quasistatal theory, the continuous generation theory, the planetessimal theory, etc.
When we got to the conclusion of that discussion, I asked the professor which of the particular theories was the one that is most acceptable and that satisfactorily explains the creation of matter from nothing. He leaned over the desk and looked me straight in the eye and said, "Young man, you need to learn to ask intelligent questions." That rather upset me. I did not appreciate that and I said, "Well, what do you mean?" He said, "This is not a question that a scientist tries to answer. This is a question for the philosopher or theologian, but this is not something that falls into the realm of science." In today's discussions of black holes and parallel universes, things have not changed. The basic question of the creation of matter/energy from absolutely nothing is not an area that can be scientifically explored. I was very disturbed by that answer. I had always felt that science could ultimately answer all the questions that man had--that there was nothing that science could not eventually take care of as far as what man might challenge and want to know about. Yet this learned man, an expert in his field, said that this was an area that the scientist should not even try to answer--that it was totally beyond the capacity of science to explain and explore.
Not too long after that, I enrolled in a course in biology at the feet of one of the great primitive life scientists in the country. As we discussed the initial beginning of life upon the earth in that class, we talked about the synthesis of various primitive chemical materials such as deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). As we discussed this, I once again asked a question related to the one that I had asked previously. I asked this professor what the process was by which the original life--the original living cells upon the earth--came into existence. How did the structure or generation of DNA occur? Once again, this man said, "Young man, that is not a question that falls within the realm of science." In today's world we understand more about biochemical processes, but we cannot answer how in the environment of the primitive earth these processes came into operation. I guess what was happening to me was the same thing that Lord Kelvin, a very famous British scientist, described in his writings when he made the statement, "If you study science deep enough and long enough it will force you to believe in God." That is what happened to me. I began to realize that science had its limitations--that science, in fact, strongly pointed to other explanations than natural ones to certain questions.
It was about this time when another thing happened in my life and that was that a woman entered it. A lot of things begin with women (some things end with them, too). In this particular case, this young lady was by all means the most bull-headed, stubborn, cast-iron willed individual I had ever met in all my life. I can make those statements because some six years later I married her. This was the first girl I ever met that I felt I could respect. Sometimes you will hear preachers, who know absolutely nothing about what they are talking about from the role of experience, make statements such as, "If you hold on to your virtues and maintain your moral standards, a man will respect you more." Let me tell you, as one who has lived on the other side of the fence and has thought as one who is alienated from how God thinks, that statement is true. I will guarantee you that I never thought seriously about marrying anyone until I met this girl whom I could respect--who really stood for something. Not only did she stand for something morally, she believed in God and read her Bible. Though she could not answer all my questions, she kept going back to the Bible. I also learned quickly not to let her know what I was really like morally. I knew if she really knew that, she would have nothing to do with me. I did not seem to be able to break her faith as I had been able to do with other people and the thing that happened was that as a result of her stubbornness and refusal to reject the Bible, she forced me to read the Bible.
I read the Bible through from cover to cover four times during my sophomore year in college for the explicit purpose of finding scientific contradictions in it. By that, I mean statements in the Bible that were false that I could throw back at her to show her how ridiculous it was to believe in God. I had even decided to write a book called All the Stupidity of the Bible. Something amazing happened as I did this. As I considered and thought about these things, I found that I could not find a contradiction--to find some kind of scientific inaccuracy in the Bible. I just simply was not able to do it. I gave up writing the book because of lack of material! It is amazing to me that as I talk to people, I find many who claim to be Christians and who perhaps claim to have been Christians for many years who have not read the Bible through cover to cover once. I find it hard to believe that they believe in God very much if they do not even want to know what He has to say.
As I read the Bible through again and again, I began to realize that not all of the things I had been told about God and religion were what the Bible said. They may have been what organized religion said or what some men taught, but not what the Bible itself said. For example, the Bible did not say that God was an old man floating around in the sky, blasting things into existence here upon the earth. The Bible said, "God is a spirit:..." (John 4:24) and that God is not flesh and blood. Jesus made the statement, "...for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 16:17). There are many people today who do not understand this. A Russian astronaut once made the statement, "See, I told you there was no God; I didn't see him when I was in orbit." The question might be, "What was he looking for?" I began to recognize that God was not an old man in the sky. I had an anthropology professor who made the statement in all dead seriousness, "We all know what God is; He is an old man with a long white beard and big flowing robes." I am sure that this was his concept of "God." I began to recognize that this was not the biblical concept of God.
I began to recognize that the Christian life was not an altruistic life. I had been told by several people as a child that if you ever become a Christian, you cannot ever be happy, you cannot ever own anything, and you have to walk around with a long sad face and your chin dragging on the ground. Yet when I read the Bible, I read statements like, "So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it,..." (Ephesians 5:28-29). I read about the Ethiopian eunuch who went on his way rejoicing because he had found Jesus Christ and the happiness that went with that acceptance of Jesus in his life. I have had many problems come into my life, but all I have to do is to look back at how miserable life was without Christ and I can realize that life, as it is now with Jesus, is beautiful in comparison.
I began to recognize that the Church was not a building. I can remember that when we lived in Alabama, there was a meeting place of some religious group just down the street from us. My mother used to point to that as we drove or walked by and say, "Look at that. How could anybody believe in God when the Church looks like that." I realized that the Bible did not teach that the Church is such a structure. First Corinthians 3:16 makes the statement, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God...." As an atheist, I recognized that you could meet on the moon, in a submarine, out in the desert, or any place else and still be the Church. The Church was not a building. What a tragedy it is that so many today have invested enormous amounts of money in edifices and buildings, while other human beings have gone hungry nearby.
I began to recognize that hypocrisy was not confined to religion. I had the idea that every hypocrite in the world sat in a pew on Sunday morning, and thus that everybody who was not sitting in a pew was not a hypocrite. I remember the lesson I learned on this. There was a young man who would sit elbow to elbow with me arguing against the religionist from time-to-time. He was in the hospital once with a very serious ailment. I went up to visit him and as I opened the hospital door, I saw him down on his knees praying to God. I stood at the door of that hospital room screaming at him, "You hypocrite--you dirty hypocrite!" until I was escorted out of the hospital. It slowly began to dawn on me that hypocrisy is a function of humanity, not religion. You deal with hypocrites at the grocery store, at the filling station, on the job, at school, and at the golf course (maybe more there than anywhere else). You do not quit buying groceries because the grocer says one thing and does another. You do not quit your job because your employer tells you to do something that he himself would not touch with a ten-foot pole. You do not deprive yourself or your child of a good education because a teacher teaches one thing and lives something else. You do not quit playing golf because your buddy takes a stroke in the rough and does not count it when he thinks you did not see it. Sure there is hypo-crisy in the Church, because there are human beings in the Church, and as long as you deal with human beings, you are going to deal with hypocrisy. Do you want to get away from hypocrisy? Dig a 20-foot hole in your back yard, jump in, let someone cover you with dirt, and even then you are going to be sitting down there in the bottom of that hole with one hypocrite. There is not a one of us breathing air that is as consistent as we ought to be, but the person who says, "I'm not going to be a Christian! I'm not going to serve God! I'm not going to get involved in the work of the Church because there are hypocrites in the Church," is just logically inconsistent! We do not use that kind of thinking anywhere else in our lives. How can we do it in our relationship to God? There were many, many misconceptions that I had to get rid of to understand truly what the Bible really teaches.
Another thing that I think needs to be mentioned here as we discuss some of the things that led me to believe in God were things that had to do with my happiness. I remember that as a young person, I had what would be an ideal home by worldly standards. My parents were marvelous people; there was no divorce, unfaithfulness, or neglect in my family. We did things as a family. We enjoyed each other, yet I ran away from home. I was rebellious and antagonistic. As I look back at God's Word today, I can see why these things happened. InColossians 3:20, for example, the Bible says, "Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well-pleasing unto the Lord." Obedience was not a characteristic of John Clayton as a young man. Living in Bloomington, Indiana, Indianapolis was known as the party town, and if I wanted to go to Indianapolis, I went. When my mother said she did not want me to go, I disconnected the speedometer and went. I did anything and everything I wanted to do. After all, there was no God. All my parents were doing was restricting my fun and enjoyment in life; why should I obey them? I lived a life that was totally antagonistic to everything that my parents stood for. It is amazing to me today that some parents, who do not believe in God and demonstrate this lack of belief to their children by what they say or the way they live, wonder why their children will not obey them. Why should they? They have removed the only source of authority that they have, and no child is going to obey a parent who has destroyed that source of authority. I am convinced that much of our law and order problems center around this very question.
Years ago I was talking to a young man in Michigan who had been a participant in some of the riots at the University of Michigan. He made the statement to me that he had done these things and I asked him why he had not obeyed the law. He said, "What law?" and I said, "The law of the land--the law that God has instituted." He looked at me and laughed and said, "Man, I don't believe in God." I do not believe we can have law and order when we remove the source of the authority to that law and order. Certainly, my rebelliousness and failure to obey my parents brought a great deal of unpleasantness and misery not only into my life, but into theirs as well. The very next verse, Colossians 3:21, contains another statement that I think had a great deal to do with my unhappiness and rebelliousness as a child. The statement is made, "Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged." My parents had a tradition when I was a young man--a tradition they called the cocktail hour. I have never seen my parents drunk, but they would drink a few martinis and my mother would ask me questions that ordinarily she would not have asked. I remember, for instance, she would sometimes ask, "What did you do with the girl you took out last night?" That was the last thing I was going to tell my mother, so I learned to look her right straight in the eye and lie. I could lie to her or anybody else without batting an eyelash. I conditioned myself to do things that were wrong. I conditioned myself to steal. I remember the first time that I stole something. It was a box of raisins from the IGA store. I felt so badly that I took it back and apologized. Sometime later, I stole a comic book from a drug store; I took it back, but I did not apologize. Six months later, I was stealing almost anything I could get my hands on, not because I needed it, but because it was fun--it was a challenge. I even went so far as to be caught stealing money from my parents. That brings me to the next point, which is certainly another thing that had to do with my happiness.
When I read passages in the Bible like Psalm 53, for instance, I sometimes feel like God is describing John Clayton some years ago. Psalm 53:1-3 says:
The fool hath said in his heart, "There is no God." Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good. God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?...I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
Judge Roy Moore of Lawton, Oklahoma, who deals with the legal problems precipitated by the presence of Fort Sill in that area, once made the statement to me, "I've never seen a young man on drugs live more than seven years without taking his life." You may not be able to understand that, but I have sat on the edge of my bed with a .22-caliber rifle between my legs, trying to have enough guts to pull the trigger. I bottomed out that low; I got that emotionally disturbed and upset with my desire and attempt to find happiness. Please listen to me and profit by what I am saying. You can try every conceivable thing that this world has to offer. You can try sex, drugs, alcohol, stealing, and all kinds of things in a desperate attempt to find happiness. I can testify from experience that you may find pleasure, but you will not find happiness. I can go back to Bloomington today and meet people who refuse to believe that I have changed my life--people that I hurt and who knew the kind of life I lived. The reason that I think many things happen with young people today is because they try to find happiness living their own way. It simply does not work. Have you ever wondered why it is that when a person gets clean from drugs, gets rid of the problem of alcohol, or conquers some of the problems like the ones I had, that the person always seems to get involved in some religious cause, halfway house, or something like that? Why is that? I can tell you from my own experience that we have learned that the only place you find happiness is in using God's system--in following God's way. Perhaps people that have lived without God appreciate so much more than people that have grown up in religious structures--what you have in the Church. You do not find happiness living your own system, but only in living God's way and in being a part of God's system.
As perhaps you are beginning to realize as we get into this discussion more thoroughly, there were a variety of things that led me to believe in God. One other thing that I think ought to be mentioned is the fact that I entered a period of military service about this time. For the first time in my life, I came in contact with death. I began to think about the reasonableness of death as I Iooked at it as an atheist. Perhaps a more accurate way to describe this was the way that I had to look at life because of death. As an atheist, I realized that I had to look at life with all of its problems, difficulties, and terrible things that I experienced as the best thing that I could ever look forward to. Yet I realized that as a Christian, I would be able to look at life with all of its joys, beauties, and wonderful things that we all enjoy as the absolute worst that I was ever going to have to experience. Yet from a philosophical point, I began to realize that Christianity offered a great deal in this particular area. I did not get scared into believing in God, but I think this area together with all these other things helped me to realize that there really was quite a change in my understanding of what Christianity and God are all about. I began to recognize that perhaps there were some things about the Church and what it had to offer that were important to me.
About this time in my life, I decided that other religious systems might be as good as the Bible. To check them out, I began reading the Vedas, Koran, Sayings of Buddha, writings of Bahaullah and Zoroaster and found that other religions taught many things I could not accept. There were teachings in their writings concerning what life was like after this life that were unrewarding and unrealistic and there were descriptions of God that were illogical and inconsistent. There were also many scientific inaccuracies in their works. There were many teachings about life and how to live it that were not workable. This included the role and position of women in the Koran, the Holy War concept of Mohammed, the pantheism of nearly all other systems, reincarnation, idol worship, polygamy, and a myriad of ideas which I had expected to find in the Bible, but did not. I began to realize that nothing matched the Bible's system of life. Only in the Bible could I see statements which would stand in the face of the scientific facts that I knew to be true and only the Bible offered a system of life that I felt was reasonable and consistent. I decided that if I ever came to believe in God, it would be a belief based upon the Bible.
The next question was that if I ever became a believer in God, which of all the religious organizations claiming to be Christianity would be the correct one. I recognized that I did not want to be a part of all these traditional religious bodies that taught the error that I had been taught and had believed in my early years, so I started visiting the various religious organizations in southern Indiana at that time. I visited almost every religious organization that I could get into, to try and see what they taught, to see if they followed the Bible and if they understood what the Bible had to say or if they followed men's theologies. My experience was that as I went from one to another, each of them taught something that was not in the Bible. They honored some men above other men, they taught that unreligious writings were equivalent to the Bible and they did not follow the Bible literally and verbally. I had had enough of religious confusion and error. I did not want any more of that sort of thing, so I continued looking. In a real sense, I guess you could say I am still looking--I am still trying to find that true Church. I did find the religious group that seemed to me to follow the Bible very closely. In Bloomington, there was a group of people who met on the corner of 4th and Lincoln streets. They were called the Church of Christ. These people still did not totally follow what I understood to be the biblical system. My challenge today to young people who are Christians would be to do a job of totally restoring New Testament Christianity. This group did have the doctrine of Christianity pretty well restored as I understood it. I recognized that passages like 1 Peter 3:21 ("The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us....") had to be interpreted as meaning what it said, and this group did interpret that in a way that I felt was consistent with that passage. This group did interpret Acts 2:38 ("...be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,...") in a way that I felt was consistent and they did reject men as their source of authority.
As a matter of fact, I remember hearing one of the first lessons that I ever heard in that building preached by a man named Raymond Muncy. Mr. Muncy said, "Now, don't you ever listen to anything any preacher says," and I said amen to that. He went on and talked about how we should not rely upon man and I want to tell you here an now that you should never believe anything any preacher says. Do not ever listen to any preacher, under any circumstance, unless you can find for yourself in the Bible that what that man says is consistent with God's Word. This is, in essence, what Mr. Muncy was saying and I was very impressed by it, but that group of people did not give as they were prospered. Yes, they worshipped according to God's format, but they did not give as they were prospered. They were not involved in teaching their neighbors about Jesus Christ. There was a very small percentage who were active in the work and they certainly did not manifest the kind of love and appreciation for each other that I understood the Bible to teach. The generation before you has restored the doctrine of Christianity--I believe that. However, they have yet to restore the spirit of New Testament Christianity and that is your challenge. Restore the spirit of New Testament Christianity--the love and the concern for the souls of others that the early Church had. I recognized that the Church of Christ was the closest thing that I had seen to what the Bible taught. I determined that if I ever became a Christian, I would become a member of this group--a group that was trying to follow the Bible literally and verbally, that would not accept the teachings of men and would not try to be influenced by the traditions of the past.
I guess the real straw that broke the camel's back occurred some six months later. I was enrolled in my first geology course at Indiana University. The professor was a brilliant, well-known atheist. On the first day of class, in response to a discussion, he made a statement something like, "I'm going to show you that the Bible is a bunch of garbage," and I thought, "Now this is going to be great," because I was getting concerned. I was still saying that I was an atheist to those who knew me well. I was still rejecting God and holding on tenaciously to my lack of belief. It is hard to change a life that has gone a certain direction for years and all of a sudden make it go another direction, I was not ready for that. I thought this man was going to be able to provide me with some arguments that would finally defeat this girl that I had been dating all these years. She was a Christian--although perhaps not as strong as she might have been. I was going to show her that this religion stuff was really a lot of bunk and I was even convinced that I might even be able to show Ray Muncy that belief in God was not realistic. Mr. Muncy was a man who had great patience and knowledge, but he had not been given much of an opportunity to convince or teach me much of anything.
The professor started the class out by showing us the various methods of dating rocks and other parts of the creation. He then asserted that everyone knew that the Bible said the earth was 6,000 years old. I asked where it said that. He replied that he believed it was in Genesis the 52nd chapter. I started looking, not knowing much about the Bible, to Genesis 40, Genesis 49, Genesis 50, Exodus 1--I said, "Wait a minute; Genesis only has 50 chapters." He sputtered around a few minutes, but he never did find that passage. Of course, the Bible does not say the earth is 6,000 years old. The Bible is totally silent on the age of the earth and I realized that. This man made the statement that the Bible says that God created two cocker spaniels, two English terriers, and two German shepherds. We all had a good laugh when we figured out how big the Ark would have to be to hold the 20 million groupings of this kind. Once again, I asked where the word kind was defined in that way. It did not seem to me that the word kind meant that. We looked at it and he finally said he guessed that maybe it did not. First Corinthians 15:39 is the only definition of the word kind and that is a very broad definition ("All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another fishes, and another of birds."). Genesis 1 uses the same terminology and the same break-down as 1 Corinthians 15. To make a very, very long story fairly short, when I turned in my final exam the last day of class, I said to this learned professor, "Sir, you have not really shown me any contradiction between what we have studied in this course and in what the Bible has to teach." He jerked my paper away from me and said, "Well, I guess if you really study it, there is no contradiction." I was shocked! I was appalled! Here was a man who had a Ph.D. and was a leading atheist, yet he could not answer the silly questions from an ignorant college junior who was on his side. I remember that February day very clearly. I walked back to my room in the dormitory in a state of shock. I could not believe what had happened. I got to my room about 11:00 and sat on my bed thinking what a stupid, ignorant fool I had been. I had rejected God; I had been dishonest. I had actually been stupid in my response to the evidence available to me. I did not like people who refuse to look at the evidence and draw intelligent conclusions. I did not like people who could not break free of their parents' thinking and do their own thinking. I had always accused the religionists of doing this, yet I recognized that I had been guilty of the same thing. I had refused to be honest--to look at the evidence. I had refused to make comparative choices based upon what was available to me. I was miserable.
Supper time came and I was sitting there. My roommate came in and said, "Are you ready to eat?" I said, "No, I'm not hungry." He said, "Are you sick?" I said, "Yes, I'm sick of me!!! I'm sick of being selfish, I'm sick of using people, I'm sick of being dishonest, I'm sick...." I was still telling him what I was sick about as he left for supper. At the time, I did not understand what was happening, but I do now! That is what repentance is all about--to get sick of a selfish, egotistical, destructive life and turn to God's way--to turn to a life that has value, meaning, and direction. My roommate went on to eat and I just sat there determined that I had to do something. I could no longer sit back and be dishonest and continue to refuse to accept the obvious evidence that was available to me. About 6:30, I got up and started walking toward the building where the Church of Christ met on Wednesday nights. The invitation was extended at the Church of Christ that evening for anyone who wished to accept Christ and come forward. I went forward, understanding that I now believed totally and completely in God. I recognized that I needed to start a new life and be willing to tell people that I accepted the existence of God and believed that Jesus is His Son. I also realized that I was totally and completely lost in my sins and that I needed to be baptized to have forgiveness (as the Bible commanded). I started down the aisle that night and Raymond Muncy went into a mild state of shock. I remember the expression on his face. I do not think he believed that the power of God could ever reach a man as divorced as I was from anything good, decent, and godly. I was baptized into Christ that evening for the remission of my sins, as I understood the Bible to teach. To show you how far I was from God, I called this girl, I had been dating for some six years at that time. I said, "Phyllis, I've become a Christian!" She said, "I don't believe you. You quit lying to me." I had to have the preacher's wife talk to her to convince her that I had, in fact, become a Christian. There are people today who still do not believe it--that the power of God could change a man that was as divorced and alienated from God as I was--but I want to tell you that in many respects, this is just the beginning of this story. God promised His help to those who are His followers. Having a close personal relationship to God and to other followers enable us to conquer enormous problems and do things we could not possibly do on our own (see Philippians 4:13).
I had a lot to overcome. I could not talk without swearing. You could not go to the preacher's house and say pass the @$#%& potatoes. I had to learn a new way of talking, a new way of living, a new set of values, and a new morality, because I had lived in opposition to God. I asked God's help in these things and I found I was able to overcome things I had never been able to overcome before. I have a whole new set of problems--a whole new set of things that I have to work on--but the problems I have today are nothing like the problems I had in the past. If anyone had told me twenty years ago that I would be openly using my limited abilities to publicly convict disbelievers of God's reality, I would have thought they were insane. Nonetheless, God has blessed my feeble efforts in spectacular ways--totally beyond anything I could have ever done.
I want to close this lesson by asking you a very simple question--a question that you need to answer for yourself and that each person needs to answer I suppose nearly every day. Are you an atheist (not perhaps as man would define it, but as God defines it)? Are you an atheist? Oh, I realize you may not be the kind of atheist that I was. Perhaps you are not immoral or hurting people or dishonest or doing the kinds of things that I did. I am thankful that you are not, but do you realize the way Jesus views an atheist? Matthew 12:30 says, "He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad." What is He saying? He is saying that you are either for God or you are against God. You are either an atheist or a Christian; you cannot be both. I can understand how a man can be an atheist. I have been an atheist a good part of my life. As an atheist, I believed (and still believe) that my life was consistent, reasonable, and defendable.
For a few years now, I have been trying to live what I understand to be the Christian way of life. Once again, I believe my life is consistent, reasonable, and defendable with what I believe, but I will never understand (and if you understand, I wish you would explain it to me) how a man or a woman or a boy or a girl can say, "Yes, I believe in God. Yes, I understand that the Bible is God's Word," and then not do everything and anything within their power to make sure their lives conform to what that God teaches. That is not consistent, not reasonable, and not defendable, yet I am sure there are many people who know that their life is not consistent with God's way of living. Jesus said, "He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad." Are you for Christ? Are you working for Christ? Is your life radiating the kind of living that Jesus taught? Are you really a Christian or are you an atheist? There is no middle ground. It is my hope that by revealing to you the kind of person I have been and the mistakes I have made, you have realized that God is the only way. It is my prayer that you have realized that there is nothing that can be a part of your life that God cannot help you overcome and that you also realize that there is no better time than right now to begin the Christian way of living. Will you not give yourself to God and live Christ's Way? If you do not know a person or group of people in your community following the Lord, write me and I will try to help you.
John N. Clayton
1555 Echo Valley Dr.
Niles, MI 49120-8738
1555 Echo Valley Dr.
Niles, MI 49120-8738