Recently there have been a few people who grew up in the Russian community that came out on their social media platforms and told the world that they have walked away from Christianity. Some of these people happen to be my friends and some I barely know. Just like them, I grew up in the Slavic community where I struggled with the same difficulties. I struggled with unbelief in a personal God;
I struggled with the hypocrisy in myself and the church. I struggled to reconcile the perfect grace preached in theory and so distorted in practice. Yet in my struggle, I did not walk away from Christianity. Actually, this struggle had quite the opposite effect on me; it caused me to shift my hope from broken and flawed people to a holy and perfect God.
This is my attempt to tell my story and my own journey, which took the opposite turn from unbelief to knowing Jesus personally. If you are one of those people who walked away from faith in Jesus I humbly encourage you to read on. This is an open letter to you and perhaps to those who are considering walking away from Christianity. Honestly, I would prefer to have this conversation in person, but I am hoping that this post will open the door to that. If however, I happen to misrepresent you or your views I apologize in advance. Please understand that it is not my intention to undermine you as a person. I do believe that I can disagree with you while at the same time also respect your decision and still love you as friend.
For as long as I remember I have been a Christian. Church is something we went to every Sunday, and I listened to my dad preach the gospel from the pulpit. My Sundays were spent sitting on the hard wooden pews of the church listening to preacher after preacher. I am amazed that I still remember those sermons. It was those sermons that penetrated deep within my heart, bringing conviction and remorse for my sin. I remember coming to the altar, confessing my sin, and the preacher praying for me. At school kids made fun of me and called me, “shtunt,” a derogatory term used for Christians in former communist countries. However, I saw that as suffering for the cause of Jesus Christ, and quite frankly used it as a badge of honor. About the same time my sister became the Sunday school teacher and from time to time would allow me to share a message. I would spend hours practicing my sermons; I really took this preaching business seriously. I remember one Sunday I saw this poster of Reinhard Bonke preaching to hundreds of thousands in Africa and I just stared at it amazed by the size of the crowd. In that moment, I felt the call of God in my life to become a preacher.
Around this time, however, I was about eleven years old and while I felt a strong pull toward ministry and preaching, I also felt a strong desire to be like everyone else. Slowly my passion for preaching faded away. What also contributed to this was a conflict in the church, where there was a lot of fighting between leaders. My father would spend late nights at the church discussing issues with the elders. By this time the rumor mill started and the whole village was talking about the problems in the church. I slowly became disappointed with the church as my passion for Jesus faded away. Now I was attending church as a religious duty and just because my parents wanted me to attend. A couple years later in my freshman year in high school my family and I immigrated to U.S.
The following year was one of the hardest years of my life. I struggled to make friends in school while not being able to speak any English. Church was very different here and quite frankly it did not interest me that much. We went to church because that is what every Eastern European did on Sunday morning. Things turned dark pretty quickly as I started to hate myself and hate the situation I found myself in. It was at this vital time God intervened. It was a Sunday night in 2003 where I finally gave up trying by myself and asked Jesus to be the lord of my life. The road has been difficult but today thirteen years later I am more passionate and dedicated to Jesus than I have ever been before; I have developed a longing for him and eternity that you can probably see through every blog that I post.
Furthermore, I have seen the rise and fall of many in the church; I myself have been disappointed in people and struggled with unbelief many times. I still have questions that I might not have answers to on this side of eternity. I have dealt with grief and loss which death brings many times, including the passing of my dad last spring. However, I have never questioned God’s faithfulness, mercy, love and grace towards me. I don’t understand a lot of things or why God does things the way he does, but I can never deny his existence. God is too real and personal for me as well as His existence means so much that I can never be an atheist.
God’s existence means foundation for truth and rationale.
A believer in God is a person who has a foundation for the truth they see. That foundation is rooted in eternity and it’s not subjected to time or cultural shifts. Their truth is rooted in a never changing God and not the ever-changing theories of people. On the contrary, a person who does not believe in God is a person with no foundation for absolute truths. To argue for their position while denying absolute truth is to build a well-crafted argument house on sand, without any foundation. It’s just a matter of time when everything will collapse. It amazes me how many claims to be a seeker of truth, yet have no idea what truth would even look like. How will they know when they find it? They are no better than Pilot, who having truth right in front of him kept on pondering and asking rhetorical questions like, “what is truth?”
Yet nevertheless, they are passionately engaged in undermining their own mind arguing against the very one who gave them the ability to argue. They think that all they have to do is keep on asking questions without providing any answers. They refuse to take any stances on anyone or anything and therefore, fall for anything. G.K Chesterton in his book Orthodoxy describes the modern skeptic. He says, “The new rebel is a skeptic and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never really be a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it.”
God’s existence means a foundation for morality.
That is not to say that a person can’t be moral if they do not believe in God, but what it means is that morality would not have any ultimate foundation. To have morality, it has to be rooted in a moral lawgiver, otherwise all morality is just preference. Imagine if a pilot decided that their understanding of ten thousand feet altitude is actually a hundred feet altitude, chances are that plane would not fly very far. We can pretend that our morality is superior but without a supreme being our morality is just human preference.
Ted Bundy was a murderer who killed over thirty women and in an interview he said the following, “Then I learned that all moral judgments are “value judgments,” that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either “right” or “wrong”… Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as “moral” or “good” and others as “immoral” or “bad”? In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me—after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self.”
This example, while graphic, it helps illustrate what happens when people decide for themselves what morality is. Granted that this is an extreme case, but what would be a skeptic’s response to Ted Bundy? What foundation of morality can they quote? One might say, society’s best interest. That’s what Hitler tried to do, and the world ended up with the Holocaust. That’s why Dostoevsky said that, “if God does not exist everything is permissible.” No matter how we twist and turn if there is No God our morals are only choices and preferences.
God’s existence means justice for all injustice.
Our world is full of evil and injustice; the skeptics say it’s God’s fault for not doing away with it once and for all. They say that if God does not stop evil, then He is not good, and if He can’t stop it then He is not God. They fail to acknowledge, however, that they themselves are part of that evil. For example, our national porn industry creates a sexualized society where the weak are exploited and trafficked for sex. Our insane consumerism is part of the problem of child labor. Our derogatory comments and senseless talk leads to hate and crimes against humanity. We are all responsible for the evil done on Earth. With every compromise of God’s moral standards we lead our humanity deeper into evil. Evil is not some abstract idea out there; it lives inside of all of us in different forms and degrees. To do away with all the evil, God would have to do away with all of us. Instead, God is patient with all of us so he can at least save some.
But we should not take God’s patience as inaction because there will be a payday where everyone will pay for their evil actions. I find comfort in knowing that all injustice will face justice. That people like Hitler will have to give an account for their atrocities. For those who are in Christ, Jesus paid the payment for the injustice we have done at the cross. But for those who are not in Christ, they will have to pay for their share of evil and injustice for eternity.
God’s existence means ultimate meaning.
Life without meaning is an endless cycle of abuse. It’s awfully disappointing to get to the pinnacle of man’s quest for meaning just to find out that it is not all it’s cracked up to be. People forget us or leave us. One day, someone else will own all our material possessions. So, if our meaning is in people, death will have the last laugh. If our meaning is in possessions, it’s just a matter of time until all of it is gone. Whatever meaning is rooted in temporal things, will only bring temporary satisfaction, what is rooted in eternal will last forever. That is why people like missionary Jim Elliot, who lived by the motto that, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose,” gave up his life to reach a tribe who slaughtered him. He understood the risks very well and knew there is a possibility that he might die but chose to go and preach anyway. He was able to do that because his life meaning was rooted in eternity not in the present life. After all how many skeptics would be willing to pay with their life for their philosophical view? I would venture to say that not many. That’s why my meaning and significance is not rooted in the temporal, but eternal.
God’s existence means ultimate hope.
Hope is what makes us get up in the morning. Hope is what gives us the strength to keep ongoing when we feel like giving up. I wake up every day at 4 am, not because I like it, but because I want to leave a legacy and impact on eternity every day with what I do. A world without God is a world without hope. If oblivion comes to all of us then ultimately what hope do we have? Why even try at anything? Why get up in the morning? What hope is there? We are like flowers, which bloom for a moment then dry up and turn to dust, never to be seen again. But there is a soul in me and you that hopes for more. A soul that hopes in life after death. A soul that craves a relationship with God. That’s why for as long as man has walked the earth, he had some form of belief in spirituality.
God’s existence means ultimate purpose.
To know that God exist is what gives my life purpose. Namely, the purpose for man’s existence is summarized in Westminster Catechism which says that “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.” We were created to have a relationship with the creator of the universe and to enjoy that relationship forever. Anything less than that does not satisfy. We can spend our lives pursuing other things but they will only disappoint us. We were created for eternal life in a place with our creator. C.S. Lewis said that “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
God’s existence means soul healing.
Apostle Paul said, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Day by day I am constantly aware of my faults and sins. Every day I see in my actions how short I fall of God’s glory and at times, like Paul, I want to shout out loud, “Oh wretched man that I am who will deliver me from this body of death?” and every time it is in the gospel that I find redemption from my sin, joy for my depression, and hope for my despair. I look forward to the day when our souls will be free from the curse of sin and be restored to what they were meant to be.
God’s existence means ultimate physical healing.
We have a sense in all of us that all disease and sickness is not natural or at least how it was meant to be. After all, why do we spend trillions on health care if that is just how life should be? The older we get our bodies are slowly aging and dying. We revolt against disease because there is a sense that we were once completely healthy. If that desire exists in us, it only guides us to think that there is also ultimate and complete healing for our broken bodies. To know that God exists also means to have hope that one day He will restore our physical bodies to how they were when He created us to be.
God’s existence means knowing Him.
In conclusion, while I grew up believing the gospel, mostly because people who I trusted said it is true, now I am convinced by the truth of the gospel from my personal experience. I am not alone in this, like me, there are millions of people who experience the same God. They experience redemption and transformation and are willing to lay their life down for the gospel which they hold to be true. These people know God in their everyday lives and practice. Someone with a theory does not shake a man who knows something in practice. Today I can say with utter certainty that I know my God lives. Furthermore, I have made a choice that I will go to my grave believing and serve Him with all my heart, mind, and strength. This is what gives me the compassion and hope for our broken world. This is the legacy that I want to leave behind. I join the chorus of millions of Christians who being so preoccupied with eternity, and God has done so much in helping life here on Earth. That is why I am infatuated with eternity, and I am OK with being a fool for Christ.