'I didn't believe in God!'

Russ’s story | An atheist says thank you to God

“In my 30’s, I had a plan for my life. There was no way God figured in it.

I was reading a fair bit of personal development literature out of the US. For example, The Power of Positive Thinking. I liked the book, but as soon as the author mentioned God, I put it down. That’s it. He’s not valid. He’s off with the pixies.

I noticed a lot of hypocrites in the church. They put me off.

My dad was an atheist and a member of the Communist Party of Australia. We grew up with that background. I also went to a fairly academic high school where we were encouraged to think logically and scientifically.

But right through my teens, I had this fascination with the person of Jesus. I couldn’t refute that he was a historical figure. I used to listen to the musical, ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar’ and sing along with the lyrics. But my logical brain wouldn’t accept the divinity thing. I didn’t believe in God!

From 20 to 40, I didn’t give Christ another hearing. I did, however, notice a lot of hypocrites in the church. They put me off. I also saw the different denominations throwing rocks at each other, which also put me off. Christianity must be a lot of rot if the denominations are behaving like that.

I’d never been confronted with my mortality before.

Then a whole bunch of things happened in 1993. A lady came into my office asking questions about my work. As she left, she said, “The hand of God must be on you.” I didn’t know how to react. She encouraged me to go to church. I didn’t. But I’ve never forgotten what she said.

Then, later that year, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer, out of the blue. I was 40 years old, and we had three young kids and a business. I burst into tears. I’d never been confronted with my mortality before. It was a sudden, random detection. I had no outward signs, but it was ten days from being diagnosed to going under the knife.

After I got out of hospital, I was sitting on a bench in the main street of Springwood. I was feeling thankful to be alive. I knew if they’d waited until I showed symptoms, I wouldn’t be alive. As I was sitting there, a work colleague walked past. He stopped and we talked. He was really concerned for me.

I told him that I felt like saying thank you to God… whom I didn’t know… and I had no idea how to say thank you to God.

He said, “I’ll pick you up on Sunday.”

That Sunday we trotted off to church together. Afterwards, he took me under his wing, and he started to answer my questions. He was amazingly helpful. He said Christianity is about following Christ, not other Christians. He also said I needed to work out whether Jesus is who he said he is.

I started reading the New Testament – the Gospels and Acts, as well as books by Josh McDowell. I devoured all of it. It was fascinating – all these lives were absolutely transformed by Jesus – the disciples, Stephen, Paul. Something really big must have happened.

I understood it historically, but I kept having arguments with God, especially about accepting him as my boss. If I submitted to him, I might have to do as he said. I also didn’t understand why Jesus had to die. I didn’t see myself as a sinful man, back then. I thought humanity was essentially good. But then I read Romans 3. Actually, no one is good enough. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (v20)

I praise God for the tough stuff in my life.

In the months after that, when I looked back at history, including communism and socialism, it made more sense! We aren’t good and we need the grace of God. In October 1994, I submitted to Jesus. I prayed, “Jesus, you’re the Lord. Please take over my life.”

That year, I kept going to church and in the next few years, our three kids started coming along as well, then my wife. It was a slow process of change in all of us. Now, I want to say to people, “Don’t leave it too late. Don’t be regretful. We don’t know how long we have. Don’t waste the years of your youth!” I want to encourage people to have the tough arguments with God early on, while we can. And I praise God for the tough stuff in my life. In my case, my cancer drew me to God.”

Russ’s story is part of Eternity’s Faith Stories series, compiled by Naomi Reed. Click here for more Faith Stories.

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