I was raised in a family and a community where religious beliefs were considered personal and virtually never discussed. I attended a Catholic grade school and continued with religion classes through high school. I was a good student and knew what I was supposed to believe – but no matter how hard I tried, I just could not convince myself that any of it was true.
I had a long list of questions, but mostly kept those to myself. I was pretty sure that these doubts made me a bad person and I was not eager to advertise this fact. The few times I did seek help left me feeling that there were no answers to my questions. I developed an idea that belief in God was some sort of magical thinking – and while I too desperately wanted this magic, it clearly was not meant for me. Another difficulty I faced was that believers always seemed so sure about their faith. I am not a person who is certain about anything – this too made me think that Christianity – or faith of any kind was not for me.
Moving ahead to my time now in Kearney, Nebraska – I moved here in 2009 and met Tim Stratton a few years later when he was in the early stages of developing his FreeThinking Argument for the existence of God. At this time, there was a fair bit of noise being made in the local newspaper about issues related to evolution and it was attracting attention at work. Because of this I started regularly reading the opinion pieces, as well as associated comments. The name Tim Stratton appeared frequently. To be clear, I did not agree with a single thing he wrote. However, he was unfailingly kind, whereas some people on “my side” were behaving atrociously. This was the first thing I noticed about Tim – and if not for that, I truly might still be an atheist today.
I was able to meet Tim in person at a local public outreach event about evolution. This was a brief meeting – but a short time later he added me as a Facebook friend. This is when the arguing started in earnest (and to be honest has not completely ceased to this day – we just argue about different things now). For a period of about two months we exchanged messages almost daily that initially were centered on his FreeThinking Argument for the Existence of God. Those discussions could probably best be summarized as exchanges where I would tell him I was not convinced of some specific point (which is my default position) and then Tim would both encourage me and try to convince me. If you know either of us, you already know that these were not short discussions.
About a month into this I was forced to admit — contra many scientifically-minded atheists — that while I was not certain, I did think humans possessed libertarian free will. It is worth noting here that in my discussions with Tim, I had already been relieved of the notion that one needed to be absolutely certain to believe something was true. The natural extension of this was that if I believed I had free will, according to Tim’s argument (which despite my best efforts seemed strong) meant I also believed in God. This realization took my breath away (and the memory of it still does the same) – I know exactly where I was and what I was doing when for the first time in my life I felt like God was talking directly to me.
This was just the beginning though – it took at least 6 months more before I called myself a Christian (Mike Licona’s work on the historical Resurrection eventually sealed the deal). It was an incredibly tumultuous time in my life. I was starting to really believe that Christianity was probably true and while part of me found that exciting, a bigger part was truly terrified at the prospect. Tim helped me at every single step of the way – I have countless stories of doubts and fears that he helped me through with reason and kindness.
During this time, I could not help but compare my conversion story to that of others – and I will admit I found it frustrating. Tim would tell me about other people he had helped and how in a 24-hour period they accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. It was hard for me to understand how this was possible and to be honest I didn’t think it was fair. Why was it so much work for me? What I came to realize – surely with God’s help – was that my conversion story had to be different because of how I am wired. If God had appeared to me in the flesh, I am certain I would be more convinced of a brain tumor than God’s existence. Reason and argument was the only way it could work for me. I am not proud of that, but it is the truth. I am profoundly grateful that God is able to reach people in a myriad of ways – and specifically that he used Tim and apologetics to reach me.