My life as an atheist was wonderful!
It was a rollercoaster of experiences both positive and negative dating back to early childhood. All of them shaped me to become what I was, and I wouldn’t have changed any of it, not even the bad bits.
Some of the bad things that happened to me included being brought up in Aberfan, attending Pantglas school. Remember the Aberfan Disaster? I was there that day – my brother and I both survived. Another one was the death of my father in a car crash on his way home from dropping me off for my first day at university, the day I was leaving home. I also had a business go bust, had to tell all of the employees, deal with debts and all of the repercussions of that. But I survived and learnt a lot of lessons.
I’d had a fabulous and varied career: as well as a business failure, I’d also run successful businesses, and then got a great job which I was good at. I had the respect of my colleagues and clients, and I earned good money. We weren’t rich, but we could buy what we wanted, and we enjoyed this freedom.
After 17 years of this, I decided that I’d had enough and retired early. We had just enough money to live on if we tightened our belts, so we went for it. We’d moved to Pembrokeshire a few years earlier, so I spent my time pottering around the house and garden, looking after our dogs and chickens and indulging my hobbies of riding bikes, both with and without engines. Life couldn’t get any better.
I was convinced that all of this happened because I was very bright, made good decisions (mainly) and maybe just a little luck and a few coincidences along the way… but it was mostly ME!
I was an atheist, proud of it, and I could back up my belief with all of the arguments, and often had. I was right, and I knew it!
Why change? I have it all!
The honest answer is that I had no choice! I didn’t have a vision or hear God’s voice or anything like that but what happened in my life was no less dramatic to me.
My wife, Vanessa, had always been a believer but hadn’t practised her faith for many years. Then around three years ago she had a health scare. There were lots of tests, and all pointed at the Big C. On the day that she was getting the final, conclusive results they had already booked an appointment with a surgeon – so, it was pretty obvious what they thought.
But the tests were clear. There was no cancer. Vanessa was, of course, overjoyed, but there was something more. She knew that she’d been healed by the power of prayer – her mother and aunt had been praying, as had many of their friends. God’s hand was in this.
She came home and began to look for a chapel in which to worship. She found Penuel in Roch, Pembrokeshire, just a few miles from our home and was made to feel very welcome on the first visit.
This had nothing to do with me, the atheist.
After a while, Vanessa asked me if I’d go with her one day, just to meet her friends.
It was the first time I’d ever listened to a sermon. I don’t know why I did, but I did… and I enjoyed it. So, I went back and listened to another one.
Penuel has visiting pastors from around the area, so I heard different people with different styles and enjoyed much of it. We sang hymns, but I only joined in half-heartedly until we sang ‘To God be the glory’. Specifically verse two – the vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives. I couldn’t sing the words; I was fighting back the tears. Now I’m not a man given to tearful outbursts, but I just couldn’t sing these words! Why not? What was wrong with me? The preacher spoke about a story Jesus had told which said that it’s never too late to turn to Him, whatever your life has been like before. I knew it wasn’t too late for me.
We sang ‘Amazing Grace’ and this time I couldn’t sing verse three – ‘Through many dangers toils and snares, I have already come; ’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.’ And that’s when I knew why I couldn’t sing the previous hymn. I had lived as the ‘vilest offender’ – or at least I had lived by my own rules. And here I was facing the possibility that the grace and forgiveness in these hymns could apply to me, someone who had denied the very existence of God for all of his adult life!
Something had happened, and I found it quite difficult for a while to accept what it was. I still had many questions, and my old rational earthly self still had all the atheistic arguments in my head. But soon afterwards, I attended a Sunday service at Penuel and at the communion service I began to realise the enormity of what Jesus had done and that He died for everyone, including me! It meant that my sins could be forgiven and that I could have a new start – a new life. I was a Christian! I AM a Christian!
So I lost it all…?
All of my great life, all of my self-belief, all of the happiness which I’d earned through the accumulation of status and possessions were they all ruined because I’d joined in with this fantasy thinking?
Oh no! Not at all!
Yes, I have changed. Not just my beliefs, but me; I have changed. God has changed me! The way I think, the things I say and do… Everything. I’m still me and still have my friends and hobbies, but I no longer feel that I do anything just for me.
I’m no longer retired – I now run a charity helpline and support service for farmers in west Wales, Tir Dewi.
But the biggest change is that I know for certain, with no doubt whatsoever, that it wasn’t me! God has had his hand on me since the first day. He knew I was coming to him and he was waiting for the time that he’d set. He just took care of me along the way.
I was happy as an atheist, but I don’t ever remember using the word ‘joy’. Now I use it all the time, and I thank God daily for all he does for me and with me.