I never thought I would become a Christian. I wasn’t raised in church. I grew up believing science had all the answers, that religion was merely lingering superstition from a more primitive time. Adam and Eve, Noah’s ark, Jonah living in the belly of a whale for three days—none of it seemed plausible. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny weren’t real, and Jesus Christ probably wasn’t either.
I spent my first 25 years living by my own standards. I thought I could do whatever I wanted as long as I wasn’t hurting anyone. I partied, drank, did drugs, and looked for fulfillment in other people. None of it made me happy. I wasn’t content, no matter what I did.
My journey to faith began six years ago, when I had dinner with a coworker and his wife who were evangelical Christians. There was nothing out of the ordinary about them, but the contrast between our lives was jarring. After dinner, I was meeting up with friends to split up some drugs. My coworker and his wife never got drunk. Instead of getting messed up on weekends, they helped people.
I went with them to church a few times, but nothing stuck. I could see the appeal of a Christian lifestyle. I just didn’t believe any of it.
Cracks in My Worldview
The first thing that shook my view of the world was reading about the many scientists who believe our universe is a simulation. It has seemingly been fine-tuned for our benefit. According to the British astronomer Martin Rees, the values of six physical properties of the universe had to be exactly right for life to exist. Scientists don’t really have an explanation. Some have proposed that we exist in a multiverse made up of an infinite number of possible universes, and we just happen to be in one where life is possible. They are just guessing, the same as anyone else. Not believing in a Creator is as much an article of faith as believing in one.
At some point, I realized that it doesn’t make sense for Scripture to correspond with 21st-century science. Was Moses supposed to come down from Mount Sinai with the theory of general relativity on one tablet and quantum mechanics on the other? What we know about the universe is always changing; thousands of years from now, people will snicker at our scientific knowledge the way today’s skeptics snicker at the first chapters of Genesis. But the Bible is written as a timeless appeal to the desires of the human heart. Those never change.
I’ve always been interested in history, and the more I studied the history of Christianity, the more I saw how it validated Christian theology. The first Jews were slaves in Egypt. They eventually escaped to the Middle East, the crossroads of the ancient world. They were a minor tribe conquered by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. They should have disappeared from history like the Philistines, Midianites, Canaanites, and every other smaller tribe from that period.
The Jews believed a Messiah would come who would spread the worship of their God to every nation on earth, and that faith allowed them to survive thousands of years of hardship and tragedy. Then, one day, a penniless Jewish preacher showed up, claiming to be the Son of God. Jesus wandered around a backwater province of the Roman Empire for a few years, gathered a few disciples, and was crucified. That should have been the end of his religion. His followers were a persecuted minority of a persecuted minority. There was no reason to think his crucifixion was the beginning of a religion that would change the world, just as there was no reason to think the Jews would still be around more than 4,000 years after they were slaves in Egypt or that their God would be worshiped throughout human history.
Imagine going back in time and telling this to the Pharaohs. They would never believe you. I began wondering whether the Jews really were worshiping the Creator of the universe.
Experiencing God’s Presence
My intellectual conversion was only half the story. I still didn’t believe in the supernatural. That changed a year after my dinner with my coworker and his wife.
I went to a New Year’s Eve concert, an EDM show in downtown Dallas, with some friends. There’s no band at an EDM show. It’s just a DJ and a turntable. To liven things up, they usually play a video on the big screen that syncs with the music. When we walked into the concert, the mask from V for Vendetta was plastered across the screen, hovering over the audience.
I was rolling on Ecstasy. There’s a feeling of euphoria that comes over you, and you feel connected to the people around you in a way that you never could sober. Ecstasy is a psychedelic drug that opens up new pathways in your brain. A lot of people have reported spiritual experiences on it. Maybe they were just high. Or maybe there’s more to the world than what our senses can perceive.
As I watched the audience dance under the watchful eye of the V for Vendetta mask, everything fell into place. The scales fell from my eyes. This was worship. We were worshiping a demon. We think we are so much more advanced than the people of ancient Babylon, but they were doing the exact same things. I felt something like a surge of lightning go through my body. I realized that just because I had never experienced the presence of God before didn’t mean that other people hadn’t. There was really no other way to describe what happened.
I walked out of the concert knowing what I had to do next. I called my old coworker and asked about churches in the area. I didn’t know what I was walking into. Joining a church was awkward at first. When I went to a lifegroup meeting at someone’s house, it was the first time I had been sober at a social gathering in years. Much about my lifestyle had to change.
Walking with the Lord hasn’t always been easy, and I’ve slipped up many times over the last five years. But I’ve never regretted the decision. I sometimes feel like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, walking around in a world that I know is an illusion. The things that used to matter no longer do, at least not as much.
I never understood the importance of identity before becoming a Christian. I had spent my life searching for meaning in a million different places: school, career, girls, popularity, money. I got my identity through what other people thought of me, which made me incredibly insecure. I was haunted by a fear that I was never good enough. I struggled with anxiety and depression and used drugs and alcohol as an escape.
About nine months after my conversion, I was praying for a friend struggling through a breakup. I told him that his identity didn’t come from a woman and that his life had meaning whether he was in a relationship or not. All of a sudden, I realized I was talking to myself. It didn’t matter whether I had a successful career, a wife and kids, or a lot of money. None of those things defined who I was. My identity came from Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.
In his letter to the Philippian church, Paul writes, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (4:12–13).
Once I internalized those words, I was free.
Jonathan Tjarks is a staff writer at The Ringer, where he covers professional basketball.
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