The atheist letters: A loss remembered (Part 2)

by Don Hartness

“Your faith is a lie.”

Article after article, essay after essay, the message was clear. Sure, I knew of Paine, Nietzsche, Hume, and many other critics of Christianity, but these accusations were different. Questions over authorship. Numerous demonstrated contradictions found within the good book. Disparity between professed faith and demonstrated deeds by adherents. When laid beside the wreckage of my life, it was a convincing argument.

I was drowning.

“Your life was wasted.” The words clawed the back of my mind, sinking their talons deep into my conscience as my heart seized up in despair. Just give in and give up. As I looked out towards the hills and remembered my many losses, I wondered if there was anything left to hold onto.

One day, through the haze of depression, I recalled a simple fact. When I started this journey, I relied on a simple Scripture quote (Matt 6:25-34) that said, in essence, that if you seek God first, you need not worry about how you will live. Throughout my entire experience, I flung myself with reckless abandon on these words, and I could honestly say that I was never proven wrong.

Homelessness? Yes, in the sense of not having my own place, but I was never without a place to sleep. Broke? As a joke – but never without a meal. Clothing? Not fancy, but always adequately warm. In short, it was never luxurious, but I never lacked. Even now, I was safe and, although my creditors were hounding me at the eleventh hour, I wasn’t dead yet.

That’s what I would hold onto: if my faith was real, I would be rescued one more time.

This required a bigger miracle than the reader realizes. I didn’t land just anywhere when I came to Wyoming: I landed in Rock Springs. I saw plenty of rocks. Trees? Entertainment? Culture? Springs?? Nay-nay. There are rocks. What else do you want?!

Jobs? The one at the motel kept gas in my car, but I needed far more than a service-wage job to get out of this hole. In Rock Springs, you have two choices: mining and oil fields. My total experience in either area? Zilch. Nevertheless, I had two weeks to earn my first paycheck before my car was repossessed (Rock Springs isn’t exactly a hub of public transportation). That meant I had exactly one day to find the job that would save my ass.

The night before, a co-worker told me about a fueling company that was hiring. She sort-of knew the assistant manager there (that is to say, she knew of him). I wrote down the name and number without much expectation. The next day, before I started off on the impossible mission, I called the company and name-dropped my co-worker to the receptionist as I left a message for the manager. I then proceeded to knock on doors, moving from one company to the next, from one end of town to the other.

As I proceeded to fill out my fifth application with my standard response to every question regarding experience (“NA”), I received a phone call. It was the manager of the company I called that morning. He wanted to know if I was available for an interview…in 30 minutes. I dropped the application on the table in the lobby and jumped into my car.

When I got there, my heart sank. It wasn’t the assistant manager; it was the branch manager (they had the same first name). He didn’t know me, my co-worker, or anything about me. I figured this would be one quick interview.

I was right. He hired me in fifteen minutes.

When I asked him a week later why he hired me over all the other applicants with far more experience than me, he simply shrugged and said, “I had a sense that you needed the job more than them.” I never told him a word.

*          *          *          *          *

I know, I know, not exactly a miracle, right? There are plenty of other explanations for why he hired me. Maybe he saw the desperation in my face (I thought I hid it well, but I could be wrong). Maybe somebody called ahead and dropped a word in his ear about me. Or, as I would learn later, there was a specific reason why they always needed employees. Whatever the reason, it’s not in any way proof of divine intervention.

The problem for me is that trying to explain it any other way becomes even more convoluted. This event wasn’t the first time. Just the year prior, I was in a similar situation in Florida, fresh off the break-up with my fiancée. That time, a web developer hired me with no experience and no references, all based on “a hunch”…

Then there was that night when I found myself on the street after being left for dead in Ohio. The guy that came out of nowhere to help me find a room for the night. The other guy who materialized the next day when I locked my keys in the car (and I didn’t have enough money for a locksmith). The next guy in the chain who offered me a room to stay, all on a weekly basis, with the first week matching the amount of money I had left in my pocket (with $5 left over for dinner than night)…

Not to mention the more interesting incidents. Like that night when I couldn’t physically push the gas pedal, saving me from a deadly car crash. Or that whole unbelievable business with the tornado (and no, I’m not going any further with that one; you wouldn’t believe a word of it if I told you)…

And those are just a few examples in literally hundreds throughout the course of this walk. The events, seemingly random at the time, culminate in moments of powerful clarity, when you look back and see a plan beyond your comprehension, resulting in powerful changes in your life and the lives of others. Personal character flaws that couldn’t be revealed any other way, even with professional help. Prayers uttered by others that you became the answer for, only finding out afterwards. Lives changed in ways that defy explanation.

I know, none of this even begins to convince you. That’s okay, because the story is just getting started. I only wanted to throw that out there for now, as it is one of many themes that I want to introduce to you. For now, let’s move on. After all, just because I got a job doesn’t mean that I was out of the woods yet.

There is still the small matter of trying to understand how I got here in the first place. For that, we need to have a small discussion about one of the principal objections towards theism.

The question of suffering.