From Atheist to Servant of the Living God
I was born into an atheistic family and came to faith in Jesus as a young adult. Although my father was an atheist, his father went even further in rebellion against God by being an occultist church leader. My grandfather Frederick Hathaway was an Astrologer whose readings were broadcast on Canada’s national radio network – the CBC. He also published the magazine The Canadian Astrologer and founded a church called the Aryan Astrological Occult Church of Christ. The Canadian Historical Review called Frederick Hathaway “the foremost pioneer in the contemporary syncretic marriage or Christianity and the esoteric arts” (Len Kuffert in “Tempest in the Tea Leaves: Broadcasting the Esoteric Arts and Mystic Sciences, 1937-1953”, 12). His techniques was to mix astrology and “Christianity” in a way that made people think he could predict the future. Based on that he was able to sell predictions about wheat crops using the exposure he gained from his radio broadcasts. Frederick was an absentee father however and thus was not an influence on my father, but his teachings were later brought into our home (via his books) when he reconnected with my dad shortly before my grandpa died in 1978. Already an atheist, my dad thankfully was not significantly influenced by the writings of his father.
Childhood and Teen Years
When I was a preteen my brother and I were invited to a local Sunday School by some adults canvassing our neighborhood. We attended a couple times at most, but stopped when we were made fun of by our peers. Even though I put it out of my mind for years, I would later remember the gospel message that I first heard there.
My teen years were wasted on weekly drinking binges and recreational drug use. At this young age I was allowed to drink in my home and consequently developed a pattern of drunkenness each weekend. Although for a while it seemed like a cool thing to do, by the time I completed high school this pattern became a trap that I was unable to get out of. Drinking changed from a social activity to a mental escape from the failure that my life was becoming. Increasingly I was drinking alone. By the time I was 20 I was getting drunk at least once a week even when I had nothing to do and no one to do anything with.
During the lowest points in this pattern I began to reconnect with some high school friends who had become “born-again.” For me the phrase was little more than a term to mock people by, but despite my disdain I soon realized that their lives were more meaningful than mine had become. They tried hard to explain how Jesus could change my life, but I had adopted my father’s atheistic views and their explanation of Jesus as God’s Son had no impact on me. I did not believe in God, so telling me that He had a Son who paid the penalty for my sins (in my place) meant nothing to me. To me, Jesus was a fascinating and even unique person, but since I did not believe in God anything that indicated He was more than a man fell on deaf doubting ears.
However, my friends were successful in getting me to read a bible; even though I would not let them know it. Being unemployed and directionless, I read the bible on average 8 hours a day. The Gospels were the only thing that made sense to me. I already liked Jesus and what He stood for. He was a good man- but to me he was nothing more. Seeing that my denial of a God who made us was limiting my openness to learn, my friends began to stress that God can actually be seen. The first verse that had a significant influence on my atheism was John 14:9 where Jesus says that “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Interestingly, I had thought that I was stumping my friends by saying “I will not believe in God until I see Him,” but this verse was telling me that the Father is seen in the Son. I was realizing that maybe the Father (being Spirit) could not be seen, but Jesus’ actions and wisdom was showing me the Father whom I could not see. I was already agreeing that Jesus’ miracles and teaching were “supernatural” and the message of the bible was beginning to sink in.
Conviction and Conversion
Although I was beginning to understand and even agree with much of what I was reading in the bible I knew that that did not make me a Christian. After this period of regular bible reading I knew my life was a mess and I needed a Savior and not just a better way of thinking. Increasingly I was seeing that I needed salvation from sin. If there is a God, He alone can determine what is dissatisfying to Him. He calls those things “sin.” Inside I knew it was my sin that was messing up my life (even though I did not always understand “sin” as defined by God), but it took a while before I was willing to do anything about it. I simply was not burdened about it. That changed when I went to a few bible studies with my friends. I was still not telling my friends that the message of the bible was beginning to make sense. I simply hung out with them since I had nothing else to do. When they began to go to bible studies I went along.
The first bible study I attended was where God began to make the reality of my need prominent in my mind. In this study the leader asked each of us to read a verse or two on a topic that he had selected. Each person would read and then comment on the verse(s). As you can imagine I was nervous. I was not willing to feign an arrogant disinterest among those I did not know. That was my approach with Christian friends, but I did not want to do that here. An unexpected thing happened when I was asked to read. I had never had difficulties reading in public, but when my chance came I mispronounced a few words in my passage from 1 Corinthians 2: 11-14. I was particularly stuck at v. 14. Here is how the passage reads:
For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
When I read and embarrassingly mispronounced some words, the leader discreetly gave me a second chance. However, I misread the passage again which only caused me to contemplate these words that had become at that moment so significant. Eventually, the leader graciously moved on to the next person, but I was captured by these words. They became my undoing. I was the “natural man” who was not understanding “the things of God” because I did not have the Holy Spirit. I thought that by my extensive reading in the bible I could understand its message. It had not worked! I could not even pronounce the words that I understood.
That passage resonated in my head for the remainder of the weekend. On the Sunday I went to church for one of first times with my friends. The Pastor preached an evangelistic message calling for faith in Christ and I felt convicted of my sin, but I did not respond. Afterwards my friends told me that they had not realized how close I was to surrendering to Jesus. That afternoon I spent time alone in the basement of my parents’ home. It was a place where I had sinned against God on a regular basis. That was becoming real to me and pressed on me with conviction. It was a burdensome time and after a few hours I came to an end of myself- knowing I had no hope in myself- and confessed my sins to God in repentance. I distinctly recall rising to my feet with the unburdened feeling of forgiveness. By that time the evening service at my friend’s church was about to start and I went to that friend’s house and was greeted by his mother who even without me saying a word knew I had become a Christian.
In every way imaginable that was the beginning of a new life for me. God has blessed me in uncountable ways which if I was to list them would make this already lengthy story intolerably long.