In the face of questioning God’s benevolence, I was moved to embrace God’s ultimate beauty
On my bedside, right underneath my Bible, lies a copy of Christopher Hitchens’ award-winning book, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.” How’s that for irony?
Hitchen’s book has pleasantly rested there for the majority of my time as an undergraduate student, representing my faith’s gradual triumph over the philosophical arguments within the book’s 307 pages.
Though I am a follower of Christ and an adherent to biblical orthodoxy, I was not always firm in my faith. Ironically enough, discovering Hitchens and his works providentially placed me on a path toward a larger view of God and a firmer foundation for the Christian worldview I had before discovering him. While others praise his work for subversively undertaking religious thought, I praise it for leading me back to God.
Have you ever come across a book, podcast or video in which the speaker made you feel dumb? This is how I felt when I first came across the works of Hitchens.
Hitchens described himself as a journalist and a social commentator. As an unyielding anti-theist, he was known for his vociferous debating skills and never practiced succinctness or mere nicety.
A good friend of Hitchens by the name of Ian McEwan described his writing as “sometimes pompous…heavily laden with adjectives, elegantly looping sub-clauses and archaic phrases such as ‘allow me to inform you.’”
He routinely turned the common person’s highest vocabulary into his common vernacular — using words such as quixotry, château and Clausewitzian throughout his stories. Not only this, but his Alexandrian knowledge of history frequently put his debate opponents to shame.
Unfortunately, I did not discover Hitchens soon enough. I began reading him past the time his esophageal cancer set him on a path of degeneration; his final destination an arena to discover whether Pascal’s wager was truly worthwhile of ample consideration — or not. Though I never met him, this crass, atheistic writer set me on a path toward faith and turned my world upside down.
Early in my high school career, I watched a debate on the topics of macroevolution and creationism.
Following the debate, videos of Christopher Hitchens “debunking” Christianity started popping up everywhere in my YouTube feed. There was no chance for Christian apologists such as Ravi Zacharias to appear, as Hitchens barged into my intellect and refused to allow anyone else in.
After listening to Hitchens for a few weeks, I longed for some reason to continue affirming the Biblical narrative to be true. Didn’t God care about me enough to not allow my faith to be challenged? How come I just can’t believe like I used to?
Slowly, my healthy skepticism and Hitchens’ staunch anti-theism amalgamated into a dark cynicism. I found myself openly questioning the Lord and his divine logic.
What proceeded was a four year long, monumental shift in my worldview.
I was searching for my idealistic world. A world in which there was no divine being to blame for suffering and no one who determined whether or not I woke up on this side of eternity the next morning. I pondered if I was the result of random occurrences instead of the product of fine tuning or intelligent design, which led me to believing life was meaningless.
Along with these effects, I found myself desiring total self-determination.
I desired no sovereign reigning over me or, to paraphrase how Hitchens put it in an interview on Wretched radio, no North Korean type of dictator keeping track of the ethical quality of my thought life.
This is how I believed God operated. That he was almost like a furious taskmaster who caused me to do things that I didn’t want to do. He wanted to oppress me and my hedonistic tendencies.
Even as a Christian, I thought that my manner of thinking was higher than God’s. I was a dribbling fool who placed my opinions above his word.
Job faced a similar dilemma after the Lord allowed Satan to ransack his life and removed him of any will to live. After all Job’s suffering, God questions him: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding…Dress for action like a man; I will question you…Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (Job 38:4; 40:7-8).
After seeing God and being questioned by him, Job humbly replies: “I have uttered what I do not understand, things too powerful for me, which I do not know…I had heard of you through the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:3, 5-6).
Understanding how sovereign our Lord is and how small I am was a humbling experience for a young college student. Much like Job, I had to be humbled before I could be blessed. I learned to submit to his word even when I did not like it. I learned to submit to his will even when I did not understand it.
I recall sitting in a ministry course as a freshman and feeling like the God I believed in was so small. I had this unshakable feeling that I didn’t truly know him. When I listened to my favorite preachers in my free time, I found myself feeling encouraged but not growing closer to the Lord. These preachers weren’t answering my questions or showing me what the word of the Lord meant. Basic exposition of the text was continually traded in for entertaining allegories. I had grown tired of it.
I began to search the Scriptures in a meaningful way. I searched for sermons that would help me to know God better. Soon enough, my YouTube feed was no longer filled with rebuttals against Christianity but was filled with reverent, expository sermons.
Through reading Hitchens’ works, I discovered apologetics. I read books such as “Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion” by Rebecca McLaughlin. I learned about God’s love from apologist Ravi Zacharias. Most significantly, I came across the works of John Piper, a pastor, who showed me the beauty of our God.
In a sermon titled, “The Glory of God In the Sight of Eternity,” Piper made a claim that has stuck with me: “Not only is all of your affliction momentary. Not only is all of your affliction light, in comparison to eternity and the glory there, but all of it is totally meaningful. That is a very controversial statement because of how much insane suffering there is in the world. There is no excuse for not crying everyday.”
I was astounded to hear Piper cite the same horrifying instances Hitchens used to disprove God’s benevolence. He continued, “[2 Corinthians 4:17] says, ‘Our light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory … Every millisecond of your misery in your path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of [it].”
This was news. Never had I considered that Paul — who suffered five sets of 39 lashes from his kin, suffered demonic mockery and was ultimately beheaded — was telling Christians that all of their suffering is for a greater purpose. After understanding this truth, my mentality truly shifted and I embraced God.
I was overcome by the realization that God would be so merciful to tell his church that suffering was not meaningless. Hitchens couldn’t promise me this, but God did.
These God-breathed words hit my soul, and I no longer needed apologetic videos or books to sustain my faith. I simply clung onto the cross by which I was saved.
I am grateful for Hitchens and Christians who led me to criticize and question my faith because without them I would not have the trust in God that I do today. Soli Deo Gloria.