18 | Richard Newby: God's Patient Pursuit of a Hardened Atheist

"I am so much smarter."

"Come on, the truth is so simple to see. You 'enlightened' believers can’t actually believe in what you’re saying."

"Yeah, I’ve heard this argument a million times. You just haven’t been able to see the truth yet."

These are all things that I thought and believed a year ago. I was a hardened atheist.

Now, you might think that I grew up in an atheist household, that my parents are skeptics who made me critical of faith. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I grew up in a God-fearing family. My parents are adamantly devoted to Christ. I was baptized and went to Sunday school every week. I was an acolyte and usher. I completed my “God and Country” medal in the Boy Scouts.

And I went to an Episcopalian high school, where I had my first real spiritual debate—and where I lost my faith.

One Saturday, a couple friends and I talked late into the night, and the topic of faith came up. All of my hard work and attention in Sunday school was paying off. I passionately claimed my love for Jesus and my reasons for believing. I talked about how we committed the original sin, but God was gracious and sent His son to die for us. I talked about how He loved us and wanted us to love Him back. I even talked about how I gave my life to Christ when I was young.

And then my friend asked, “Do you believe because you’ve been through something and you truly saw that it was real, or do you believe because it was how you were raised?” The question shook me. I couldn’t honestly say that I would have been a believer if I hadn’t been raised in the faith.

From then on, I questioned my belief more and more. By the time I headed to college, I had officially left the faith and was seeking out more proof of just how right I was. The more I searched, the more I found. By the time I graduated college, I had not only renounced the faith, but condemned it. I thought believers were either too dim to figure out the truth, or too stubborn to accept it. I was happy to show all the evidence I had built up over the years that there was no God, and that religion was a man-made institution. And I was miserable.

Just as my world was rocked once, you can bet it was going to happen again. At one point, I was talking with someone I considered pretty bright, and once again the topic of religion came up. I was excited to show my evidence and have them look at me and say, “Exactly!” Imagine my shock when they told me that faith is what brought them this far and what gave them the strength to go on.

How did I misjudge so badly? Here is someone I respect and admire for their mind, but they’re telling me they believe in an almighty deity? I look back on this moment and realize that this was the first small crack in the cement of my hardened heart.

Over the next couple months, God seized the opportunity He had so patiently waited for and planted a seed in that broken shell, putting His master plan in motion. As only the Master Gardener can do, He started watering the seed.

God not only cared enough for me to send His Son to die for something that I did, but He had actively pursued me for over ten years—and I was ready to stop running from Him.

I still wasn’t a believer, but things started happening in my life that I couldn’t explain or take credit for. I received a job offer that seemed providential in its perfect timing, just a couple of weeks after another position was set to end. Eventually someone asked me to come to church with them. I still hadn’t bought into the idea, but I agreed anyway. The sermon was about Jonah, and the lesson was about running from what you’re called to do. Talk about perfect timing! God not only cared enough for me to send His Son to die for something that I did, but He had actively pursued me for over ten years—and I was ready to stop running from Him. At that moment, the tree that God planted sprouted from the crack in my heart, with roots spreading under the stony surface.

For the first time in over ten years, I sought out a church. Once a week for nearly two months, I met with Pastor Jeff, who helped me answer the questions I wrestled with. I also read Tim Keller’s The Reason for God, which allowed me to reconcile my misgivings about the Church and focus on the love and saving grace of Jesus.


Through His persistence, God showed how much He cared for me. He slowly replaced a haughty indignation with love, a heart full of pride and malice with a graciousness only He could provide, a shut-off mind and ears with open and teachable ones, and misery in darkness with the light of His shining grace. While it was tough to look back and see what a fool I had been, and maybe all too easy to blame the works of Satan, I fell down on my knees, repented for my sins, and proclaimed Jesus my savior. On September 24, 2017, I took the outward step of my inward transformation and was baptized.

Every morning, I do my best to worship Him by reading His word and meditating on everything He has done for me. I was a lost atheist, hardened by the ways of the world. I thought that I knew better than everyone else and could save myself, but God has shown me that only Jesus can save—and only through Him can I find eternal salvation. God has given me a second chance, and like the father of the prodigal son, He not only welcomed me back with open arms, but He rejoices in the lost one that He found.