photo courtesy Sam Schmitt
My Story: How My Life Changed

Small-Town Atheist

An atheist makes friends with Christians and pursues faith.

Sam Schmitt with Rita Wright

I’ve always been interested in the spiritual side of things, and I had read quite a bit about religion, atheism and theology. But I’ve also always been a staunchly skeptical person. In high school I was a Humean skeptic. I couldn’t accept anything that I didn’t have evidence to support.

I spent the summer of 2011 at Bowling Green State University instead of going home, and I decided that my personal project that summer was to understand faith from the viewpoint of a believer. That’s why I was involved in Cru summer life groups.

I wouldn’t say I was any closer to believing at the end of the summer, but I met a lot of wonderful people. And I realized that these people seemed to know something about life that I didn’t. I kept asking myself, “What’s going on with these people? Why are they so great?”

From that point forward, I spent a lot of time asking spiritual questions. I tried to figure out how to move from point A to point B – from doubt to faith.

From that point forward, I spent a lot of time asking spiritual questions. I tried to figure out how to move from point A to point B – from doubt to faith.

I talked with Steve Rieske, an associate campus staff member with Cru at BGSU, asking rational questions like, “Can God be perfectly good and perfectly forgiving and perfectly loving?”

I would have these theological discussions with Steve and then experience their practical truth in my life. We talked about the concept of grace and forgiveness, and soon after I had the opportunity to forgive someone who had deeply wronged me. Through experiences and conversations like that, I moved from atheism to agnosticism, but I didn’t see myself getting any closer to believing in Christianity.

As time passed, I spent more time with the Christians around me. Maybe they constantly wished that I would be a Christian, but I never felt like they were trying to make me another notch in their conversion belts. We’d get coffee and they’d tell me what was going on in their lives. They’d hear what was going on with me, and they’d ask me if it was okay to pray for me. And sometimes I’d say yes.

One day, as I reflected on my life, I had this epiphany: My hesitation to accept Christ was based on the same contingencies I placed on all the relationships in my life. I had always been resistant to receiving love from another person. There were always important questions that had to be answered first, like whether or not we both wanted to live in the city or have a dog and kids.

I realized that a relationship with Christ is not a conditional thing like that. Through my conversations with Steve and other friends, I realized that if I was ever going to be happy and live a life worth living, I would have to stop trying to fit love into my life’s plan and start fitting my life into love.

To accept the real love of a person, I could not be hindered by so many strange reservations. I saw how this related to Christ, too. All I had to do was accept that I was in need of Christ’s salvation, acknowledge that He is real, and accept His love into my life.

This is a rationalized story about how I came to faith in Christ. But the whole point of this story is that rationality is not the point.

This is a rationalized story about how I came to faith in Christ. But the whole point of this story is that rationality is not the point.

The details of my intellectual life and every other aspect of my life are pretty inconsequential. Whom I love and why I love is much more important than philosophical discussions or economic theories. The rational parts of life are sterile.

If I were to speak to myself two years ago about God, I would want to tell him that the only way to live a good life and find happiness is to love people well through Christ. I know that he’ll think that last part is crazy, but now I know that God made us to care about each other and live well together in His light. Deep down, people are not about economics. That’s not what’s on our hearts.

But I know that I could not convince my past self about Christ. I didn’t need truth unpacked for me; I needed to see it lived out. As trite as they may seem, the words of the modern hymn are so true: “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

This is how it was for me. When I met all of the wonderful people in Cru, I didn’t know they were Christians by how many verses they knew or how well they did in the stock market. I knew they were Christians by their love, and that changed me.

Would you like to know God personally?


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Sam Schmitt is a senior at Bowling Green State University, double majoring in Political Science and Philosophy.

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