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Episode 93: Experiencing the Miraculous
Dave Rankin's Story

Dave Rankin Side B Stories

Former atheist Dave Rankin's difficult life experiences proved to him that God could not exist.  Through his years of atheism, other surprising experiences awakened him to the possibility of something more than his atheism could explain.

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Hello, and thanks for joining in. I'm Jana Harmon, and you’re listening to Side B Stories, where we see how skeptics flip the record of their lives. Each podcast, we listen to someone who has once been an atheist or a skeptic who became a Christian against all odds. You can hear more of our stories at our Side B Stories website at or on our YouTube channel. We welcome your comments on our stories on our Facebook page and YouTube videos. You can also email us at [email protected]. We always love hearing from you.

There's often an expectation, especially among skeptics, that knowledge of or belief in something comes exclusively through rational means. There's an assumption that, since rejecting God is the most reasonable thing to do, that coming to believe in God, should that happen, should be a rational process as well. But if God exists and can reveal Himself through His presence, through a spiritual experience, someone may become convinced that God is real through non-rational means, not irrational, but rather non-rational ways. That way of knowing something to be true is not necessarily inferior to rational means. In fact, it may be more compelling. It's just different. 

When it comes to religious conversion, there are no two journeys towards God that are the same. Some are driven towards belief in God because they have been convinced by facts and arguments and evidence. Others come to believe in God because they have experienced something that seems to exist beyond our physical bodies, beyond the physical realm, that seems unexplainable. Or they may experience seeming miraculous events or the intangible, overwhelming love of God that convinces them of God's reality. They may not be able to explain why they know that God is real. They just know that he is. That's not to say that someone cannot then go on to ground their experience in more rational, evidential means. Oftentimes they do. After all, if God is real and Christianity is true, both experience and reason should fit together in a comprehensive way that makes sense of their experience, of their thoughts, of all reality. 

In our story today, Dave came to believe in God after decades of being convinced that He did not or could not exist, but he was led to believe over a series of compelling experiences. I hope you'll come along and listen closely to understand his journey. 

Welcome to the Side B Stories podcast, Dave. It’s great to have you with me today.

Thank you so much. I've been looking so forward to this.

Oh, I have, too! I know a little bit about your story, and I'm just very anxious to get into that. But before we do, I'd love for the listeners to know a bit about you, so why don't you introduce yourself to us?

Sounds good. Hi. My name is Dave Rankin. In 57 years old, just turned 57 in September. Me and my wife Teresa have been married thirty years, and we've stayed married through three separations, the most recent of which was from 2013 to 2016, after my conversion to faith in Christ. But we've been back together for seven years now. We have three adult children and three grandchildren, the most recent of which, Raya Star, was born three weeks ago tomorrow.

Oh! Congratulations!

Well, thank you.  Just a little background on myself. I've been in customer service in one form or another since I was sixteen years old, went to school, and we'll get into that, but I went to school and got a degree in evolutionary biology, which I never used. I’ve found that I actually really enjoy working with people.

So I’m really looking forward your telling your story today. Why don't we start there, in the beginning, in your childhood. And start us there. Talk with us about your family of origin, where you lived, what your family life was like. And did you go to church? Or was God hidden or absent?

Yeah. That’s a great question. I had really very limited experience with God when I was a child. Growing up—I'm going to assume, and I never knew the answer to this question—my dad I'm assuming was an atheist, maybe an agnostic. I honestly never got to ask him that question. He's deceased now, and we’ll get to that part of the story, because it’s a huge part of my conversion. But my mom, her brother, sister, and parents, my grandparents, who were amazing people, all lived very close to us, so I grew up, first seven years in my life, in West Haven, Connecticut. But the only people that went to church that I knew of were my aunt, Judy, and her husband Paul, who is my mom's brother. And we would go periodically. My mom, my sister, and I would go Christmas and Easter.

Would I call us religious? Absolutely not. In fact, I didn't even know my mom had been raised in the Methodist Church until after I came to my conversion and we would discuss Jesus and discuss God. And that's when she told me, “Oh, yeah. We used to go as a family to the Methodist church right up the street.” So that was really interesting to find out, because my mom and dad never conveyed what I would call any form of faith necessarily. My aunt, though, on the other hand, and uncle, were very prominent in the church. They were I believe a deacon and a deaconess in a congregational church, a beautiful old white historic church that has been on the green in West Haven since the Revolutionary War. So we would go there, and it was very—I don't know—boring to me. I didn’t find anything…. You know, I'm a 5-, 6-, 7-year-old kid. Church was boring. Hard pews, blabbity, blah, blah, blah. All I hear is the teacher from Charlie Brown talking when I'm going. And I don't mean that in disrespect, but it just was what it is.

And so a couple things stand out about that time frame, in that part of this picture. One, I distinctly remember the few times we went hearing this, “Our Father, Who art in heaven,” and of course the Lord's Prayer. I couldn't have spoken it back then. I wouldn't remember it. But now, on this side of my story, I remember that distinctly and just thinking, “What are these people doing?” I don't see any lived out, whatever this is. I don't see anybody living out Christianity. I didn't know to call it that. But I saw them go through this rote prayer that they just repeated every time we went to church. And I thought, “Well, that's kind of interesting,” and I even think we may have said it, too, even though I didn't know what it was or to believe it. So that was really interesting.

And then the other thing that really stood out. I really believe the first time I know that God was really seeking after my heart, and of course, I didn't know this, then. I'm gonna say about seven years old, Easter weekend. My uncle played Jesus in the church play. And bare backed, nothing but a loincloth on, walking down the center aisle of the church, toting a cross, being beaten, quote-unquote beaten, by these two Roman guards, and I wept and wept, and I didn't identify at that point what that was, why I was weeping. But, man, that was super powerful! It was so powerful that I never forgot that even in my atheism. I never forgot the power of watching this man, who was then, at that point, not my uncle. He's just this man getting beaten, and then they hung him on the cross, you know? With ropes. And just the power of that. I really think that was God just kind of showing me what Christ did, at seven years old, looking, testing my heart and going, “What do you think about this? What do you feel about this?” And so that was really powerful. So, church wise, that was about the extent of it. And then we moved from West Haven to New Haven.

So my father bought a house without telling my mother. He bought a house in New Haven, Connecticut, about three miles from Yale University. That was a pretty mixed bag of lower middle class families. And it was awesome. I mean it was so cool to grow up in an area where there were so many diverse ethnic groups.

My best friend, who happened to live next door, he was a Seventh Day Adventist. His whole family was. And so what I knew, the only thing I knew about him, was that, at sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, Terry was a no go. He couldn't come out. He couldn't play. He couldn't watch wrestling with me. He couldn't do anything. And so I saw foolishness in that as an 8-, 9-year-old kid. I was like, “Well, you dress up in a suit. You go someplace for six, seven hours on a Saturday. You come home, and I don’t see….” I didn’t see any difference. And so a lot of my faith story and a lot of my atheism, which I wouldn't have called myself an atheist then, but my, “God isn't anything” type mentality was I didn't see anybody…. Other than my Aunt Judy, who was at the Congregational Church, I didn't really see anybody live any differently. So it became kind of a non-issue. So not really a lot going on in that 7-, 8-year-old time frame.

My dad loved watching the news. It was one thing we could sit down, turn on the news, eat dinner on TV trays, and watch the news, the absolute horror of Vietnam War every single night, the 1972 Munich Olympics terrorist attacks. I watched those live. The combat between the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, watched that every time they showed it on TV. I was watching people attack each other. And that, I think, started to set in my mind this feeling of, “There can't be a good God.” I mean, again, I didn't look at it in these terms, but people are bad. Even local news. When you live in the inner city, as you probably… you don't get much good news. Every night, car crashes, murders, robberies. So I saw a lot of bad stuff.

And we are living a relatively happy life. My dad was a workaholic, so I didn't see him a lot. My mom had to work because my dad couldn't support the family, so from the time I was five years old at least, my sister and I were home by ourselves a lot. And so we were latchkey kids. But we seemed pretty happy as a family, I thought. My dad was very type A. I didn't realize… He didn't get diagnosed bipolar until he was fifties, but I'm sure he was bipolar at that point, too. He was very not comfortable in social environments. So he was a pretty hard person.

But things were going along, and one thing I noticed as I got into nine, ten years old is that Dad was working more and more. And at some point, he… so we would take family trips and all, but one thing we never did, we never went camping. Probably around nine and a half, ten years old, my dad all of a sudden became very interested in camping. He bought tons of camping equipment and things like that, would even take us as a family to go buy camping equipment with him, and he was going camping with his buddy from work. He would go out several weekends a summer. This is probably when I was ten, I think, and he would go camping, and he would come back and tell us these amazing stories about fishing on the lake in Vermont and camping with his buddy and his buddy's dogs and how awesome it was. And in my heart, as a 9-, 10-year-old child, what I heard was, “I'm having a lot of fun. We're doing guy things, and you're not invited.” And it really hurt to think, “Wow, why am I not being able to be part of this?”

So I just kind of like sat on that and just figured, “I'm not lovable.” It was only conclusion I could have, was I wasn't lovable, at least enough to be invited to go camping. And that may sound silly, but that's just the way it was. That's how my heart was. And I found out the truth. So I think I was eleven, I'm going to say, when my dad asked my mom for a separation. And while they were separated, so they're living separate and were going through the process of heading towards a divorce. And all of a sudden, my dad comes to me one day and says, “I want you to go camping with me.” And I was like, “Wow! That’s awesome.” I don't know what changed. But—and the “but” was the big part—but you have to keep a secret. Okay, I'm eleven. I'm like, “My dad loves me finally. He's going to invite me camping. I'm down with anything.” We're going camping with my girlfriend. That wasn't the secret I was expecting. Looking back, it all kind of makes sense, and it even made sense to my 11-year-old mind. I'm a pretty smart kid, and I'm thinking, “Okay. He’s been camping with a woman for a year and a half. Oh! I see why maybe I wasn't invited before.” So he told me, “You can go camping if you don't tell your mom that I'm having an affair,” basically, and I agreed.

And that set a root of bitterness in my heart that I couldn't have identified as that at eleven, but I certainly identified later, which we'll talk about here shortly, but it certainly set a hatred and a bitterness towards my dad. And towards myself, because I was now a liar.

Right. You were participating in it. Yeah.

Yeah. And so I don't know if that instigated the next parts of my journey, but I started shoplifting a lot. I got into pornography. I was addicted to pornography by the time I was twelve years old, shoplifting to the point where I finally—I'm glad I got caught and thrown in the back of a police car. And that straightened that attitude out really quick. I never did that again. But I was very destructive. Vandalizing a lot. Just acting a fool. And I can't make excuses for it, but honestly, I didn't feel like anybody else cared. So I just acted out.

Yeah. So it sounds like an interesting home life, really, growing up. Elements, very profound moments, I suppose, like seeing Christ and the cross and that was profoundly moving, but apart from that, it seemed that Christianity didn't take hold, really, and make a difference in people’s lives around you. And then you’re in the midst of this family that is breaking your heart. And it’s deception, and it’s lying, and you’re in the middle of it. And that must be very difficult. But you said there was a bitterness that took root there, so that kind of set you on the journey, then, for I guess what was to come. So walk us on. As you're getting into your teenage years and you’re studying and you're learning a little bit more, and you said you have a degree in evolutionary biology. I’m just curious where that direction took you.

Yeah. So as I went through that whole process, school, honestly, I was really good at subjects I liked. Loved history, loved science, specifically biology. And so I thrived in high school in the areas that I was good at. I got a high enough grade on my SAT to get into University of Connecticut. And by then, I had already kind of set in, not only was I disgruntled and really against my dad and his wife and things like that relationally. My mom…. When he left, she and my sister became best friends. I spent more nights than I can really remember at home by myself during high school, because the two of them would go out drinking. My sister looked significantly older than 16 or 17 years old, so she and my mom would go out, and they would drink and carouse and things like that. I blamed them then because I wasn't mature enough to understand that my mom was processing the grief of losing the relationship with my dad and my sister was processing a whole different way. But again, looking at my younger self, I was angry, sad. I was depressed. I probably needed counseling. But I didn't get any of those, because I didn't know to look for those.

So I got accepted to University of Connecticut. I was 16 years old when I graduated high school, only because I was an early starter in elementary school because of my birthday. But my freshman year in college started before my seventeenth birthday. The classes that were easy in high school, I didn't have to study really. The classes that were hard, I had honestly cheated my way through. And now I'm in college, where I've got sixteen credit hours in classes that need me to actually be participating and studying. And I quickly, within the first few days, found out that I was way over my head. Honestly, I probably should have stopped the process and just gone, “I'm not going to continue with college. I'm 16 years old. I need to go home.” But I was so dead set to never live at home again that I just was like, “I'm gonna bear into this and figure it out.”

And although I hadn't drank a lot before I got there, I was so bound and determined to make a presence and be accepted in college that I think the first time I was drunk was my third day on campus. And I pretty much started drinking four or five days a week after that, which is really common, unfortunately, from what I've heard is really common, but I ended up drinking so much that I was probably drunk more than I was not drunk at one point. And it was all to just, one, gain approval from my people in my dorm and things like that, but it was also just hiding the brokenness.

And so that kind of took a really bad turn. Probably about seven weeks into my freshman year, we had a Thursday night party. And Thursday night was our party night. That was the big night when everybody was going to drink. And I actually drank so much that I went into a 52-hour coma. And that was pretty life changing.

Yeah. Probably a wake-up call there.

I actually went completely sober for two and a half years after that.

Yeah. So, during this time, okay, we're going high school and college, and you're making, it sounds like, some bad choices, some better choices. But were you identifying as an atheist at this time? Would you have considered yourself or proclaimed yourself to be an atheist?

Yeah. At this point, I understood what atheism was, and I was definitely firmly rooted in what I would consider to be atheism. I had no desire, but I saw nobody living out any form of faith. Every dorm mate or girlfriend or anything that I was involved with who claimed faith, I didn't see any difference between them and me. So they were drinking. They were carousing. They were sleeping with people. And so I didn't see…. There was no God. Again, I didn't see any resemblance of people with faith, and the ones who did claim faith were hypocrites to me. And so I didn't really have any context.

And I also, because I was in biology, everything was provable. My two favorite classes, history and biology. Biology, or sciences, you're proving something that can be proven through the scientific method. And history, you're seeing the proof of what existed. So I loved both of those classes, because those just helped me root my atheism in, “This is obvious, and this is obvious, and so this supernatural stuff, none of that. There’s not a place for it. There's no need for it.” And I honestly thought anybody—my exact words, I think, were people of faith were idiots. I mean, they're just fools, chasing after a ghost. It just seemed silly to me. And I mean I had brilliant friends, engineers and all different fields, and I was like, “Well, how can you have any belief in this God, supposedly, and science at the same time?” That seemed like they were not able to sit on the same plate to me. So yeah. I thought the whole God concept - it was all just hogwash. Simple-minded people believing simple-minded things.

Obviously, it seemed like everywhere you looked, whether it was science or history, whether it was your own family, whether it was your friends who called themselves Christians, yet there was no evidence of that.

Right, right.

Nobody took it seriously.


And there were just no compelling reasons personally or educationally or scientifically or historically. Whatever. There was no good reason anywhere for you to find that God exists. I can totally understand how you got to the place where you declared yourself and atheist and that there was no other option. But what made the turn? What allowed you to become open to the possibility of God?

Yeah. So after college, just so we get caught up in the story, I didn't want to move home ever again, so I spent a summer working at Epcot Center in Florida, and then I moved out to Colorado, and I worked at Breckenridge ski area for three years, got to ski for free a lot.


It was awesome.


Yeah. And the summers in Colorado mountains are even more beautiful than the winters in the Colorado mountains, so I fell in love with Colorado and then fell in love with a gal that I worked with at Walmart, who ended up becoming my wife, Teresa. But I had no need for God, even during those travels. We had ups and downs. One of the biggest stories that I think is worth mentioning: My wife and I were already married, and my stepmother, who I had hated really bitterly because I thought she stole my dad, she ended up contracting or being diagnosed with stage four cancer at one point.

I hadn't cared for Bernice much to say the least, but we had become friends and mutually respectful of each other. The night that I received the call from my dad, saying, Bernice is in home hospice, and she's going to die in the next 24 hours, I flew to Connecticut just to be with my dad. Even though I still had a lot of hard feelings, I wanted to be there, and again, that's part of my empath kind of bent. I also knew that my dad was in the house with his dying wife, with her two sons, who hated him bitterly. I went to be a peacekeeper and to bring some levelheadedness, I thought, to the situation. I honestly thought she was going to be deceased before I got there, but when I got to Connecticut, my dad actually met me at the airport and said, “She’s going to wait for you.”

We drove all the way to his house, a two-hour drive, and sure enough, Bernice was still alive. And she lived another 24 hours, and God actually blessed me with something in that moment. The next day, the tension in the house was tremendous, Bernice is failing fast. And the brothers and my dad are at odds, and I just finally said, “Why don’t all of you just go? Leave. Do something independently of each other, and I'll just stay here, and I'll just watch over her. And I'll call you if something happens.” And they left, and I just sat next to Bernice and started talking to her. I couldn't tell if she could hear me or not. And once they were gone, I just kind of quietly said, “They’re gone. You can go whenever you'd like.” And it was less than two minutes before she took her last breath.

And I didn't believe in spirits. I didn't believe in any of that at that point. But watching her take her last breath was the most profound thing I’d ever seen in my life. I actually believe I saw her spirit leave her body. Not saw her spirit. But God allowed me to identify there is something on the bed that is Bernice and there's something that's not here that is also Bernice. And they aren’t together anymore. And so God, in His grace—and this is way before I knew God—allowed me to see this transformation and go, “That wasn't by mistake. Two different things are here.” I got to witness the profoundness of the spirit and the body as two different entities. It didn't make me believe in God, but I was certainly like, “That was strange.”

Yeah. Maybe there’s something more than just a physical reality.

Right, right. Yeah. It was something I couldn't put words to for sure, and I couldn't prove by science. So that happened. Years go by. No real change. I'm not believing in God. I’m not seeking God. Nothing like that. In 2005, my wife, who was raised Catholic and didn't want anything to do with organized religion, starts attending a little church right in the town we lived in, Carson City, Nevada, called The Church of Religious Science.  Unitarian, kind of that universalism? Basically, there's a little bit of Jesus and a whole bunch of gods everywhere. So she started going with the kids. At that point, we had three children already. And she started attending this church. And because I wanted to show her more support, I decided, “Okay. If I can, I'll go to this church.” And even though I had no desire to believe in God, I just wanted to support my wife and my kids. So I started attending this church, where these beautiful people attended. They were awesome people. They talked a little bit of this God stuff. God was in everything. That's the whole premise, is God’s in everything. And you're God. And I'm God. Everybody's God., et cetera. They'd sing songs. We'd eat free food. It was okay.

Two months into attending that little church, a friend of mine, one of my coworkers, actually received a call that his 20-year-old daughter was killed in a head-on collision. And again, my empathic nature came out. “Man, how do I love on my friend? He just went through the most horrible tragedy that I've ever heard.”

Yes. Yes.

And so I loved on him as best I could, and just tried to show him compassion. The interesting thing that happened from a God perspective is, that weekend, I went to church, and they had a little candle area where you could light a candle and you could pray. I didn't believe any of it. And I just remember going up, lighting a candle and having a prayer something to the effect of, “I don’t even believe in you. I don't know if God really exists, but it can't hurt. So I'm just going to pray give my friend peace. Help him be okay and just help him to get through this.” And that was the extent of it.

I didn't think anything of it until, a month later, my family and I had gone on vacation to California. We got home, and as we were unpacking the car, my phone rings. And it's my mom, and she's screaming into the phone, “Linda's dead! Linda's dead! Linda's dead!” Linda was my sister.

Oh, goodness.

And I had to kind of calm her down and go, “What are you talking about?” Linda, her husband Mario, my eight-year-old nephew Jacob, and Joshua, his 10-year-old brother, were in a car, headed on a surprise trip up the West Coast, and they were going to come visit us in Nevada as a surprise. And they got to Gallup, New Mexico, right outside Gallup, New Mexico, and were hit head on by a lady. So it was an elderly lady, her daughter, who was in her thirties or forties, and two 14-year-old. She crossed the median and actually hit my sister's car head on. The two twins and my nephew Joshua lived through the accident, but my sister, her husband, and all the other people were killed on impact. So here I am, literally six weeks or less post this prayer, and I'm getting this phone call that basically the same thing’s happened in my life.

What I saw in five or six days in Texas was miraculous. It wasn't just the people loving on me. It was stories like going to my sister's place of work and having my sister's co-worker say, “Your sister came in for two weeks before her trip and cried every single day in the break room and said she's not supposed to go on her trip.” Or going to my sister's insurance agent and having him say, “Your sister was so convinced something was going to happen on this trip that she increased her insurance.” Or having my mom say, “On the morning I kissed them all goodbye, I told Linda to put my phone number on a piece of paper and put it in her purse, even though she had a cell phone, so somebody could get a hold of me in case they couldn't access her cell phone.” And, and, and…. A dozen or more indescribable circumstances that had no sense to them. They weren't logical. My brain works very logically. They weren’t logical.

And so I was convinced, at that point, that this event was meant to happen. Not convinced of God, but certainly convinced that there was no way my sister was any place else at that moment in time.

So I came away from that event having literally witnessed miracles, too many to discuss here in the time we have. But knowing there's something greater than me involved in this whole life thing. I would definitely say I came back to a… I flew back home an agnostic for sure. So I'm now settled in my agnosticism, and I'm convinced that it's bigger than me. But not willing to go the God route yet.

That's pretty big paradigm shift, though.

Oh, yeah.

To move from atheism, “There is no God,” to, “Okay, there's something more, based upon all these experiences that are so unexplainable.” So you moved to a place where you were willing to say, “I’m not sure. I don’t know.” So then, what happened that became convincing for you?

Yeah. So miracles continued to happen. I was given a transfer opportunity to come to Colorado. My wife was born and raised here. And after my sister's accident, I lost my only sibling. And I was bound and determined, “We need to get our family to Colorado,” where my wife's family mostly was still centralized. I was given a full-paid trip, all expenses, moving truck, everything within eight weeks of that accident to come to Colorado.

Three or four years go by. And this is where the big hit happened. In 2008, my dad is actually teaching in China. While he was in China, he actually called me, and he said, “There’s something wrong. I've got something growing in my intestines and they don't know what it is.” He ended up having one of the rarest forms of lymphatic cancer known to man. I think they told me 75,000 total people on the planet are diagnosed with this particular type of lymphoma. And I was very mixed emotionally on what to think about that, because here's this man that I love, that I hate.

Yes, yes.

Yeah. So he ended up coming back, moving to Florida.  I received a call from his best friend, and I knew that he was going through a really hard-core chemotherapy, really heavy. And his friend called me and said, “I'm at the hospital. You need to get here as soon as you can, because he's not going to make it.”

I flew the next day. And that started a chain of events that changed my life forever. I got to Florida. I knew that my Uncle Larry, my dad’s youngest brother, and probably my Aunt Maxine, would be there because they were the closest to my dad as far as relationally.

But I was really convinced that for some reason I wished that my Uncle Larry's two daughters were at the hospital. I hadn't seen these girls since they were probably twelve and nine years old, and here I am at forty-something. And I don't even know. I had no idea why I thought that, but I was like, “Man, it would be just amazing if they were here.”

So I didn't think anything of it. I start the process of talking to the doctors every day and the nurses and just going in and trying to be with my dad and hopefully find a different heart for him as he laid dying. Where I saw God's hand really come in, is the second or third day I was there, my uncle told me, “Hey, Christa, my oldest daughter, is on her way. She's flying down to Florida.”

That story, when she got there, within two or three days of her just bathing me in prayer and love—and to give you an idea, she had been a Christian since she was six years old. She was born again at six years old. She told me that week she had been praying for me by name since she was nine years old, so well over thirty years, or right around thirty years, I think. And she came and started just showing me Jesus is the best way I could describe. She loved on me in the most profound, humble, honest way I’d ever had anybody love on me. And so she was just this example of Christ. And I couldn't tell you that at the time. I just knew that something different was about her.

She knew as soon as she saw me that the one very specific reason she was told to fly to Florida was to witness to me, and not witness, “Hey, Jesus is the way,” blah, blah, blah, but to literally show me the way, through love. And that was a profound story, because again that doesn't make sense. There's no logic. People don't have a spirit or some thing that talks to them. Maybe a conscience, but it was the first time I ever heard the word Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit told me that I had to come here, and as soon as I met you, Dave, I knew why I was here.”

The day after my dad died, her sister Allison showed up and had the same, remarkably similar story. “The Holy Spirit told me I had to to come to Florida.” So the two of them, in their wisdom and knowledge and discernment of the Spirit of God, both followed His leading and came to show me truth And love. It was amazing! That whole week, from the doctors, who many of them were Christians, to the nurse, who was definitely a Christian.

And so there's all these unfathomable, remarkable, non-logical things that are happening during this process. People hearing God. I’d never heard of that before. Where it comes into real context for me is I still hate my dad.


And so the doctors come in on Wednesday. We’re about five days in, and they come in and they go, “Okay, in the state of Florida, the wife or the spouse has to sign the papers to take someone off life support.” Well, his wife is a Filipino citizen who's been married to my dad for six weeks, who is now grieving the fact that she's going to watch her husband die. She had flown back in from China. And the doctors are telling me, “We would like you to talk to her and help her to see that he needs to be let go.” I convinced his wife to sign the paperwork, and we started the process.

And one of the things that was profound is, as he was dying, my dad was a very type A personality, and his wife is lying next to him, crying, “Don’t go! Don’t die!” et cetera, et cetera. And it was so disturbing to me to watch because he was in deep anguish, and finally, after three or four minutes, I stepped around to the other side of his bed. And one part I don't think I told about my sister's story is she was born again at sixteen years old. And even though she didn't live like she was a Christian necessarily in all ways, I truly believe she had committed her life to Christ at 16 years old.

He was anguished, like horribly, and I stepped over, and I just said to him, “It’s okay. Go and be with Linda.” And the immediate change, from anguish to… I wouldn't say peace immediately, but anguish to calm to peace. Thirty seconds maybe? I don't know. But when when I said that, I believe I released him to die in peace.


The change was profound and immediate, and he took his last breath in peace. And again, just like Bernice, his wife, I actually got to see the shell and the not shell. He was gone.

That night, I started asking my cousin, and then when her sister showed up, I started asking them the questions about scripture. “Tell me about this. Tell me about that. Tell me about this.” I couldn't even tell you why I was doing that. I was just like out of control. And they said some of the wisest things that I've ever had a Christian say to me, probably the wisest thing. After a certain amount of questions they said, “We’re not going to tell you.”

Go find out for yourself?

“Go find out for yourself.” If you really want to know, you’ve got to read the word. My cousin Christa brought me to Walmart, of all places, the next day and bought me my first Bible, a New Living Translation, and I just started devouring scripture. I’m still in Florida, still don't believe in God, still just, “Wow! A lot of crazy stuff has happened with my sisters' death and my dad's death, and I think there might be a God. I really think this might be the deal.” And I started devouring scripture, and I was like, “Wow!” If you really want to know, go to the gospel of John and pray, even if you don't believe. Pray to God, “Reveal Yourself to me,” and I did, and, man, I'll tell you what. You pray a prayer like that, and God’ll be faithful to that, and God started immediately being faithful to that, so much to the point that, several days later, I flew home.

The first words I said to my wife when I got in the car at the airport was, “I don't know what happened in the last eleven days, but I know God exists.” I mean that was the first thing I said to her, which I thought she'd, you know, get out of the car and do a back flip or something. She was just just stoic as could be, didn't phase her, didn’t excite her, didn't nothing. And that really struck me, because I was like, “Here’s the woman that I really thought wanted me to be a spiritual leader in our home, and she doesn't even care that I finally believe in God.” She knew I was an atheist.

And so I was ready to go back to work, but my wife, very wise, she called my boss the day before I got back, and she said, “I think Dave needs one more day just to decompress.” And that's the day that actually my life really changed. And what happened was we wake up on Monday morning, the fourth of May 2009, we’re drinking coffee on the couch, and I'm finally able to start to emote what happened. And what struck me is, “I'm a horrible, murderous, evil person.” I mean, I actually said, “I murdered my father,” to my wife. I'm sitting on my couch bawling. “I murdered my father. I hated him. I couldn't wait for him to die.” All very real, very true. It's the way it was. That was the true emotion that I felt. And as I'm emoting this out, literally uncontrollable, bawling, just emoting all this out, I felt—and this is going to be kind of the real like, “Wow! Could that really be true?” I felt a punch in my sternum as if a big person hit me as hard as I could right in the middle of my chest, so hard that I actually… I was kind of slumped over bawling, and it hit so hard that I went [SOUND 1:14:08]. And immediately, when that happened, the tears stopped, and it was, to use the words of the Apostle Paul, or the story about the Apostle Paul, it was like the scales fell off my eyes, and immediately clarity just went. And no tears. Calm as could be. I turn to my wife. She was sitting on my right. And I just go, “I got it.” She goes, “You got what?” “My sister and my dad died, so I could come to know God.” And in that moment, the only way to describe it is I felt forgiveness and peace flow over my head, all the way across my body, down to my feet, and out, and it washed me. It cleansed me to the point where my dad… I literally in that breath forgave my dad for everything he had ever done and forgave myself for having him taken off life support and feeling like I murdered him.

I believe that on May 4, 2009, the Holy Spirit entered me on my couch in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I will die believing that, and nobody can convince me otherwise, because I don't think there's any other explanation than that physical interaction was literally the Holy Spirit of God giving me the ability to say, “I believe. I believe that God exists.”

What a phenomenal story, Dave! I mean truly amazing. I think…. There's just so much there. I love that, in a sense that you are logical but you're an empath. You feel things deeply, and you sense things well from others. But not only that, not only are you emotionally connected, you’re very in tune, obviously, with the spiritual aspect. That’s a big thread through your story, is becoming aware of the spiritual, the something beyond the physical exists. And then, finally, through a series of events, you were able to give that a name. It was God.


And that you, too, are a spiritual being, that He has called to Himself. What a beautiful, beautiful story. And as we're wrapping up, I would love to know, because your story is so full in your experience as well…. You mentioned reading the Bible and calling out to God, if He’s real. I wonder. If you were sitting across from a skeptic who may have… It’s like, “I don't know.” You’ve mentioned the miraculous a lot. You’ve used the word Holy Spirit a lot. There’s a lot there that they don’t really understand. What would you say to someone who would say. “You obviously have been changed. There’s something about you. And I'm would like to know whether or not God exists because it looks like transformation is possible.”


What would you say to that person?

Boy. The first thing I would say is, “I understand. I've been there.” I was dead set that God didn’t exist. And the one thing I wasn't willing to do was to give God space. I had so much emotional baggage, and I'm going to guess that there's at least decent percentage of skeptics and atheists who will, if they're honest, see the pain. I think a lot of it is love related. We are human beings, and when we're children especially, if one aspect of our need for love is missing, it can set us on a path towards a hard heart. So I would ask the skeptic, I would ask the atheist, one, I'm going to be really bold and challenge you.

So be open and be honest. As a skeptic, look at why you're an atheist. Why are you a skeptic? Because it's easy to say, “I'm a skeptic.” It's kind of lazy. You know what I mean? And I don't mean that disrespectfully. I was lazy as an atheist. I didn’t go searching for more information about atheism or God. I just was like, “I hate my dad, and there are a lot of people that are hypocrites, and so hence there's not a God.” That’s a pretty not-justifiable position. So I know it takes a long way to get from atheism or skepticism to faith, but atheism is a faith. There's more faith in atheism than anybody ever wants to talk about. So acknowledge the fact that, even as an atheist, you have faith. You may not want to use that word because it's got religious connotations, but venture outside that faith. Get uncomfortable.

I didn't come to Christ through logic. There ain’t no logic in it. And my story's maybe a little bit different than a lot of stories. But plain and simple, when it comes right down to it, God is pursuing each and every one of us. And so be open and be honest and give space to the other sides of the story. Like we're doing right now. We're talking about side B. Flip that record over and go, “Have I really looked at the reasons for God? Why people believe?” Some people are logical. Some people have read books, and that's how they believe. Or heard testimonies, and that's how they believe. Every story is different, but it takes being willing to be open.

And I was never open. God had to literally pry the door open through the death of my sister and my dad. You don't have to go through that, atheists. You don't have to go through that as a skeptic. That’s a horrible, painful way to get to God. It's what my path was, and I don't regret it one ounce.

Yeah. I love that. It's very honest and raw. But it's also kind of perfectly challenging as well, in all the right ways. And for us as Christians—you mentioned, of course, that the pain and the bitterness that took root with your father and the estrangement that you felt there. The lack of love. Even being kind of isolated even from your mom and sister. Just kind of being an outsider in your family, feeling alone, and the hurt that comes from that. And then you look at Christians who…. They’re not loving. They’re not living the part. Again, you encountered Christa and her sister, your cousins, that showed you something different and poured out some kind of supernatural love that you hadn’t encountered.


But they had answers, too. How would you encourage us to show and tell, in a meaningful way, the love and reality of God?

Yeah. That’s a great question, and I think about this a lot, statistics say 70% of people in this country identify as Christians I think. I never had a person share Christ with me or God. Not in college. Not in my work. And I don't doubt one little bit that those people loved me, and I loved them. But part of Christ's message is love.

One of the things that turned me off to Christians was Christians who came about their direction from an all-truth standpoint. “God hates this.” God hates this group of people or that type of person or a sinful choice that somebody's made. That's not the God that I read about in the Bible. Yes, I don't condone sinful choices, including my own. But Christians, you’ve got to get the truth and love balance a little bit better.  I think, in our culture right now, there are love Christians and truth Christians, but it's very few that are truth and love Christians. And I don't know if I'm being harsh or not, but I believe that we're trying to convince people of the reality of God and of Jesus with a hammer sometimes. And that isn't successful. When I was an atheist, if somebody came at me with the hardcore gospel message or the, “You’re going to hell,” message or whatever, you probably would have gotten a knuckle sandwich. I mean, honestly, that's not going to go over well with most people.

How do we play into that picture and go, “How do I love these people and show them Jesus in a way that that honors God and attracts them to want to repent?” Because that's what it's about. It's about them repenting. I can't force somebody to repent and to change their mind. God couldn’t have somebody have done it with me. I can't do it with anybody else. So I challenge Christians to really look at your motives, look at the way we approach evangelism, and try to love people like Jesus loves people.

And I think if we took that approach. I’m sorry. I could get on the pedestal about that, because I'm very passionate about it.

No. Obviously! Your passion shows, and it’s infectious, and it’s also challenging, again, in all the best ways. I think you're right. God’s kindness leads us to repentance, and sometimes I think we forget that. I appreciate your wanting us to be balanced with both truth and love. Love really is what softens a lot of barriers and allows the truth to shine through.

I agree.

So, thank you so much, Dave. Your story has been, again, very full, very rich, compelling, and also challenging, and I appreciate your coming on today.

Oh, I thank you so much. I really am so honored to be here.

Wonderful. We loved having you. 

Thanks for tuning in to Side B Stories to hear Dave Rankin’s story. You can find out more about his book, entitled Thirty-Nine Years in the Wilderness: An Atheist’s Walk with God, in the episode notes. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can contact me through our email, at [email protected]. Also, if you're a skeptic or atheist who would like to connect with a former atheist or skeptic with questions, please contact us through our email, and we’ll get you connected. 

This podcast is produced through the C.S. Lewis Institute with the help of our wonderful producer Ashley Decker, audio engineer Mark Rosera, and podcast assistant Lori Burleson. You can also see these podcasts in video form on our YouTube channel through the excellent work of our video editor Kyle Polk. 

If you enjoyed it, I hope you'll follow, rate, review, and share this podcast with your friends and social network. In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to seeing you next time, where we’ll see how another skeptic flips the record of their life. 

COPYRIGHT: This publication is published by C.S. Lewis Institute; 8001 Braddock Road, Suite 301; Springfield, VA 22151. Portions of the publication may be reproduced for noncommercial, local church or ministry use without prior permission. Electronic copies of the PDF files may be duplicated and transmitted via e-mail for personal and church use. Articles may not be modified without prior written permission of the Institute. For questions, contact the Institute: 703.914.5602 or email us.

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