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EPISODE 63: Doubting Towards God - Pedro Garcia's Story
Former atheist Pedro Garcia grew up in a secular culture, making it easy to leave his nominal religion behind. After encountering serious, intelligent Christians, he began to question the possibility of God.
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 skeptic, but who became a Christian against all odds. You can hear more of these stories at our Side B Stories website, www.sidebstories.com. We welcome your comments on these stories on our Side B Stories Facebook page or any feedback you might have through our direct email at [email protected]. We'd love to hear from you.
When someone moves from atheism to belief in God, it is usually not an easy decision. Changing beliefs that answer the biggest questions of life and reality is usually a process over time. That's not to say that sudden conversions don't occur, but typically it takes a while to let go of established beliefs and to become open to embracing others. For many who listen to this and other stories of atheist conversions, it's easy to reduce religious conversion to someone's first event or circumstance which caused them to turn towards the direction of God to take another look. Someone may say they just became a Christian because they met someone they like. There's no more reason than that.
While meeting someone may have been a disruptive catalyst to become open to another point of view, it is usually not what eventually brings them to a place of belief. To be fair, we must take a broader view. For most, religious conversion is a process of change over time, time to develop and experience beliefs and attitudes of skepticism or atheism, time to become open to another point of view, time to become convinced of and embrace another view of reality, and time to change and embody that new story.
In today's story, former atheist Pedro Garcia thought very little of Christianity. In his view, it was not much more than an empty religious ritual, something very easy to reject. After several years as an atheist, he became a Christian. Now he actively creates forums for atheists and Christians to discuss the big questions of life and reality, of truth. Why did he convert? What was involved in his process of change over time? I hope you'll listen in and try to identify the pivotal parts of his journey, from disbelief to belief in the reality of God and the truth of Christianity.
Welcome to Side B Stories, Pedro. It's so great to have you with me today.
Thank you for having me.
As we're getting started, I'd love for the listeners to know a little bit about who you are right now and what you're doing.
So I live in Nashville. I’m married to a beautiful and amazing follower of Christ, and I also became a father like one and a half years ago, two years ago almost. And I live in Nashville, as I said. I’m an outreach director at a church, so trying to meet needs in the community. And I also work for BioLogos, which is an organization that brings science and faith together. I'm kind of leading the Spanish side of it with them. I also do translations for a ministry called GotQuestions.org, and it's called Bible Ref, which is a Bible commentary that I'm translating from English to Spanish. And then when I have some time, I also have a very small organization called Ask and Wonder, and what I do is to bring Christians and non-Christians together to have conversations about the big questions in life. So that's kind of what I do and who I am.
Wow. It sounds like a very full life. A really wonderful life.
And congratulations on being a father.
Yeah. So why don't we get into your story? Pedro, tell me…. Obviously, you say you do some Spanish translation. I can detect a dialect. Why don't you tell me where you're from originally, where you grew up. Tell me what that world was like. Was God any part of that world, in your family, in your culture?
So I'm originally from Spain, and Spain is a very secular culture, and you would say, from the distance, it’s a very Catholic culture. I mean, surely there are churches almost everywhere, but Catholicism is very nominalistic in Spain. So it has become something that is almost like floating in the air, but no one cares about it truly. And actually, many people that consider themselves Catholics in Spain, they're Catholics because of tradition, but not because they actually follow the Catholic doctrine.
So I grew up in a very, very secular culture. My family, though, is interesting because my father was Catholic, then he wasn't Catholic. Then he moved to Australia with my mom, and he started going to a church that was a Protestant church there in Australia. But then he didn't have a good experience because something happened or someone took advantage of him. So he went back to Spain, not because of that, but that happened to him. And then my uncle and my cousin are Jehovah Witnesses, and then also my brother, who is an incredible person, but he's very interested in what he would call ufology, which is anything related to UFOs and this type of thing. So I'm saying all this because my growing up, the culture in which I grew up was rich when it came to ideas, without kind of analyzing the validity of the ideas themselves for now. There was a lot.
And when I was growing up, I went to a Catholic school, and I believed in God. I mean, I didn't know. My experience with Catholicism was very strange, because if you were to ask me when I was in Catholic school what the gospel was or is, I wouldn't have known. So I actually called myself a Catholic without even knowing what the gospel was. And by the way, any comments that I make, Jana, about Catholicism? I'm not making comments about Catholicism itself, but my experience with it.
So when it comes to truthfulness or all of that, that's a conversation to have in a different, perhaps, discussion.
So yeah. I started asking questions. I've always loved wondering about the big questions in life. That was just part of who I am and who I was. I've always been that way. And my questions were not well received, to be honest with you, in my culture and especially in my Catholic school, and because of the reaction that I saw from my teachers and me not being able to separate Christ from what people say about Christ, because I was very young and ignorant, so I made the rush decision of saying, “Oh, religion is stupid. This is all a lie. Therefore, I'm not a Christian anymore.” More things happen-
What kind of questions were you asking?
So the first thing was, since I had my family, some of them, my uncle, my cousin, were Jehovah Witnesses, and I heard people criticizing them continually, continually, continually. I actually asked questions, not out of anger, but I like truly knowing, for example, what is the difference between the Catholic Church and Jehovah Witnesses when it comes to actually believe something that is beyond ourselves? When it comes to doctrine, what is the difference between this and that? And they heard those questions as like an attack instead of just, “Hey, I really want to know,” because if some people are claiming this is true and others are claiming this is true and all of this, I actually want to tap into as much as I can in order to see what's happening, how much is man made and how much is hopefully potentially God made.
And also, which is something very, very usual when it comes to skeptics that look at religion this way, which is when you see inconsistencies in the way, you know, I say I believe this, but then I behave in that way. So I also saw a lot of that. But again, Jana, I really lacked the knowledge and the introspection and the capacity to actually analyze the situation and say, “Hey, there's a difference between Christ and what people say and do in His Name.” If there were no difference Jana, I actually wouldn't be a Christian today, because I'm still challenged. I'm still challenged by seeing the things that I do as a Christian and what other people do while calling themselves Christians, but since we're not the filter through which we should judge eternity and the big questions, then there's no problem for me.
Also adding to that the fact that the Bible actually—how do you say it? Is kind of predictive or actually talks about that we are expected to be sinning even though we are Christians. So I just don't know. I didn't know any of this. But at that point, that's the decision I made. Questions were not being answered.
How old were you around this time where you were doubting Catholicism-
Twelve, thirteen years old.
About the time of Confirmation or prior to-
… getting confirmed and catechism and all of that. So you didn't experience or go through any of that kind of training or teaching?
No. I remember, Jana, that when I started having doubts, and since I didn't have anyone to have conversations with, when they took us to Mass in the middle of the day. Sometimes we would go to Mass because it was a Catholic school, and everyone would stand up to—how do you say this in English? To get the body is supposed-
Or the Eucharist?
Thank you. Eucharist. Thank you. So I would sit. I wouldn’t stand up. And you would see all the students standing up and doing it, and I would just sit by myself saying, “I'm not going to be part of this without knowing if this is true or without having conversations about it. I cannot just believe in something only because of societal or cultural pressure.” I'm not that way.
I was going to say that really speaks to your personality, your character, your strength of belief, and that you weren't—especially at that age, when you want to go along and be accepted by your peers, that you were willing to go a different direction and stay seated. That speaks to something of your independence, also your intellectual integrity. Like you say, you weren't willing to do something you didn't believe.
And, Jana, to be honest with you, if they had had conversations with me, like, “Let’s sit and ask your questions and talk,” I would have been super open, because at that point I didn't think thoroughly about things. So if they had given me the opportunity to have a conversation, I might have kept being a Catholic person. But this is all in this sovereignty of God. I didn't have anything to do or say about it, but that was kind of my experience.
So you were just losing some kind of nominal or superficial affiliation or ritual or association. Not necessarily a true belief.
It was actually when I started reading and became a Christian, I started reading about the Catholic Church, is when I started respecting them a lot. I started respecting them a lot. But now from a standpoint of, “Okay, let's see what happens throughout history,” and seeing things from God's perspective and in some way, yeah, there are many things I respect about the Catholic Church. A lot, actually.
Yes. Yes, of course. So back then, though, at ten, it was just something that you were disassociating from, deciding not to be a part of, essentially, because you couldn't believe it. So take us from there then.
So what happened at that point…. Now, in retrospect, I think about myself and I wish we could go back in time and talk to ourselves. But I always lived in a very—how do you say this? It was a dichotomy that was very hard to swallow because I forced myself, and I really want to emphasize this word. I forced myself to believe that there wasn't a God. But it was very hard for me to accept this. And there were many reasons why, like, “Okay, why do I feel, when I do such and such thing, that I'm doing something wrong? I shouldn't. There's no framework for good and evil, and we do things only because some things work well and others don't.”
And then this sense of wonder that I've always had, which is I'm walking down my street in Spain. My city is Cordova. And I was just walking, looking at the sky and seeing all the stars, and existence itself. And I go, “How can we actually ask questions about everything? But then when it comes to the big questions, we choose to stop asking questions about that.” It didn't make sense at all to me. But still, I lived as if God didn't exist until I was 27.
Okay. So during this time, so from 10 to 27, that's 17 years. During this time, you were you were growing, maturing in your intellect, you were pursuing things. So just for clarity, your reason, you thought, for rejecting Christianity was that it wasn't true, that no one could answer your questions. What did you think Christianity and all of that was, if it wasn't true or God wasn't real?
So 100% you have heard, and many friends from the audience have heard this as well, but yeah. It’s just a way to control people. Christianity is just stupid. It’s intellectually dishonest. This is what I thought about Christianity. Is this what you were asking me?
Yeah, yeah. So all of that. Like, there’s no evidence, we don't know why people believe this. And of course, it was rooted in more, I would say, more emotionally than intellectually. And by the way, when I make that distinction, I don't want to diminish one or the other. Both are incredibly important. But for me, it was, “Okay, so I see these people doing such, such, such, such things, and they talk to me about this, this, this, the good and bad and all this, and there's no consistency.” And if I had been mature, I would have said, “Okay, I don't see this consistency in them, but instead of rejecting, I'll try to be consistent,” instead of just rejecting it. But since I wasn't mature, I just rejected it. And I would say it was emotional, intellectual, but more emotional than intellectual at that point.
So as you were rejecting Christianity and Catholicism and belief in God, did you understand really what you are embracing, in terms of you can call yourself an atheist, but there's a worldview. There are things that you are believing. If there is no God and there is no supernatural, then what is left, right? So you have to embrace, or you are compelled to embrace, a different kind of worldview. And I wondered if you thought very thoroughly about what you did believe, what that might have been.
Well, that's a very good question. I think I found identity more in the rejection of what I was leaving than what I was aiming towards getting. So my identity was I rejected Christianity, so in that respect, I got stuck with that. So I didn't question any type of belief or anything. I was young, too. And again, Jana, in Spain, the culture is so secular that truly there wasn't that much of a difference, to be honest with you. Like, for example, now I live in Nashville, and when I have conversations with my atheist friends, and actually Christian friends, too, when we have conversations, rejecting a faith or abandoning a faith or becoming a Christian, the change is so dramatic because there's a natural disparity in ways of living, in ways of understanding the world. But in Spain, there wasn't this rupture between two worldviews. It was kind of merged. So there wasn't truly a big difference between the two.
It just felt like you were un-checking a box, an unnecessary belief, that you simply lacked a belief in God, essentially.
A mantra really hear a lot these days. Now, you had talked about, just a minute ago, that there were things about your life, observations that you were making that didn't seem to cohere with a naturalistic or atheistic worldview, such as knowing objective right and wrong or moral obligations and duties, or finding beauty in the world but not having a way to explain it. Did you realize…. I mean, in terms of the implications of the naturalistic worldview, you must have felt some kind of tension or cognitive dissonance or something that, “Okay, something's not sitting right. There has to be a bigger or a better explanation for what I'm thinking, what I'm feeling, what I'm experiencing.”
Yeah, yeah. And I felt all of that. But again, since my new, let's say, belief, and by the way, I do believe that atheism, as the definition itself, like, “It's okay. There's no God.” The lack of belief in God new type of argument is an interesting one, but the definition of the word itself is, “There’s no God.” For me, my rejection of Christianity at that point, or whatever I believed it was, that became part of my identity, like the rejection of it. So I do believe that atheism usually becomes a worldview because atheists are in some way obligated to stop believing things that come from Christianity, if they become atheists from within a Christian culture, and to stop believing in those things and believe the opposite of it just because they abandoned Christianity.
So I actually had a conversation a few months ago with a friend, he's a secular thinker/writer, and I asked him, “Do you actually feel obligated to abandon every single belief from Christianity when you become an atheist? Or are there some actual beliefs that, even though you're an atheist, you think that they're true?” And it's almost like they feel pushed. “How can I become an atheist and then retain some beliefs from Christianity?” And that's why I believe that atheism…. Even if many atheists don't want to call it a worldview, it becomes naturally a worldview because it pushes you to believe certain things about the world by rejecting a specific way to look at the world that is, in their case, filtered through Christianity.
Yeah. It’s hard to deny certain basic intuitions about yourself, like human dignity and value and that we're somehow qualitatively different than other animals or whatever in creation. There are just certain things that are hard to dismiss that are inherent in who we are or how we perceive ourselves to be. I would imagine it would be very difficult to extract everything from the Christian worldview or the God-centered worldview within your atheism, because then that leads to nihilism or rejection of things that you intuitively feel are true or real or good.
Well, one thing that is happening also, something that is happening in today's culture, which is the redefinition of certain values that have dominated, in a good way I would say, at least Western civilization, like the difference between good and evil. This relativism when it comes to terminology. It’s happening. For example, an atheist would stop saying good and evil and would talk about well being, but at the end of the day, they're actually just really finding a way to keep talking about the same thing. So I don't think in that respect, atheism stops. It's just an idea. It is an actual worldview. That's my belief. And of course, I have conversations with many atheist friends that reject this way of thinking about this, but I think it's just unavoidable, because belief in God has permeated so much of the way we are, whether we want it or not, that rejecting it pushes you to reject so many things about the way we live our lives.
And this is the world in which we live. Many might desire for the world not to be that way, but this is the world in which we live. If you reject Christianity, you're rejecting principles that actually give you the freedom to reject it, even. But it's just interesting conversation, right?
Right. So again, as someone who is true to your beliefs and to your sense of trying to find truth or living consistently with truth, just like you weren't willing to stand up for communion, or the Eucharist, as a child. As you were growing up and you were finding these tensions, what was moving you or what allowed you to become open to the possibility of God or that worldview again?
So what happened was… you could say I am still a professional musician. That was my career, saxophone player. And I've always wanted to study philosophy, to be honest with you, because it would tackle the big questions, and I always loved the big questions and discerning and listening to people and all of this. Music just came unexpectedly, and music kind of allowed me to tap onto something that was like, I would think, better than what we are, something that would allow me to express something beyond. So again, as I'm explaining this to you, you can see, Jana, that there is a need again. The need was that yearn. So I started studying saxophone, and everything went well. And what happened was I didn't care much about the big questions when it comes to God, the big questions without Him. For years, I studied seven to eight hours a day. I was going to develop a style of playing that, long story short, allowed me to get to be a finalist in the TV show called Spain's Got Talent, which is the America's Got Talent version in Spain.
So I was a finalist of that TV show. I got to be a finalist of that TV show. And then… I mean, I didn't expect it to… I sometimes think about it and I go, “Wow, that happened to me.” So when I was on TV, that allowed me to travel all around the world. They called me to teach and also play, so I went to many places, and at one point they invited me to come to Nashville to be a guest professor at a university called MTSU. And this was 2012, so I came here. My English wasn't good. I mean, I understood some, but I didn't speak it well. So I was here, and as I was having conversations with people here, I understood, “Okay, so here you can actually distinguish more when a person calls himself a Christian and not. You can actually distinguish more. That is interesting.” And what happened, it was very random, as an atheist, led by the Spirit now, as a Christian, because what I did was, “What if I spent these three months here, I find someone that is teaching Spanish, and I offer classes or something like language exchange, so they can teach me English, and I can teach them in Spanish, or help.” I sent an email to a company. The owner of this company answered me. She invited me to a pumpkin carving party, she introduced me to her sister, and her sister is my wife today.
Oh, my goodness. Okay.
And she was a Christian.
And that was my introduction to Christianity again. So at the beginning, I could tell you more. You can lead the conversation, Jana, but it was a struggle at the beginning.
Yeah, yeah. Tell me about the struggle. Obviously, by implication, I think that you're telling me that she was a fairly authentic, genuine, serious follower of Christ, someone not like what you had experienced with Christianity in Spain, but it made a difference in her life. Is that what you're telling me?
Yes, yes. Oh, yeah.
So you met her. And do tell me about the struggle, because it's interesting, an atheist and a Christian getting to know each other.
Oh, yeah. So what happened, we met, and we kept talking, and I remember the first conversation we had, like it was serious. I actually tend to go to deep stuff pretty quick, and she's actually the same, and she didn't have opportunities to be that way as well. So we connected in that respect super quick. And when she told me, I remember the day perfectly, she told me, “I'm actually a Christian.” I remember my reaction was, “Oh, no! Again. Oh, no! Christianity again.” But of course.
So there were a few things happening to me, and atheist friends, skeptics, would use my story to form a psychological description of my state of being at that point to give a reason why I became a Christian. But I went through all of this many times, because I was insecure about this myself. So what was happening at that time was I was idolizing music. Music was an idol for me. I found value only in music and what I could get from it. I wasn't having a good time at all. I was depressed. I was anxious. The waves of life would throw me everywhere because I wasn't standing on firm ground at all.
And when I met her, I was kind of skeptical about people because I was skeptical about goodness, like there are no true good people in the world. And that skepticism was originated from within me because I also knew that I wasn't a good person. So it's not just external stuff, and I'm okay. I recognized that there was something wrong with me as well.
But when I was having conversations with her and I saw her reacting as stuff, like bad stuff that would happen around her and to her, and then I saw, Jana, the way she was reacting and people around her, smiling, calm, innocent. She would speak to me, and she was being honest 100%. I never noticed any type of, like trying to do something different from what I'm saying type of thing. It was so clear, and that really shocked me.
So my journey, the intellectual side of it is very important, but this shocked me, a lot. And I was having conversations with her, and I liked that a lot about her, a lot. But it happened to be the case also that her father, who passed away five or six years ago now, was a Bible translator, and he was an expert on Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic.
Okay. That’s pretty substantive. Yes.
And from my ignorance, I said, “Oh, Christians cannot be intelligent,” in my ignorance completely about Christianity at that point. But then when I heard, “Okay, this person is a PhD, Bible translator, expert in three languages. Okay, let me see if this person wants to answer my questions.” And he did sit with me, and through emails even, because I had to go back to Spain for a year, I was just having conversations and this and that, and he was very thoughtful, and we just had a lot of conversations about this.
And the struggle began when I realized, “I think that there's something in this.” But at one point we were having a long-distance relationship. I was in Spain, and she was here in The States, and I was actually trying to understand Christianity on my own. She was kind of talking to me and helping me, but I kind of said, “I want to do this on my own because I don't want to be influenced, because that wouldn't be honest, for my part, to become a Christian only because you're a Christian.”
And at that point, to be honest with you, I started investigating on my own. And long story short again, I did a survey on the history of philosophy, western history of philosophy, and I understood, “Okay, belief in God is one of the most rational things a human being can entertain.” And this is not my opinion, Jana. This is the history of Western thought. Actually, people that didn't even believe in God entertained the thought in an intellectual way, in an honest way, as if it were a potential good idea, even if it wasn't true after all. It was treated as something important. That blew my mind. Then when I did a small survey listening to as many people as I could, both Christians and non-Christians actually, I then realized that science itself—there are many things I could say about science. I'm not a scientist, more in a conceptual manner, but when I realized that the scientific method is describing what is already there, but the scientific method cannot tell us what things are, that blew my mind as well.
And then historically, then I read about as many religions as I could, but when I read about Christianity, and then I realized, “Okay, so if Jesus didn't resurrect, Christianity is false, and Christianity stands on this claim, and this claim is historical, so we could even find evidence to undermine it, so it's not based on a book coming out of the sky floating. It actually comes from a historical event that could be-
Which historical event are you speaking of?
The resurrection. And when I read all of that, I said, “How is this possible that I've been so ignorant and not being more open minded, as I thought I was, to just tackle these questions?”
So I was tackling all these questions, and I just started just dealing with this. And my heart started opening to the possibility of God's existence, but not Christian, but just God. And then, after I did all my research. I remember it was actually the Sermon on the Mount. When I read the Sermon on the Mount for the first time, I said, “What this person is saying, even if it were… I wouldn't mind if this person was a person, a frog, or a tree talking. I would follow anyone that would say these things about the world.” But again, it happened to be the same person that was calling Himself God, and the same person that was actually, with one of the biggest fears I have and one of the biggest fears that humanity has as well, which is the fear of death. He overcame death. He gives you an identity beyond yourself, while celebrating your own identity. He was incredible!
And, yeah, it was the Sermon on the Mount. I didn't understand at that point, but I said, “Yeah, I really want to follow Jesus. And it happens to be that following Jesus makes you become a Christian, so I guess I have to become a Christian.” And here's the thing I wanted to share, and audience members will appreciate this because they will hear this from atheist friends a lot. I was wondering, Jana, did I become a Christian only because I met my wife? That was really hard for me. But then I started analyzing this, talking to people, and then, through logic and people that understand more about logic than I do, they talked to me about the genetic fallacy, which is the way we get to believe in something, the way how we get to believe in something doesn't undermine the belief itself.
Because I understood if the way I get to believe in Christianity is undermined by the fact that I met Christ through my wife, which, by the way, is actually what Jesus asks his followers to do, exactly what my wife did with me, just sharing the gospel. What is one thing that we learn on Earth that we don't learn from other people? I mean, we are born, and all of a sudden you found yourself speaking English, and I found myself speaking Spanish, so since we didn't get to this conclusion on our own, or we didn't choose the language that we speak, therefore, for example, this language shouldn't be spoken. The genetic fallacy is very important, and it really calmed me down on the intellectual side of things.
Right, right. Yeah, I think that that's a very important point of clarification. I hear the same story, that someone will say, “Well, they just became a Christian because they met a girl,” or that kind of thing. But I call that the catalyst. It's something that disrupts someone's life, someone disrupts your life, and they give you a different picture of reality from the way that they think and live. And it may be that you're attracted to them, but at the end of the day, as you say, how you come to believe does not matter. Well, it does matter, but it doesn't speak to the truth of the belief.
Yeah. So I think that's what you're trying to say, and I, too, hear a lot, that someone will take that initiating catalyst and generalize that to the whole reason why you believe. And that's not the case. It's part of the story. It's the initiating part of the story, perhaps. But you went through a process, it sounds like a painstaking process, philosophically, scientifically, historically. You did due diligence, to read, to think about the premises of these beliefs and whether or not they made sense with what you were reading and what you were experiencing and all of those things and what you were seeing, even in the authenticity of the Christians who you were now being introduced to.
So I think, to your point, that skeptics need to give these stories a fully orbed look, not just at an initiating event as to why someone believes and then that they then conform their beliefs to what they want them to believe. I think that that's an unfair reading of the journeys, but that's what often happens.
Yeah. And you know what, Jana? I think our skeptic friends, our atheist friends, too, should be actually very thankful that the genetic fallacy also applies to the way they abandon their faith or the reason why they don't have one, because—I don't have numbers. I haven't made any study of this, but I would venture to say that many, many, many atheists, nonbelievers, abandoned their faith not because of intellectual diligence, but because of having a bad experience. And not always, but it is always part of it. And for me, from my perspective, I could diminish their whole story just by saying, “Okay, so you didn't become an atheist because of actually good arguments, but because this happened to you. Therefore, I don't think I should believe your story,” or, “I don't think atheism has something to go for.” So thankfully, the genetic fallacy applies to everyone, and it's neutral in that respect.
Yeah. It works both ways. We all come to belief and form our beliefs for all kinds of different reasons. Some have some direct relationship to truth, and some have more direct relationship to experience and culture and all kinds of things that inform why we believe what we believe. But yes. But to your story, again, you came to believe that it was true, that Christ was real, that Christianity was true and worthy of belief, so much so that you gave your life to Christ. You mentioned the gospel that your wife… I presume you learned of the gospel, and, for those listeners who are skeptics who are not familiar with the gospel, could you explain what that is and how it ties in with the intellectual? There's the intellectual assent to beliefs, but there's also something more.
Yeah. So interesting that my journey with Christianity accommodates beautifully to the doctrine of sanctification, which is, “Okay, I give my life to Christ,” but there's a journey of learning in which truly I'm giving my life to Christ every single day. This is a process that… it doesn't end. So I became a Christian more intellectually than, let's say internally. I didn't understand that Christianity is a worldview that starts with repentance. I didn't understand that at the beginning. It was amazing. “Oh, wow! God exists. He created the world,” and all of that, but I think I didn't understand well yet the meaning of what Jesus did on the cross. That took me a while to understand.
And just to answer your question, so just to explain the gospel to our atheist and non-Christian friends, I'm going to explain it, and there are many things that they're going to require more explanation for, but just to do it as succinctly as possible. God exists. He created the universe. He created human beings to have a relationship with Him. Human beings moved away from Him and wanted to create a world of their own. So they started sinning, they started doing things that are wrong in the eyes of God. Human beings, we cannot save ourselves from this madness that we brought into the world. So God in His mercy decided to become a human being and died for all of us, so that He could pay for the penalty of our own sins, which demonstrates an incredible amount of love that I still don't understand. So that if we believe in Him, then we have an opportunity, not to only transform our life on this side of eternity. Which Christianity doesn't promise happiness, it promises joy through suffering. But also it brings you hope because you'll have an eternal life with Him. And everything is received as an incredible gift as the universe is, the laws, the physical laws are, everything that happens is, and it becomes a worldview of thankfulness. So that's kind of the way I would say the gospel, I would explain it.
Yeah. I love that you said that so clearly because, like you say, you grew up in a religious environment but you had never heard the gospel through all of that religious training or exposure. So I appreciate that. I think there are probably many who are listening who never really have heard the gospel laid out. So thank you for that, for making that clear.
So you came to a point of acceptance, and then you came to believe of the fullness and wholeness of the Christian gospel and of the Christian worldview and your relationship with Christ. So obviously it has changed you. You mentioned at the beginning that you're involved in a number of different ministries, and it's so important to you that it seems like your life is centered on Christ and helping others to know Him.
Yeah. It took me a while, of course, but that was my aim as soon as I believed that actually God exists, and then He became a human being in the person of Jesus Christ and did this for humanity, which was very important for me. This is not all about Christians. Like He did this for the entire world. Christians are the ones that actually accept that He did that for them, but He did that for every single human being. The beauty of it and how it resonates with our sense of justice and mercy that we have towards others. It was beautiful. So I wasn't in a good place with music at that point when I said, “So, if this is true, if this is true, I really want to spend the rest of my life talking about this.” So slowly I started leaving music behind and just focusing on ministry and learning and spending time with people and listening.
Yeah. It has been a nice journey. And again, I want to emphasize that, even though I call myself a follower of Jesus, I'm a Christian, there are many things I don't know.
As a Christian, I know where truth is, but I don't understand all of it that there is to understand about it. So when I approach conversations with my nonbeliever friends and they ask me questions about, I don't know, how two things from the Christian theology relate to the way we live or how science and this relates, yeah, I have no problem to say, “I don't know.” Actually, I call it the “theological I don't know” because it's theological to say, “I don't know.” So I'm okay with that and that room and the way that God also makes sure that we, everyone, that we keep humble because He used the weak things of the world in order to show His strength. I mean, the Bible is just, what a revelation it is! Wow!
And another thing I would say: This is all the intellectual side of things and all that, but the most precious things, Jana, that I've experienced are all personal. The cross makes all my wonderings about life, when it comes to intellectual conversations being—well, no. I wanted to say nonsense. It's not nonsense, but it's not as important. Like you realize what the meaning of the cross is and then how Christ pushes you to do things that are actually very revolutionary. Like if you're suffering, then having the thoughts of, “Oh, wow, I'm suffering like Christ did, and this is an opportunity for others to see Christ through my suffering.” This is an actual revelation. This is a revelation that I sometimes wonder if even Christians have understood it yet.
It is so big and immense, the world of Christianity, that wow! It keeps pushing me so much. It is the things that the scripture says about who we are, which, by the way, we are only secondary characters, that we're not the main character of the history of the universe. There are things that, for my own life, for example, if it's okay that I share something that I learned yesterday.
Sure! Yes, yes.
Yesterday. I mean, after ten years being a Christian, I learned, “Okay, so I tend to be an anxious person all my life, and anxiety got really bad at one point, and all of this, and I, of course, praying, being with Him, I believe. And you go, “How can this belief help me become, in a moment in which I'm supposed to be anxious,” like it is so counterintuitive. And it was yesterday when I was reading the letter of Colossians, and I thought, “Okay, Jesus Christ is the sustainer of the world, which means that every time that I breathe, every time I breathe, that breath is part of His will. So even when I'm afraid, He’s actually sustaining me. I’m part of His will. I'm alive.” The beauty of the beliefs are so extraordinary that, you see, I don't know if you're noticing, but that's why I just want to talk to people about Christ. And I want to be challenged, too, because it is just beautiful.
Yeah. It is beautiful. And I'm thinking, too, I know you are humble, and there are so many things we don't know, right? But there are some things that we do know. And I'm wondering, in your life without God, you spoke of… during your time of just playing music, that you were lacking meaning and feeling anxious and depressed, or even earlier, where you couldn't find grounding for a morality, what was right and wrong. Or you had a sense of wonder and beauty, but you had nowhere to place it. But now, in your Christian worldview, there are places for those things, and there's a grounding for why things are and why we can say something is right and wrong. There's a wholeness there, a cohesion of making sense of the things that you weren't able to make sense of before. Would you say that that has given you not only an intellectual kind of settledness, I guess you could say. I mean, not that you're not curious and not that you're not continuing to seek and to learn and to know. But there is, again, just a making sense of life and the way that we know it and experience in a way that wasn't possible for you without a God-centered universe.
Yeah. Definitely, Jana. It really does change everything. It's almost like having glasses, like a new filter through which you understand everything that happens to you. So, I don't know, as a musician, for example, when I became a Christian, just to give you an example, when I became a Christian and I started seeing beauty, as you mentioned, Jana, and people expressing this yearning that we have that cannot be met on Earth with anything that we do. C.S. Lewis said it beautifully with his arguments about desire. When you realize that God is there and has given us this ability to interact with the world in that way, everything makes sense. And even actually evil and suffering, which is a very difficult thing to swallow, sometimes for both Christians and non-Christians, it actually makes sense through God's perspective and what happened and what we did as human beings, the way everything has been created. Everything makes sense.
As we're closing, Pedro, there are skeptics, hopefully, and atheists listening to this, and they see you, or they hear you, and that you were once an atheist who rejected God and you lived in a godless world, and you understand it from that perspective, but yet you're on the other side. And you have a lot of conversations with nonbelievers. So you're very wise, I think, in this regard, in terms of giving advice to those who might be curious enough to look, like you did when you went back to Spain and you were open enough to do due diligence, to look at truth and where to find it. So how would you recommend a skeptic who might be listening today?
I mean, the first thing I would say is that I respect them a lot. I really do, because we have so many things in common. We're human beings, we're thrown into this world, and we don't know why in the beginning. We all wonder about the same questions. I truly respect them. The first thing I would say is it is difficult because pain is very painful. I really do know that.
But I really encourage my friends, atheists and skeptics, that even though pain is painful and actually God cares about every pinch of pain that they're going through and we all go through, I would challenge them to consider Christ for who He is and nothing else, that they should forget what I am saying to them right now. My story, anyone's story that they could actually, if possible, for them to eliminate any cultural or societal preconceptions that they have about Christ and that they face Him directly. If they can do it, I would respectfully encourage them to do that.
I would also say that asking questions about God and even questions His existence, I would say, is a good thing because there are two ways of doubting about God. You can doubt towards Him or you can doubt away from Him. So when it comes to doubting, I keep doubting certain things, but I doubt towards Him, and that is not a bad thing. I am learning every single character in the Bible doubts at one point. The Bible was very succinct and honest about this. There's a reason why the Bible is scripture. God is showing us that people struggle through scripture. We don't have scriptures that are describing a world that is perfect, that everything is going okay. No, you see Peter and Paul having fights. You have problems. You have characters doubting. I love that scriptures are not afraid of describing the world as it is, which is actually evidence for me to say, “Okay, they're not trying to lie to me. This is the way things are.”
I would encourage them, too, to be more introspective about their pain and their questions both and to really face something that we're all going to face, regrettably, which is one day we're going to pass away, and then existence itself becomes like an empty vacuum of I would say from my perspective, nonsense, but not in negative connotation of the word. Like there’s no way to make sense of anything. So I would love for my atheist, nonbeliever friends to—also Christians, by the way—but to be more introspective, more introspective about what's going on, why they are alive, the reason why they exist, to keep asking questions, and also to celebrate the fact that they can ask them and not take that for granted. And that's it. If there is anything I can do for them, I'm always open and willing to have more conversations.
And I know that I spoke a lot, Jana, in this interview, but when I have conversations with people, I would rather not say anything and listen. I like listening more, but the context is you interviewing me, so.
Of course! You have full permission. That’s why you’re here. And as far as the advice that you give to Christians who engage, you are a living example of someone who actually engaged and engages with those who are skeptical. You've already mentioned some really wonderful things, about being humble, about living consistently. I think of all of those who… you experienced a lot of Christian hypocrisy, where they didn't seem to believe or take the belief seriously or live it out, but then you met someone who did. There was a time where people couldn't answer your questions or didn't want to, or whether it was they didn't know the answer, so they said there were none or whatever. There's so many things. There’s so many directions you could go here, but how would you encourage Christians to engage with those who don't believe?
This is a very interesting topic to me. I would say that, first of all, before even considering the engagement, is actually being honest to see if they want to have that engagement and the reason why. So first of all, realize why they might not be wanting or willing. There must be a reason why. It could be cultural. It could be society. It could be fear. It could be a little bit of all of them at the same time. Once they realize that and they realize that Jesus has asked us to do this for Him in the most humble, yet truthful way, then it's a matter of keep praying and asking and pursuing Him. So I don't take for granted prayer, direct communication with God.
And we are given different talents and gifts as Christians. For example, I like to challenge my beliefs every day, so I read secular writings every day, just to make sure that what I believe is true. The conversation of doing and engaging with nonbelievers for Christians is more, “Let me talk to Christ, let me pursue Him, and let's see what He’s telling me and how I can use the talents that He has given me.”
Because it could be that a person, a Christian, can engage with nonbelievers by serving them, by having conversations. There are so many ways to do this, by helping, by listening, by just being, by showing up. The gospel permeates all our body, thought, mind, heart, speech, everything. So I would say Christians shouldn't be hard on themselves, and we all need to be great incredible apologists or anything like this, because actually, people see God's power through weakness, through weaknesses. So it’s actually, if they find themselves being weak, that is what actually God has been using throughout history in order to tell all this about His power.
So just encouraging a lot of prayer, and find the reasons why perhaps they might not have a willingness to do so. And from there, I would take it and see where they go.
That's very wise advice. Is there anything else that comes to mind that you'd want to say before we close? Or do you think we've covered everything?
Yeah, well, I just wanted to say, Jana, that I respect hugely what you're doing, just to bring this conversation to the forefront, the conversation about the big questions. And with your smiling, your smile inviting both Christians and non-Christians to have conversations. I think this is one of the healthiest things to do, and I am thrilled that you gave me an opportunity to spend time with you. And if this is part of something that we can do, if there is any listener, both Christians and non-Christians, that would like to connect with me, please do so. Is it okay if I share a little bit of my information?
Absolutely. And we'll include it in the episode notes as well.
Okay. So if anyone wants to contact me and ask me questions or even they want me to listen to their stories, they can go to askandwonder.com, and they'll find my email there. Ask and Wonder. [email protected], so they can email me directly there, and any questions that they might have, anything. I love having these conversations. I love listening to people. I respect people's journey so much, so I'm just thrilled that I got to be a part of this. So thank you, Jana, so much.
You're so welcome, Pedro. It’s a privilege to have you on, and I love the work that you're doing and especially bringing forward these conversations between nonbelievers and believers. It's so necessary in these days to have actually conversations in a meaningful and congenial way. You're actually dialoguing about real issues, like the big questions and doing it in a respectful dialogue, so that people can assess both sides, if you will, in a way that's not inflammatory or degrading in any way. That's just wonderful. That's just part of the work, obviously, that you do. But I appreciate your availability. That means a lot.
But, Pedro, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. Your story is full. It's rich. It’s honest. It’s intellectual. It’s emotional. But I do appreciate some of the things, too, that you brought out about issues of the genetic fallacy and that we need to really give others… You say you love listening to stories, and I think you understand, like all of our stories, they're full. And there are different pieces and parts and different influences and different reasons why we believe the way that we do. But at the end of the day, you came to belief in Christ because it was true. He was true. It was real. He was truth. And despite all of the other things that went along with it, and He’s obviously transformed your life.
So thank you so much, again, Pedro, for coming on. I know that so many people are going to be blessed through your story.
Thank you so much, Jana.
Thanks for tuning into Side B Stories to hear Pedro's story. You can find out more about his podcast and ministry, Ask and Wonder, as well as other books and podcasts he recommends towards pursuing the question of God in our episode notes. He has also generously provided his contact information, which is included there as well.
For questions and feedback about this episode, you can contact me through our website, again www.sidebstories.com, or directly through our email address [email protected]. Also, if you're a skeptic or atheist and you would like to connect with a former atheist with questions, including Pedro, please contact us on our Side B Stories website or email. We'll get you connected. 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.