I never suspected I would be at this point. I was raised in church, a wholehearted believer in Jesus and God as a child. I was plunged into cold water when I was around 7 years old and fully expected to have a mansion in heaven.
And then I grew up.
My faith in God started to wane in my teenage years. Or rather, I stopped caring if God was watching because I had a life to live. By the time I reached my 20th birthday, the question of whether a higher power existed began to creep into my thoughts.
Around the same time, I started working at Woodridge Psychiatric Hospital in Johnson City. I understood little about mental illness until I was exposed to it firsthand. While working there, I began to wonder if some of the more prominent people in the Bible, Moses and Jesus specifically, suffered from mental illness. After all, I met many people who claimed God spoke to them or they were the second coming of Jesus.
These thoughts rattled me to my core. I was questioning everything I had ever been taught. The world did not seem to make a whole lot of sense anymore. Questions filled my mind. Years passed and I received no answers.
Then I read a book that flipped my whole world upside down.
It was called “Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever And How It Drives Civilization,” by Stephen Cave. The book tackled many issues, including how the resurrection promised in the book of Revelation was unrealistic and would not work. I cannot adequately explain how much this affected me. That book forced me, for the first time, to realize death is imminent, even for me.
Soon after I finished the book, I took a history class at East Tennessee State University. During the course of the semester, various world religions were discussed. At one point, an ancient religion, which I cannot recall at the moment, was brought up that eerily resembled Christianity. It felt like another brick was taken out of the crumbling wall called my faith.
But sometimes I still believed God was directing my life. During my first semester at ETSU, I majored in journalism. After taking an introduction to mass media class and seeing all the layoffs happening in the newspaper industry, I became scared. I switched my major to nursing for two semesters but felt something in my heart telling me to follow journalism.
I attribute that feeling to God putting me where I needed to be. All the success I have found in an industry many consider to be dying I consider the will of God. I believe I have answered a few prayers for people with certain stories I have written.
But the nagging feeling that maybe everything in this world is all random kept eating away at me. Maybe we were created through a big bang and evolution lifted the human being above all other animals by sheer chance.
Then my father passed away, and my world was yet again turned upside down.
During the ensuing months after his death, an unsettling fear of death clouded over me. I thought about it constantly. And I thought about what waited on the other side. Black nothingness for eternity turned my stomach into knots.
I could find no comfort.
Not knowing what else to do, I prayed. And I turned to the Bible. Both offered comfort I could not find anywhere else. Both made me feel better about my life. And the words of Jesus commanding us to love one another and take care of the hungry, the thirsty, the sick and the imprisoned struck a chord in my heart. I believe in doing those things for my fellow man. Maybe God is real.
I have made a vow to read the entire Bible, cover to cover, in order to understand what is in it. Lingering doubts still hover around my mind. What if Jews are correct in what they believe? Or Muslims or Buddhists or any other of the religious groups around the world? What then?
I suppose the debate about my beliefs will rage on in my mind until the day I die, hopefully many, many years from now. Only then will I have the answers I seek.
Nick Shepherd is the Scott County beat reporter for the Kingsport Times-News. He can be reached by email at [email protected].