What Happened When an Atheist Encountered God’s Love

One Monday after work, my good friend, Teresa, and I took to the streets of Gainesville to share God’s love with whoever we met.

We went downtown prepared to let God’s voice guide us where we needed to be. He led us to a trendy coffee shop called Inman Perk. Towards the back of the room sprawled out on one of the couches was our soon-to-be friend, Drew.

Drew was 35, had a long ponytail, and was wearing black gloves with the fingertips cut off. His glasses were perched on his nose as he scrolled through his phone. He looked like a smart guy. We would soon come to find out he was absolutely brilliant.

Yet I’ve seen in my own life that sometimes our minds can become the biggest stumbling block for our hearts.
We introduced ourselves and asked him about his faith.

“Do I believe in God? Hah! No. I do not believe in a God” he mockingly responded. He claimed to be an atheist. As the conversation continued we would discover that this was not the case.

Beneath the zeal of an “atheist”, you often find they do believe God exists, but they have been so hurt by mankind that they become completely jaded towards God—the One who ‘should’ have controlled the circumstances that hurt them.

I asked Drew if he had always denied the existence of God. He explained how his parents were Methodists but he never believed. He used to follow a religion called “Thoth” which found its roots in Egyptian hieroglyphics and believed that an alien life form created us.

That question opened the door to the inner world of Drew’s thoughts. He found religion to be a system, just like government, that seeks to control and manipulate. For the next 10 minutes, he shared an in-depth, academic perspective on the world and religion. This is where we saw his intellect on display and it was intense.

In that moment I honestly felt slightly intimidated. Our society values logic and he was wielding that ‘power’ with confidence. Yet at the same time God showed me the major chink in his armor. His intelligence was one of Drew’s defense mechanisms—his way of protecting himself from allowing us into the intimate places we were heading. The conversation didn’t stop there.

As he had shared his viewpoint, his righteous anger for how unjust our world is became apparent. How could a millionaire possibly sit in his private jet and make millions while there are poor and starving people around the world?

Teresa shared a word from God about equality. Drew took it in stride and acknowledged that it was something he was extremely passionate about. The bigger picture was starting to make more sense, I could see his perspective. How could God create all of this and allow for suffering and starving people? Not an uncommon perspective in our world today.

Then he said, “How cruel is it for God to create humans with the expectation for them to love Him. That is just setting up life to be a disappointment. If you never expect anything from anyone you will never have reason to be disappointed”. I’d heard a very similar statement from someone who was once very close to me.

Do you notice how now he was now acknowledging the existence of God? There is almost always a deep well of pain buried deep inside of an atheist.

I asked if he had been hurt by expecting things from the people he ‘loved’. “Yes, absolutely. Crushed. Demolished.” He said it brashly, but the truth behind his words was obvious.

There were people in his life who had ruthlessly destroyed his trust and he had lost his hope in love. The unconditional love of God was an impossible reality when humans (God’s creation) had trampled over his perspective on love. Instead, he chose a life of defenses and protection. He’d completely walled himself off with the resolve to never trust anyone.

If we never open ourselves up to be hurt, we will never get hurt. That is a fallacy. If we never open our hearts and risk being hurt, we will never experience love. If you’ve resolved to never be hurt again, you are closing off the doors to restoration, which is the pathway to experiencing God’s love. We can choose to play it safe or risk it all for love.
Jesus beckons us to the latter.

I continued to speak into Drew’s comment about expectation, “God doesn’t have an expectation for humans to love Him- He has a desire. Desire allows for the choice which is the only way genuine love can exist.”

“Freewill…”, he trailed off.


“That free will is the same reason God allows for the inequality in the world. If He imposes His will to love us on our choice to be loved by Him, it will no longer be pure love. With that, humans have the choice to reject Him and far too many do. That is why we see such awful things in the world today. That is why people can be so harsh and cruel to each other,” I continued.

Before I finished speaking he was nodding in understanding. The truth was seeping in.

I then felt led to share my testimony. I shared with him how I had tried everything to find fulfillment in my life and it constantly left me feeling empty. I shared about my experience with mushrooms, meeting God, and how my life began to find meaning because the hole in my heart had been filled by the One who’d created it.

“You are a brilliant man, Drew. I see your intelligence and your worldview. You have so much to bring the world. Yet I also see it being a defense mechanism. This is the way you keep people out to protect against being hurt. I would venture to say you feel that exact same emptiness I had always felt in your life.”

“I do…” He responded honestly, and then after a slight moment of silence, quipped, “but all I need is a girlfriend!” to cover it up. Those words were empty. His defenses were collapsing.

We let the moment sit. He was getting noticeably uncomfortable.

We made deep eye contact and I said, “Drew, you are so loved. You have the choice to stop running and using your intelligence and humor to avoid being loved, or you can enter into that place of love. That void inside of you will never feel full until you do.”

He was so uncomfortable he looked like he was on the verge of tears. He broke eye contact and immediately started to gather his stuff to leave. It wasn’t that we had offended him, but we had hit a sensitive spot—the very sensitive spot he had meticulously protected his entire life.

“I want to be your friend, Drew”.

He chuckled nervously. “You really don’t. You’re not into the stuff that I’m into.”

“That may be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that I see you and care about you. Humor me. Take my number and if you ever want to get coffee or meet up, you can call”.

He took my number, and noticeably shaken, he got out of that coffee shop as quick as he could. Teresa and I took a moment to pray over the conversation and Drew’s heart.

You see, Drew wasn’t angry or offended when he left. He felt exposed and vulnerable because his well-crafted walls had been penetrated by the relentless pursuit of God’s love. That is a scary place to be yet it is the place where we are wholly known, loved, and accepted by God if we would just stop running and surrender to Him.

Drew may not have accepted Jesus that day, but something broke within him. He saw and felt the love of God. At the place in which his logic and humor ran out, he started to see truth.

Teresa and I could have walked away the moment he said he didn’t believe in God. We could have played it safe as to not step on his toes. After all, we live in the country where it’s socially acceptable to keep your faith to yourself. There was so much more beneath the surface answers he was giving. Thanks to the Holy Spirit’s insight and courage to push on, God used us to help be a voice is calling His son home.

Please join us in praying that Drew meets God.

(Source: Adventures in Missions)

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