My family was nominally Roman Catholic, but as soon as I was old enough to tell my parents that I didn’t believe any of it, I stopped going to church. My life as an atheist was really no different than it had been before.
I graduated from a prestigious engineering school in France, landing a job as a computer scientist. I also ended up playing in national league volleyball, so I travelled every weekend throughout the country to play.
In terms of feminine conquests, I was starting to have enough success to satisfy the raunchy standards of the volleyball locker room. All in all, I was pursuing pleasure on all fronts – and doing a pretty good job of it. I lived in a very secular culture, where the chances of me ever hearing the gospel, let alone believing it, were extremely slim.
A HOLIDAY ENCOUNTER
I went on holiday to the Caribbean with my brother. One day, we decided to come back from the beach by hitch-hiking. We were picked up by two attractive female tourists from the United States. I ended up dating one of them. She was from New York, and soon enough I discovered that she was a believing Christian. To me that was intellectual suicide, but I figured, ‘She’s attractive; I’m going to pursue this.’
We were in a problematic, long-distance relationship. I needed to disabuse her of her silly Christian beliefs so that we could be together and happy. But if I was going to criticise Christianity, I first needed to know what Christianity claimed. So I picked up a Bible and started to read about Jesus.
The account I read of Jesus was impressive. I was fascinated by the authority that this man had. I didn’t have much place in my atheistic worldview for his claims of the supernatural, but the way he navigated conversation caught my attention.
I figured, ‘I’m a scientist, there’s one additional experiment I can carry out to test my investigation. I’ll pray and ask God, “If you’re real, go ahead and reveal yourself to me.”’
EVANGELICALS: AN EXOTIC SPECIES
A couple of weeks after I prayed that prayer my shoulder started to fail me completely out of the blue. Ten minutes into every volleyball practise it became very painful, so I couldn’t play for a couple of weeks. I thought, ‘Maybe I should visit one of those churches to see what Christians do when they get together.’
I got the address of an evangelical church in Paris. I really went there as you would go to the zoo, in order to see some weird, exotic animals. I don’t remember a thing that the preacher said, but I was very, very uncomfortable.
As soon as he finished his sermon, I jumped to my feet and ran to the exit. I had one foot out of the door when I got a strong blast of chills in my stomach, grabbing me by the throat and stopping me on the doorstep. I heard myself thinking, ‘This is ridiculous.’ So I turned around, walked straight up to the head pastor and introduced myself. He took me to his office and we talked for hours. He was educated, rational and believed that God existed and that Jesus was raised from the dead. I just couldn’t fathom it.
AS SOON AS HE FINISHED HIS SERMON, I JUMPED TO MY FEET AND RAN TO THE EXIT
For a number of months after that I returned to see him. I bombarded him with questions and he would provide reasonable, biblical answers. I came to see that the gospel accounts about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus could be taken as a reliable witness. My questioning shifted intellectually from ‘Give me a reason to believe’ to ‘Give me a reason to doubt’.
Then I redirected my prayer life (still as an unbeliever!) and I asked God, ‘These things are starting to make sense to me, but I’m going to need you to reveal yourself to me in a very explicit way.’ What happened next is that God reactivated my conscience.
GUILT AND GRACE
At about the same time as my investigation began, I had engaged in an atrocious immoral sin against my girlfriend. It was pretty extreme, even by my own atheistic moral standards. All of those things I had done came straight up in my face and I was struck with an intense physical pain from the guilt. Suddenly all the things I had been reading and talking about with the pastor made perfect sense.
Now I understood the gospel. Jesus died on the cross so that he could pay the price for my sins. And so I received that gospel; the good news that I don’t gain my salvation by my good works, but by simply placing my faith in Jesus. That was a light bulb experience. Suddenly, I understood.
I told God, ‘I’m giving you my life. I receive the sacrifice of Jesus by faith alone.’ And from there the guilt just evaporated. Every trace of guilt departed and I experienced a spiritual renewal, knowing that I was forgiven and that I had experienced the living God. In the end, after I moved to New York, it became clear that the girl and I were not meant for one another. But God had sovereignly brought me there. I started to study my newfound faith, ending up in seminary. Later on I met a wonderful American woman whom I married and started a family with. I am now finishing up my doctoral dissertation, slowly becoming a Christian scholar.
I hated God and religion, but God called me and loved me when I was a sinner. He saved me by grace alone, through faith alone, to his glory.
Hear Guillaume Bignon discuss his story on Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? show.
Guillaume blogs at theologui.blogspot.com
Follow Guillaume @theoloGUI