Facing Death: Still an Atheist in the Foxhole

no-atheists-in-foxholes

So this is the post where I talk about my recent hospital stay, about brushing up against death, and about whether or not I cried out to God at the last moment…

I’m guessing we’ve all heard the repeatedly overstated “There’s No Atheists in Foxholes” argument. The claim of course being that in war, every soldier turns to God for safe rescue. That when they’re stuck in a trench in the dirt with enemy fire exploding overhead, they all inevitably cry out to the Divine Savior in prayer. That’s the imagery, but the extended point is that when on one’s deathbed and facing the Imminent and Pitch Black Darkness, any one of us would uncover a compulsion to finally repent of rebellion and cry out to God in prayer.

This is because even atheists secretly know the truth of God’s reality. And deep down below the surface, they’re terrified of the hell they can’t completely deny…

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I’d been in the hospital lately (here). I had contracted a severe bacterial infection that was rapidly subjugating each corner of my body. It all went down in less than 48 hours. That Wednesday evening, I had felt like I might be coming down with a cold. Thursday afternoon, it appeared I had an inflamed gland. Quite painful, I decided to keep an eye on it. Thursday evening, I began to notice some mild swelling and came down with a fever. Then I woke up Friday morning to discover body swelling double the size, crazy intense pain, profuse sweating, difficulty walking, and a fair case of disorientation. I decided to cab it to the local immediate care. From there they sent me to the ER.

There they discovered a bacterial skin infection that in less than 48 hours had made its way into my blood stream. That afternoon, the double pneumonia had begun to set in. They told me it was moving so quickly that if I had waited until the evening to check myself in, I would have been critical. And that if I had waited just one more day, it was almost guaranteed that they wouldn’t have been able to save me.

Talk about coming out of nowhere.

This Was Just Crazy.

I could have easily died—easily and quickly. And I was reminded of this throughout that week and beyond…

Needless to say, it took more than a few days to recover. In fact, I’m still suffering from some of the muscle deterioration as a result. But my hospital stay was actually one of those experiences where every day the doctors (I had four different teams of specialists) discovered another new ramification of my illness. And in the ongoing discovery of more ramifications, that Monday a test revealed that something more was going on in my lung. The Pulmonary Team needed a closer look but thought it could be blood clotting, maybe an embolism, maybe something more. And they scheduled an angiogram CT scan for later that day.

After scheduling the scan, there was about an hour or so where my family left to take care of some things and I sat alone in my hospital room.

And it was here where it hit me.

There was no panic, no fear, no anxiety. I was completely calm and collect. But I had a realization. On top of the fact that I had no idea how bad this thing was gonna keep getting and how many more ramifications the doctors were going to continue to discover, on top of this, I began thinking of the many people I had visited in the hospital as a pastor. I began thinking of the many routine hospital stays that quickly spiral into something much bigger. And my mind started visiting the rooms of unexpected tragedy, realizing how quickly the routine can escalate to crisis. I was reminded of how fragile human life really is and how quickly an apparently simple illness can take it all away.

I wondered how many people were preparing for an angiogram and staying positive, thinking life was going to be just fine in a few days, only to discover that tragedy would arise and they would be gone of this world by the end of the week.

Sounds morbid. Maybe terrifying. But as a pastor, you see this kind of thing on the regular. Your mind and heart instinctively prepare for it. I guess even when it’s for yourself.

And so I was sitting there in the hospital room. Totally calm and collect. Not fearful or terrified. But wondering what if, just what if, something was to go terribly wrong and I were to be dead by the end of the day. And I contemplated that idea for a few minutes. What if today were the day I was to die? What if all my years and experiences had led me to this? To this fateful hospital bed?

And I asked myself if I could be happy having lived and died like this. I asked myself about regrets and do-overs. I asked myself if I could be okay with it all.

And then I was filled with peace. I decided I was very happy with where my life had brought me. I had no regrets, or at least very few of them, all things considered. Even in the midst of all that I’m working for and all my goals still left unattained, I nonetheless had accomplished and enjoyed much. And this life is short and not a guarantee, so who was I to demand more than what I had already been abundantly granted. Somehow this produced something of a surge of tranquility. And I smiled.

There was no panic or hyperventilating. No running around the room in circles.

I smiled and relaxed and closed my eyes knowing that should this just so happen to be my last day on this earth, I had found immense satisfaction in a life well lived. I had done my best and enjoyed the ride. And then I got up and found some scratch paper.

I decided that if by chance this might just so happen to be my last of days, I should leave a note behind. After I was done, I hid it way down deep in my take-home bag where I knew no one would look unless things had gone wrong.

Most of the letter was written to my children. I said the kinds of sentimental things you’d say if you thought you might never see your children again. My words to them were followed by those to several other loved ones. And then I had something more to say. I said I had no fear of death. I said that I remained confident that there were no gods and no afterlife awaiting me on the Other Side because there was no Other Side to be awaited by. I apologized for my early exit and encouraged any readers to do what I had tried to do and make the most of this life, the one that is actually the only one we really have to live. I asked them not to worry for me. I told them that though I wasn’t spending these moments crying out to God in prayer, I was using them to reminisce and remember all the good times I’ve had with each of them. That I was thankful and experiencing a wonderful state of peace and inner comfort.  That though I would have loved the opportunity to keep living, I was simply thankful to have lived as long and as full as I had. I shared that as I wrote the letter and even as tears meandered down my cheek, I was smiling and I was overflowing with a groundswell of joy and gratitude and satisfaction.

In other words, I was in the foxhole. And though I didn’t expect to die, I was well aware of the possibility. I took planned precautions just in case. And never for one moment did I consider prayer. I never prayed. Not even one word. I never looked to God. I never reconsidered his existence. I wasn’t filled with terror or horror or fear. No anxiety or panic. No dark thoughts or depression. No crazed running around. Nope. Just calm. Peace and calm and savoring every moment of this amazing thing called life. Even alone in a hospital room.

Thankfully, I didn’t die. Not yet anyway. But I guess I’m thankful to have almost died. I’m thankful for how it showed me that this is real. It reassured me that I really don’t have anything to lose. That in my atheism I’m where I need to be. That, no, I really don’t need God for any false form of metaphysical strength. And that, yes, I really am more joyful without Jesus. These things the foxhole taught me.

 

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15 comments

  1. It was very beautiful, Drew. Emotions are tricky, we should never have principles or concepts based on emotions. I’m very glad you’re almost fully recovered.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Wesley. Everyone assumes that atheists must be overrun with negative and harmful emotions, and the hope becomes that on their deathbeds, fear will weaken to the point of returning to God. But this just isn’t the case. Little do they realize, you and I are no more likely to turn to Yahweh or Jesus than we are Vishnu, Lono, or any other god we don’t believe in…

      Glad you had time to stop in and check this out. I know you’re busy with your second week at the new job. Wishing you all the best!

      Like

  2. Richard Moore · · Reply

    Drew, I hope you can include this in your book. Do you have any idea how you caught the infection? You have our best wishes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Richard. Yeah, they got it all figured out!

      And as for the book, I think I found a new epilogue… ;))

      Like

  3. Great post. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Great to have you stop by :))

      Like

  4. charles · · Reply

    This was really encouraging. May you fully recover, and never lose the peace and joy you experienced.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Charles. I’m pretty close to 100% and feeling quite honestly amazing! Thanks for the well wishes:))

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Drew! I am always amazed at your ability to write! You definitely have been given a wonderful talent
    I do want to comment on some wording in your blog. You talk about the life you have been “abundantly given” and how thankful and grateful you are. I too am so very grateful and thankful for your life!!! But I wonder to whom you are thankful and grateful for the abundant life you have been given?
    I did cry out to God along with a multitude of others here at home for your healing and for more time for you. And I, along with so many others, are so overwhemonly thankful and grateful to the All Mighty Creator, the great and awesome, powerful, loving and merciful God for your healing, your life, and the continuation of it!!!! 😃

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    1. Thanks, Mom :))

      Sorry, but yes, I must clarify on the “abundantly given” phrase. As I was typing it out, I just knew someone was going to bring it up. I suppose a better wording would be “abundantly granted” (and have edited my post accordingly). And when I say this, I’m not talking about a single individual who has personally and directly granted me anything. I’m more so speaking of a general thankfulness for how it all turned out. For how what the sometimes coincidental circumstances of life have granted me. People die every day and many of them die quite horribly. Many of them die in prayer and a few die without it. Some die under the care of physicians and others die apart from them. And yet some survive to continue on for a period longer. I am thankful to be one of those continuing on. Granted the ability to do so by a culmination of events and circumstances, such as my wisdom in going to the clinic in time, the doctors scientific understanding of how bacterial infections work, the health insurance that allowed me extended admittance, and the fact that my body was already in a strong healthy condition according to the doctors. I’m thankful for living in a time and place where we have access to so much. Just a few centuries ago, we didn’t even know that the bacterial kingdom existed. I’m thankful for all this. Not “to” anyone in particular, but thankful nonetheless for where I find myself in this vast human experience.

      And, yes, I’m also thankful for you! I’m thankful that you and Dad and Mike and Rachel jumped in your car and drove some 500 miles to come and see me! To come and be here and keep me company. To come and simply be available should your services be needed. But no, I don’t want to debate the efficacy of prayer with you or the results of studies that have monitored it. I simply want to continue being thankful, thankful that I have a family that loves and cares for me and is here for me. I realize that your prayers are one of the primary ways you try to care for me, and so I guess to that extent I am thankful for them as well. I’m thankful for the love that they represent. Again, I’m thankful for you.

      And, Mom, it’s also good to see you show up here on the blog. I’m glad to have you join the conversation :))

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Dutch Thomas · · Reply

    Great story, well written, and good insight to how you deal with such a near death experience…

    Although Thai traffic gives me that virtually every day ;-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Dutch. Hope all is well in Thailand:)

      Like

  7. Drew, I have been enjoying the blog. I am a friend of your family and will meet you this weekend at the wedding. Your graciousness to your mom is so loving in this comment section. I knew about your illness and was wondering what impact it was going to make on your journey. And I must admit, I was a little surprised where it took you. I am on my own journey of leaving much of what I was taught by Evangelicals behind (I hope your mom doesn’t read this!) In creating some openness for myself I have subscribed to 5 blogs of people who think differently than I do to learn from them. Thank you for being “one of my 5”. See you on Saturday. Kristi

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kristi! Thank you so much for sharing a little of your journey. I look forward to meeting you at the wedding. Make sure to come over and introduce yourself to me please! I’d love to meet you! And I am honored to be “one of your 5.” See you soon!

      Like

  8. Great to hear from you, my Minnesota friend. And seriously thank you so much for sharing about your own foxhole experiences. I can’t imagine being in a line of service where I was under constant threat. Your service is beyond admirable. But it’s always great hearing from a fellow nonbeliever. Keep in touch!

    Like

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