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The Story of an Atheist
3/21/2009 9:36:43 AM

A true story: How God found an atheist
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo Updated March 22, 2009 12:00 AM


Your Chair Wrecker loves to share meaningful stories and articles that improve our values, thinking, perspectives and insights. Today, your Chair Wrecker will share with you this touching true story that a Jesuit from Loyola in Chicago wrote and circulated.

Father John Powell is a professor at Loyola University in Chicago and he once had a student named Tommy in his Theology of Faith class. Tommy happened to be an atheist.

When Tommy turned in his final exam, he asked Fr. Powell in a cynical tone, “Do you think I’ll ever find God?”

Fr. Powell decided instantly on a little shock therapy. He answered Tommy very emphatically: “No!”

Surprised, Tommy shot back: “Why not, I thought that was the product you were pushing.”

Fr. Powell allowed Tommy to get five steps from the classroom door and then called out: “Tommy! I don’t think you’ll ever find Him, but I am absolutely certain that He will find you!”

Fr. Powell and Tommy did not see each other for several years. Then, he received a sad report that Tommy had terminal cancer.

When Tommy eventually visited Fr. Powell, this was how the Jesuit described Tommy: “When he walked into my office, his body was very badly wasted and the long hair had all fallen out as a result of chemotherapy. But his eyes were bright and his voice was firm, for the first time, I believe.

Tommy did confirm that he has cancer on both lungs and had weeks to live.

Fr. Powell asked Tommy: “What’s it like to be only 24 and dying?”

Tommy answered: “Well, it could be worse like being 50 and having no values or ideals, like being 50 and thinking that booze, seducing women, and making money are the real biggies in life.”

Tommy added: “But what I really came to see you about is something you said to me on the last day of class. I asked you if you thought I would ever find God and you said, “No! But He will find you.”

Tommy continued: “But when the doctors removed a lump from my groin and told me that it was malignant, that’s when I got serious about locating God. And when the malignancy spread into my vital organs, I really began banging bloody fists against the bronze doors of heaven. But God did not come out. In fact, nothing happened. Did you ever try anything for a long time with great effort and with no success? You get psychologically glutted, fed up with trying. And then you quit.”

Tommy further narrated to Fr. Powell: “I decided to spend what time I had left doing something more profitable. I thought about you and your class and I remembered something else you had said: “The essential sadness is to go through life without loving. But it would be almost equally sad to go through life and leave this world without ever telling those you loved that you had loved them.”

Tommy said that he started to do that. “I began with the hardest one, my Dad. He was reading the newspaper when I approached him,” Tommy said.

Tommy described the encounter:

“Dad, I would like to talk with you.” I mean. It’s really important.”

The newspaper came down three slow inches. “What is it?”

”Dad, I love you, I just wanted you to know that.” Tom smiled at Fr. Powell as he said it with obvious satisfaction, as though he felt a warm and secret joy flowing inside of him.

The newspaper fluttered to the floor. Then Tommy’s father did two things he could never remember him ever doing before. His father cried and hugged Tommy.

Tommy added: “We talked all night, even though he had to go to work the next morning. It felt so good to be close to my father, to see his tears, to feel his hug, to hear him say that he loved me.”

“It was easier with my mother and little brother. They cried with me, too, and we hugged each other, and started saying real nice things to each other. We shared the things we had been keeping secret for so many years.

I was only sorry about one thing - that I had waited so long. Here I was, just beginning to open up to all the people I had actually been close to.

Then, one day I turned around and God was there. He didn’t come to me when I pleaded with Him,” Tommy said.

He continued: “Apparently God does things in His own way and at His own hour. But the important thing is that He was there. He found me! You were right. He found me even after I stopped looking for Him.”

Fr. Powell gasped as he heard Tommy’s story.

Fr. Powell said: “I think you are saying something very important and much more universal than you realize. To me, at least, you are saying that the surest way to find God is not to make Him a private possession, a problem solver, or an instant consolation in time of need, but rather by opening to love. You know, the Apostle John said that. He said: “God is love, and anyone who lives in love is living with God and God is living in him.”

The Jesuit then asked Tommy a favor. He said: “Would you come



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