From Atheism To Christianity
He remembers being a boy about 9 or 10 years old who knew what it meant to be good and who certainly knew what it meant to be bad. He knew doing what the Bible said meant a life in heaven, but disobeying its commands meant something far worse.
The fear Jesus might return and that he would be left behind, destined for Hell, terrified the young Richard Suplita enough to wake him up at night.
“I was just screwed because I knew all of the bad stuff I did that day,” Suplita recalled.
He recounted this memory while sitting on a black metal bench just outside of the University of Georgia Tate Center, the very school where Suplita had taught psychology courses for 14 years and the very place where he would have an encounter that would alter the rest of his spiritual life.
As a child, Suplita believed that his baptism and good works had earned him a spot in heaven with God one day. As an adult, God didn’t even exist as far as Suplita was concerned.
His childhood Chritianity had given way to an adulthood of atheisim.
But in 2011, Suplita made a decision that had the potential to follow him for the rest of his life. He had become a Christian. Excitement spread quickly among local Christians about the unbelieving atheist professor who had been saved. He found himself representing Christianity in very new and unfamiliar ways like speaking on a panel to defend his faith and sharing his testimony at The Great Exchange, the event where he had met one his biggest spiritual influencers, Pastor David Holt of Living Hope Church.
But the struggle to search for the truth in Christianity didn’t end the day he became a Christian in 2011.
Mary Kathryn McDonald has been a close friend of Suplita’s for the past three years and says in July of 2014, he was ready to give up on his faith and pursue atheism once again.
“He just wanted to believe every single part of it just like everybody else did when he would only really believe one piece at a time and people just weren’t okay with that,” she said.
Regardless of his struggle, Pastor Holt was a friend that remained constant.
“Even when everybody else gave up on me again, he didn’t,” Suplita said.
He remained with Suplita when he became a Christian. He remained with Suplita when he rushed back to atheism. He continuously reached out to him, talked with him through doubts and welcomed him to continue with the small group Suplita had once attended. Holt allowed him to work through this struggle of faith until Suplita came to the realization that seemed to solidify his belief.
“I can sit down all day long…and study atheist literature, write out notes, make arguments, debate the stuff on Facebook, but at the end of the day if I’m honest, there are certain things I can’t deny and one of the things I can’t deny is the uniqueness of Christ,” Suplita said.
He remembered hearing Pastor Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church say, “The most important thing isn’t that it happened. It’s that it happens.” This significantly altered the way Suplita viewed Christianity. The core of Christianity was about the validity of Christ’s claim to be God, not about the Bible being literal or figurative, a point that Holt reiterated to him consistently.
“I’m always going to have doubts. I’m never going to wake up one morning and just have a day where I don’t question any of it,” he said. “I’m starting to realize that’s not important. The important thing is just that your faith is able to endure. That it’s able to persevere [through] the doubts. That it’s bigger than the doubts.”
Suplita wrestled with various issues, talked through various questions with friends and has seemed to find peace in the fact that he doesn’t have to have all the answers right now. As long as Christ is who he says he is, he believes that is what ultimately matters.
But for Mark Kelly, who had first met Suplita at The Great Exchange, Suplita’s return to Christianity confused him. Kelly said he has known Suplita to frequently go back and forth between atheism and Christianity.
“I think right now he’s being sincere. I think he really believes that. I think with him it’s kind of a wait and see mode, Kelly said.
However, John Rogeberg said he felt that Suplita’s faith had been solidified and that Suplita has exemplified a “healthy doubt.”
Rogeberg has been in a small group with Suplita for almost a year and testified to the sincerity and openness of Suplita’s struggle of belief.
“One of those things I can say about Richard: I really respect is his realness. He desires the truth to the point where he wants to feel it. He shares when he’s skeptical,” said Rogeberg.
Suplita is in a transition stage not only with his faith, but also with his job. Suplita decided to leave the UGA at the end of this year, but has peace in knowing that God will give him direction.
He claims to have hope in Christ and as he noted to his friend, McDonald, recently, “I’ve connected the dots.”